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The Billionaires Who Died In 2020: Remembering Their Lives

5 Mins read

In a year that will likely be remembered around the world for the devastation and loss of life caused by the coronavirus pandemic, 16 billionaires passed away in 2o20–but, as best as we can tell, none did so after contracting Covid-19. That compares to 23 billionaires who died in 2019.

For the world’s richest the pandemic was, unsurprisingly, not the great leveller that it was for the rest of society. In fact, the best known billionaire to contract Covid-19, President Donald Trump, is very much still with us today.

Those who died included a cantankerous media tycoon, one of South Korea’s most successful business leaders, the former CEO of U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill and the world’s richest banker. Nine of the 16 built their own fortunes, one inherited a fortune and the remaining six inherited a fortune and then worked to expand it.

Sumner Redstone, ViacomCBS

Citizenship: U.S.A.

Died: August 2020 at age 97

Net worth at death: $2.6 billion

The media mogul and combative former attorney was best known for controlling CBS and Viacom, but also acquired household names Blockbuster, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Redstone used his father’s movie theater chain, National Amusements, as a vehicle for growth; in 1987 National Amusements acquired a controlling stake in entertainment giant Viacom.

Redstone saw no limits to his power—not even death. In 2007 he told students at Boston University, “I’m in control now, and I’ll be in control after I die.” The statement was part of a decade-long succession battle with his daughter Shari Redstone (she took over running operations in 2016). In 2007, Redstone wrote to Forbes, saying that it was he, “with little or no contribution on [my children’s] part,” who had built his media empire.

Read the full obituary here.

Lee Kun-hee, Samsung Group

Citizenship: South Korea

Died: October 2020 at age 78

Net worth at death: $17.3 Billion 

The chairman of Korean conglomerate Samsung Group, Lee Kun-hee left behind an empire that included computer chips, fashion, theme parks, IT services, TVs and, most notably, one of the few smartphone-makers competitive with Apple.

Lee took over Samsung in 1987, following the death of his father and the conglomerate’s founder, Lee Byung-chull. He steered Samsung’s rise through memory chips in the 1990s, flat-screen TVs in the mid 2000s and smartphones in the 2010s. Lee, the richest person in South Korea since 2007, was convicted of bribing the country’s president in 1996 and convicted of tax evasion the following decade; he was pardoned for both crimes. He suffered a heart attack in 2014 and had been incapacitated since then. Lee’s son, Jay Y. Lee has been running  Samsung Group since 2014.

Read the full obituary here.

Joseph Safra, Banco Safra

Citizenship: Brazil

Died: December 10, 2020 at age 82.

Net worth at death: $23.2 Billion

The world’s richest banker, Joseph Safra built an empire with a focus on wealthy clients and companies. He was born in Lebanon to a banking family originally from Syria. In Brazil he and his brother Moise (d. 2014) built Banco Safra, the country’s eighth largest bank. In Switzerland  he owned J. Safra Sarasin, a bank created in a 2013 merger. A private man, he avoided the media. Safra and Moise first appeared on Forbes list of the world’s billionaires in 2000 with a shared fortune of $3 billion.

Read the full obituary here.

Whitney MacMillan, Cargill

Citizenship: U.S.A.

Died: March 2020 at age 90

Net worth at death: $5.1 Billion

MacMillan, the former chairman and  CEO of agribusiness giant Cargill, transformed the company into a global entity. MacMillan spent 44 years at his family’s midwestern grain trader, taking over as CEO and chairman of the board in 1976 and retiring in 1995 at the company’s mandatory age ​of 65. In a rare interview with Forbes in 2017, he reflected on running Cargill with “common sense” and “decency”–two crucial elements which he said the business world needed more of. “The history of virtue in the grain trade goes back a long way, where your word is your bond,” he said. Along with adding independent directors to the Cargill board and creating an employee stock ownership plan, MacMillan crucially steered the company, which generated $113.5 billion in 2019 revenues, to stay private. Members of the extended Cargill and MacMillan families own an estimated 88% of Cargill. Whitney MacMillan was the last family member to lead the business.

Randall Rollins, Rollins Inc.

Citizenship: U.S.A.

Died: August 2020 at age 88

Net worth at death $4.7 Billion

One of the biggest names in U.S. pest control, the Rollins family has created a recession-proof empire of rat, roach, lice and mice-busting subsidiaries all under the umbrella of Atlanta-headquartered Rollins Inc. Of these, exterminator Orkin is the best known.

Randall Rollins joined the family business in 1953, and helped expand its broadcasting arm before the company moved into pest control. He served as the firm’s longtime chairman, alongside his billionaire brother Gary, who is CEO.

In 2014, Forbes reported on the $8 billion family feud over “cash allocations” that plagued their  pest control empire and pitted “father(s) vs. sons, wives vs. husbands, cousins vs. cousins” in “one of the nastiest intergenerational battles ever to take place among members of The Forbes 400.” The family reportedly reached a settlement in November 2019, about a year before Randall’s death.

Read the full obituary here.

Lo Siu-tong, Yu Tai Hing

Citizenship: Hong Kong

Died: January 2020 at age 90

Net worth at death $1.3 Billion

The Hong Kong real estate tycoon started his company in 1966 by redeveloping old buildings and amassed an empire of offices, residences and shops.

Park Yeon-cha, Taekwang Industrial

Citizenship: South Korea

Died: January 2020 at age 74

Net worth at death $3.1 Billion

His Taekwang Industrial is a significant producer of shoes for Nike, with factories in Vietnam, Indonesia and China.

Arne Wilhelmsen, Royal Caribbean Cruises

Citizenship: Norway

Died: April 2020 at age 90

Net worth at death $1.5 Billion

Wilhelmsen launched Royal Caribbean Cruises in 1969, building it into one of the world’s largest cruise operators.

Dmitry Bosov, Sibanthracite Group

Citizenship: Russia

Died: May 2020 at age 52

Net worth at death $1.1 Billion

Bosov was best known for the Sibanthracite Group, which united several coal producers in Siberia. He was found dead at his apartment having suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

Manuel Jove, Fadesa Inmobiliaria

Citizenship: Spain

Died: May 2020 at age 78

Net worth at death $1.7 Billion

Jove founded property company Fadesa Inmobiliaria. In 2006 he sold his 55% stake for $3 billion, before the collapse of the Spanish real estate bubble.

Eduardo Cojuangco, San Miguel

Citizenship: Philippines

Died: June 2020 at age 85

Net worth at death $1 billion

Described in a New York Times obituary as the “King of the Cronies,” Cojuangco was a controversial ally of the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Cojuangco became chairman of the powerful food and infrastructure conglomerate San Miguel in 1998.

Manuel Moroun, Ambassador Bridge

Citizenship: U.S.A.

Died: July 2020 at age 93

Net worth at death $1.5 Billion

Moroun owned transportation businesses and, most notably, Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, the largest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada.

Edmund Ansin, Sunbeam Television

Citizenship: U.S.A.

Died: July 2020 at age 84

Net worth at death $1 billion

Ansin inherited a real estate fortune and turned it into a media empire. Working alongside his father, the family paid $3.4 million for Miami’s WSVN TV station, where he pioneered the “if it bleeds, it leads” style of TV journalism.

Aloysio de Andrade Faria, Banco Real

Citizenship: Brazil

Died: September 2020 at age 99

Net worth at death $1.7 billion

Faria trained as a doctor, but took the helm of the family’s Banco Real when his father died. He sold the institution to Dutch bank ABN Amro in 1998 for $2.1 billion.

Suna Kirac, Koc Holding

Citizenship: Turkey

Died: September 2020 at age 79

Net worth at death $1.4 billion

Kirac was the youngest daughter of Koc Holding founder Vehbi Koc, one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, active in energy, autos, durable consumer goods and finance.

Sheldon Solow, Solow Building Co

Citizenship: U.S.A.

Died: November 2020 at age 92.

Net worth at death: $4.4 Billion

A Manhattan real estate developer, Solow took a risk in 1972 to build 9 West 57 Street in New York City, an office tower known today for its unobstructed views of Central Park.

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