October 7, 2005 4:16 pm

The FT Top Billionaires: 19-25

John de Mol

19: John de Mol

Media mogul

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Age: 50

Worth: $2bn

Big idea: That if you lock a group of ordinary people in a house and film them every minute of the day, millions will watch.

Best known for: Big Brother, the most successful of the reality TV formats. Launched in 1999, it continues to find fresh ways to scandalise and now airs in 10 countries, including the US, which has proved a graveyard for so many other European entrepreneurs.

He sold Endemol, his production company, to Telefonica of Spain. The proceeds of that sale have been invested through an investment vehicle in a series of ventures, including HIT Entertainment, the company behind Bob the Builder, which has since been sold. He has now emerged at the helm of Talpa TV, a new channel in the Netherlands that launched with sports programming and a new series of Big Brother. Suggestions that a pregnant contestant would give birth on live television proved too much, even for the tolerant Dutch, but the channel grabbed about 10 per cent of the crowded market within three weeks.

He says: “Frankly speaking, I believe we proved that normal people can be very, very interesting.”

They say: “[He is] the P.T. Barnum of modern television.” - Peter Bazalgette, chief creative officer of Endemol.

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Larry Ellison

20: Larry Ellison

Co-founder and chief executive, Oracle Corporation

Age: 61

Worth: $17bn

Big idea:Database software that could be used on both mainframe and desktop computers, allowing many different operating systems to be used by companies to organise information.

Best known for:Co-founding the software giant Oracle and, lately, getting the company back on track to dominate the business applications software industry through acquisition. Last month’s $6bn deal with Siebel Systems brings the recent spree to nearly $18bn.

He successfully fought Department of Justice objections and a defiant management to acquire PeopleSoft earlier this year, and he has continued to buy other enterprise software companies.

An equally ambitious yachtsman, Ellison has a burning desire to win the America’s Cup yachting challenge in 2007 with his BMW Oracle racing team. He has also built a Japanese imperial village in the backyard of his Silicon Valley home.

He says: “I think I’m very goal-oriented. I’d like to win the America’s Cup. I’d like Oracle to be the No. 1 software company in the world. I still think it’s possible to beat Microsoft, believe it or not.”

They say: “The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison... God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison” - from the title of a 1997 unauthorised biography.

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21: Michael Dell

Chairman, Dell

Age: 40

Worth: $18bn

Big idea: Custom-made computers for the masses.

Best known for: The ever-more ubiquitous Dell computer. While still at school, Dell started selling computers from his dorm room; the business was so successful he dropped out aged 19. He went on to completely reinvent the PC business: every machine was built to order and inventory and costs were kept low. The computers were widely affordable and volumes soared - his democratisation of PC ownership has brought inevitable comparisons with Henry Ford as well as dozens of plaudits.

In 2004, aged 39, he stepped down as chief executive, but remains a closely involved chairman. Dell now controls almost one-fifth of the PC market and is diversifying into peripherals; it continues to grow as rivals struggle. Dell himself has diversified his holdings and, in 1999, gave $115m to launch the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which works with organisations to help children.

He says: “As important as school was, I found that it could be very disruptive to a steady income.”

They say: “Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.” - Steve Jobs, Apple chief executive.

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Ingvar Kamprad

22: Ingvar Kamprad

Founder, IKEA

Age: 79

Worth: $23bn

Big idea: You can bring style to the masses.

Best known for: The slightly cultish IKEA company. Kamprad started in business as a child, selling matches, before diversifying into fish and pencils.

At the age of 17, he used a gift from his father to found the company that would become IKEA; furniture was introduced in 1953 and, in 1955, it began to sell its own designs. His simple, affordable and egalitarian products have a huge appeal: at the time of going to press the company has 222 stores and a turnover of more than €14.5bn. Few in the west have not had their houses touched by the Swedish giant. The company is ultimately owned by a Dutch trust in an unusual and complicated structure. There have been claims that Kamprad effectively still owns it - and that this would make him the world’s richest man.

He says: (on his legendary frugality) “I seldom wash disposable plastic glasses any more.”

They say: “In Sweden, going to IKEA is like going to the supermarket to buy paper towels in bulk. But in America, IKEA is a wonder of super design.” - Barbro Osher, Swedish consul general in San Francisco.

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Lee Kun-hee

23: Lee Kun-hee

Chairman, Samsung Group

Age: 63

Worth: $4.3bn (family fortune)

Big idea: Understanding the importance of branding.

Best known for: Transforming Samsung Electronics from a low-quality mass producer into Asia’s most valuable technology company. Instead of making televisions and video players under licence to Japanese companies, Lee promoted Samsung as a brand with its own reputation and cachet.

Samsung is now a global electronics brand synonymous with cutting edge technology and cool design. In 1987 Lee inherited the ship-building, chemical-producing, apartment-building and handset-making chaebol (conglomerate) founded by his father 20 years before. Lee’s willingness to restructure the chaebol after the 1997 financial crisis is credited with saving it and with laying the groundwork for Samsung’s global success. Samsung went from a company unknown outside Korea to a highly valued international name. It is the world’s leading producer of liquid crystal displays and memory chips, and one of the top three mobile phone producers, famous for its whizzy handsets incorporating televisions and MP3 players.

He says: “One genius can feed millions of others. For the upcoming era where creativity will be the most important driver of business success, we need to hire the best. The economic value of one genius is more than $1bn.”

They say: “Learn Samsung.” - Nobuyuki Idei, former chairman of Sony.

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Hasso Plattner

24: Hasso Plattner

Co-founder and chairman, SAP

Age: 61

Worth: $5bn

Big idea:Technology that lets companies manage their back office functions in a way that helps executives speed up decisions and cut costs.

Best known for:Being the Bill Gates of the management information systems software industry.

In many ways, Plattner has had as much influence on that industry as Gates had on the PC sector. He had the vision to see a gap in the market to help companies manage processes such as payrolls, supplies, inventories and customer relations. SAP, the German software giant that he founded with four former IBM colleagues, is now Europe’s biggest software company, and the fourth largest in the world after Microsoft, IBM and Oracle.

Under his leadership, SAP became the only European company able to stand up to the American heavyweights. He stepped down as chief executive in 2003 to become non-executive chairman, but he still helps develop software products in the company’s Silicon Valley research labs. His colourful style of management was illustrated when he pulled his trousers down as an Oracle crew support boat sailed by during a yacht race.

He says: “We grew from a shooting star of the 1990s into a world-class global enterprise that plays in the same league as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.”

They say: “He’s a seminal figure in the development of the modern software industry.” - Bruce Richardson, analyst at AMR Research.

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Li Ka-shing

25: Li Ka-shing

Chairman, Hutchison Whampoa

Age: 77

Worth: $13bn

Big idea: Always expand.

Best known for: Being one of the most powerful men in Asia (in one poll he was rated higher than his friend, China’s former president Jiang Zemin).

Since last year, Li’s ranking has fallen from 17 to last on the list. This is largely because of his problems with mobile phone investment: he has spent $25bn and, thus far, has had losses in the billions to show for it. Indeed, for all his triumphs in real estate, ports and oil, success in high speed telecoms eludes him. Nonetheless he remains one of the richest businessmen in Asia and is widely regarded as a bellwether for business sentiment. He set up the Li Ka-shing Foundation in 1980 to channel money to medical, educational and cultural charities. In early 2005 he sold his $1bn stake in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, giving all the proceeds to charity.

He says: “In the Chinese way, I must say that I’m lucky. But I would also say that before making a final decision I study everything very carefully - from supply and demand to the political situation. Once I make my decision, I go quite fast to catch the market at the right time.”

They say: “Hong Kong is the private kingdom of Li Ka-shing.” - Hong Kong saying.

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