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Greeks, Greek-Americans on Forbes' 2020 Billionaire's List

The National Herald Archive

Dr. George Yancopoulos. (Photo by TNH/Kostas Bej, file)

NEW YORK – Economies around the world seem vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic with the result that the world's richest people are losing some of their profits. The renowned Forbes magazine published its annual list of the world's billionaires, as of March 18 counting 2,095 people, 58 less than last year. Of those who remained on the list, 51% became slightly poorer than last year, losing $700 million from 2019. However, the amount of money in their possession is still a staggering figure: $8 trillion.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tops the list with $113 billion, followed by Microsoft's Bill Gates with $98 billion. The list also includes Greek-American, Greek, and Cypriot billionaires whom we list in detail, according to the ranking included in the Forbes list for 2020.

THE GREEK-AMERICAN BILLIONAIRES

#280 Tom Gores – $5,7 Billion. EQUITY INVESTMENT, SPORTS? 

Gores, 55, was born in Nazareth, Israel to a Greek father and a Lebanese mother. When he was only four years old, the family moved to Genesee, MI.?Throughout his youth, Gores stocked shelves at his father’s small grocery store in Flint, MI. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University, he joined his brother Alec (also featured in this edition) in buying out companies.

Gores oversees approximately 40 companies with some $19 billion in assets through his Los Angeles-based private equity firm, Platinum Equity – which he founded in 1995. Platinum Equity is one of the largest private companies in the United States and has offices in California, New York, Boston, London, and Singapore. Its in-house business development, M&A, transition, legal, real estate, marketing, finance, and operations teams enable us to resolve matters expeditiously.

#361 Jim Davis – $4,7Billion NEW BALANCE? 

The National Herald Archive

(Photo via https://www.forbes.com)

Davis, now 77, is the Massachusetts-born son of Greek immigrants. He graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in biology/chemistry but soon realized he didn’t enjoy school (“hated school” were his exact words in an interview with Sports Business Daily). After college, he started selling equipment having to do with biology and chemistry. He then decided it was time for him to buy a small company for himself and New Balance was the first one he looked at. At the time, he said he knew a little about sporting goods but nothing about footwear, so he decided to pass on the offer. However, a year later, in 1972, the company was still for sale, and that’s when Davis decided to buy the now 114-year old retail sports footwear company.

#590 John Catsimatidis – $3,3Billion OIL, REAL ESTATE, SUPERMARKETS? 

At a personal fortune estimated at $3.3 billion, John A. Catsimatidis remains very close to the top of our list again this year.

Catsimatidis has been extremely active in our community and beyond. He was the featured speaker at the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce event which focused on the effect of politics on New York City’s real estate and the future of energy in the U.S. and abroad; he expanded his supermarket holdings by taking ownership of the D’Agostino chain of supermarkets; he was appointed the Vice-President of the Archdiocesan Council; he has joined the new entity, The Friends of St. Nicholas, Inc., a non-profit in charge of overseeing the completion of the St. Nicholas shrine at Ground Zero; he acquired the 77 WABC Radio station; he was honored for his contributions to the community at Three Hierarchs in Brooklyn; and finally, he was informally endorsed by former NYC Mayor Giuliani as the “logical” candidate for NYC’s new mayor – just to name a few of his achievements.

#648 John Paul Dejoria – $3,1 Billion HAIR CARE PRODUCTS, SPIRITS? 

John Paul Dejoria’s net worth is back to where it was a few years ago after a significant dip last year.?Born to an Italian immigrant father and a Greek immigrant mother, who divorced by the time he was 2, DeJoria has known poverty repeatedly: first during his childhood being raised by a single mother in Los Angeles, CA, and two periods of homelessness as an adult.

DeJoria has been quoted telling a story that when he was 5, his mother didn’t have enough money to buy her sons Christmas presents. As they walked through downtown Los Angeles, his mother pointed to a woman wearing a navy blue suit ringing a bell. “Boys,” his mother said, “I’m giving you a dime. See that lady ringing the bell? Put this in her bucket.” DeJoria didn’t understand; 10 cents was a lot for a kid who didn’t have much in 1950. Why did he have to give it away? “That’s the Salvation Army. They need it more than we do,” was her reply. From that experience, he learned that “success unshared is failure.”

#875 Dean Metropoulos – $2,4 Billion MANAGEMENT, ACQUISITIONS? 

C. Dean Metropoulos, age 72, is Chairman and CEO of Metropoulos & Company, a boutique buyout and management firm. He remains very high on our list, as a result of his $2.4 billion estimated worth (a slight dip from last year). Metropoulos accumulated his fortune by purchasing and resurrecting food brands such as Hostess, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Chef Boyardee, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Pinnacle Foods, Bumble Bee Tuna, Vlasic Pickles and Utz Snacks. He also recently helped produce the film Cliffs of Freedom.

The Greek-born Metropoulos moved from Tripoli to Massachusetts with his parents at age 10. Typical of many immigrants, his parents worked hard and encouraged their children to pursue their dreams. Metropoulos made his first American acquisition at the age of 32, when he acquired a cheese company in his wife, Marianne’s, native Vermont.

Metropoulos is very well known in the private equity, investment banking, and financial community, having spent nearly three decades creating, acquiring, restructuring and growing nearly 100 different businesses and 300 brands involving approximately $14 billion in capital in the United States, Mexico and Europe. Many of these were subsequently taken public or sold to strategic acquirers.

#1063 Alec Gores – $2 Billion TECHNOLOGY, LEVERAGED BUYOUTS ?

Alec Gores, 66, like his brothers Tom and Sam (both also featured in this edition) was born to a Greek father and Lebanese mother, in Nazareth, Israel. It took the family, which included 6 children, five years to get visas to enter the United States. Eventually, the family finally made it to America and settled in Genesee, MI when Alec was a teenager. The sons, who were originally named Elias (Alec), Samir (Sam) and Tewfic (Tom), were promptly given new American names by their aunt, who picked them up from the airport.

Alec began his professional career by bagging groceries at his uncle’s store soon after arriving in America (for 25 cents an hour) – he didn’t speak any English at the time.?Today, Gores heads the Beverly Hills-based private equity firm The Gores Group, which has $2.5 billion in assets. He lives in an 11-bedroom mansion on 2.2 acres in Beverly Hills – near his brother Tom, who bought a palatial estate in Holby Hills in 2016 as part of a reported $100 million deal.

#1135 George Argyros – $1,9 Billion REAL ESTATE, SPORTS ?

George L. Argyros is well known in a wide variety of prominent circles, as his long and illustrious life has included achievements ranging from real estate, to sports, to international diplomacy.

Argyros served as U.S. Ambassador to Spain and was an owner of the professional baseball team, the Seattle Mariners – which he sold in 1989. But Argyros, 83, made his fortune in grocery stores and real estate.

A second-generation American of Greek descent, he was born in Detroit, MI and raised in Pasadena, CA. He worked his way through high school and college in southern California as a paperboy and grocery clerk. Argyros went into real estate in 1962, selling land at busy intersections to gas stations. Today, his privately held Arnel & Affiliates owns and manages 5,500 apartments and 2 million square feet of commercial space.

Argyros also founded Westar Capital, a private equity firm, in 1987 and he is a director of First American Financial Corp and Pacific Mercantile Bancorp.

#1513 Theodore Leonsis – $1,4 Billion INTERNET, VENTURE CAPITAL, PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

Theodore J. Leonsis, the grandson of Greek immigrants, was born to a family of modest means in Brooklyn, New York and spent his early years there. His family later moved back to his mother’s hometown of Lowell, MA where Leonsis, worked as a lawn mower in order to make some money. According to an interview with N-Magazine, Leonsis said that when his guidance counselor evaluated his skill-set, she concluded that he was destined to work in a grocery store. She was very wrong. Leonsis graduated from Lowell High School in 1973 and attended Georgetown University with the financial help of a businessman named Jim Shannon for whom Leonsis had worked for as a lawn mower. After graduating in 1977 (the first in his family to obtain a university education), he moved back to his parents’ home in Lowell.

Few people have roots as deep in the computer industry, or as much knowledge and experience of its history and potential. In 1980, Leonsis started his own company, which grew quickly, and sold it to International Thompson for $60M one year later. Establishing himself as a pioneer of the Internet and new media, Leonsis participated in launches of the Apple MacIntosh, the IBM PC, and the Wang office automation. He has led four businesses that have grown at record rates: he built Wang WP (who developed the first word processor) from a $200 million to a $1 billion company with the largest female management team in the country. He was founder and CEO of Redgate Communications Corporation, considered the first new media marketing company. He built AOL into the first $1 billion interactive services company and the world’s biggest media company, helping to increase its membership from fewer than 800,000 to more than 8 million in a four-year span (1994-97). He retired from AOL in 2006 and currently serves as vice chairman emeritus.

#1730 Jamie Dimon – $1,2 Billion FINANCE

Jamie Dimon, 63, is chairman and CEO of America’s largest bank JPMorgan Chase, and considered one of the nation’s most powerful people.

Dimon was born and raised in New York City with his older brother Peter and his fraternal twin Ted. To ensure their surname sounded French (and not Greek), his paternal grandfather changed the family surname from Papademetriou to Dimon when he emigrated from Smyrna. Dimon’s grandfather became a broker and passed his knowledge of the business onto his son, Theodore (Dimon’s father). Dimon’s father and grandfather worked together for 19 years and Jamie joined them during the summers in their New York office. In a 2016 interview with CNBC, Dimon said that he and his family were very ‘tight’ – so when both of his parents died within a few hours of each other in that same year, it was very tough on him.

#1730 George Marcus– $1,2 Billion REAL ESTATE ?

Born George Mathew Moutsanas in 1941 on the island of Evia in Greece during World War II, George Marcus, now 78, emigrated to the United States at the age of 4. His family settled in San Francisco’s blue-collar Potrero Hill neighborhood, where, he has said, his top priority was fitting in. It was in this neighborhood that Marcus eventually met his future wife, Judy. According to an interview with the Nob Hill Gazette, Marcus was friends with Judy’s younger brother – they knew each other since elementary school. However, it wasn’t until after Marcus came home from the military that his friend, Judy’s brother, suggested that he should go on a date with his sister.

Marcus completed his undergraduate studies in Economics at San Francisco State University in just two and a half years, and founded the University’s first economics club. He also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the California State University System in 1981-89. He was named SFSU Alumnus of the year in 1989 and one of its 11 Distinguished Centennial Alumni in 1999. He and his wife (also an SFSU alum), helped create SFSU’s International Center for the Arts with a $3 million gift. Marcus also helped develop SFSU’s Greek Studies program, and chairs its Modern Greek Studies Foundation, which supports the Nikos Kazantzakis Chair for Modern Greek Studies.

#1851 George Yancopoulos– $1,1 Billion PHARMACEUTICALS?

Dr. George Yancopoulos, 60, joined Regeneron Laboratories in 1989 as its Founding Scientist and is currently the company’s President and Chief Scientific Officer.

Born and raised in New York, Yancopoulos hails from Kastoria. His grandfather, George Danis Yancopoulos was born in Kastoria before it was liberated from the Turks. “He escaped to Austria…taught himself German somehow, and remarkably got a degree in electrical engineering,” Yancopoulos says about his grandfather. His grandfather eventually returned to Greece and with his business partners built many of the first electrical power plants there.

Dr. Yancopoulos’ father eventually emigrated to America and pushed his children to get high paying jobs. As Yancopoulos became more interested in the sciences, his father started getting worried that he would become a scientist – a career he feared would not afford his son a good salary. However, when Yancopoulos was 16 years-old, his father gave him an article from The National Herald (he didn’t read the American papers, just the Greek one, Yancopoulos once told us) which was about a certain Dr. P. Roy Vagelos who was leaving Washington University to join Merck as head of Research and Development.

THE GREEK BILLIONAIRES 

#743 Philip Niarchos– $2,8 Billion

He of the famous name is 859th in the world with an estimated fortune of $2.8 billion. Philip Niarchos is the oldest son of the late Stavros Niarchos, one of the world’s richest shipping magnates. The oldest of his four children with Eugenia Livianos, he inherited the bulk of his father’s art collection.

#1335 Ivan Savvidis – $1,6 Billion

Ivan Savvidis, a Greek-Russian businessman, is the founder of Agrokom Group, whose assets include Russian tobacco firm Donskoy Tabak. In 1980 he got a job at the Don State Tobacco Factory (now Donskoy Tabak) and was elected general director in 1993. In 2003 he was elected a deputy of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian Legislation, as a member of United Russia, a pro-Putin party. In 2004 Savvidis founded Agrokom Group; it also owns meat processing and packing plants, greenhouse facilities and a sparkling water factory. In 2012 his Greek company Dimera purchased 51% of soccer team FC PAOK in Thessaloniki, Greece.

#1851 Aristotelis Mistakidis – $1,1 Billion COMMODITIES?

Aristotelis Mistakidis, 57, was described by The Financial Times as one of the most powerful figures in the global copper market. He is known to everyone simply as ‘Telis’ or the “King of Copper.” Bloomberg news said that Mistakidis ruled the copper market; he bought and sold “enough of the red metal to supply every factory in the U.S. twice over.”

A native of Thessaloniki, Mistakidis spent his early childhood in Rome, where his marine biologist father worked for the United Nations. He eventually moved to England to attend a boarding school in Essex before studying at the London School of Economics.

Mistakidis got his start in commodities at Cargill where he traded non-ferrous metals and joined March Rich & Co. in 1993. Later, the firm was bought by management and renamed Glencore where he moved up to manage both copper trading and mining.

#1990 Vardis Vardinoyiannis – $1,0 Billion OIL/SHIPPING?

Vardis Vardinoyannis was born in 1933 on the island of Crete – the son of poor farmers. The family had 8 children – six boys and two girls – who all helped out on the fields and farm. Following his graduation from the Greek Naval Academy, he served for a number of years in the Greek Naval Forces before being discharged with the rank of Vice-Admiral.

Vardis J. Vardinoyannis co-founded Motor Oil Hellas, a petroleum company based in Greece, with his late brother in 1970. The company refines crude oil as well as produces and offers petroleum products and lubricants through its network of gas stations. IT also sells fuel for airplanes. Vardinoyannis currently serves as chairman and managing director of the company which went public on the Athens stock exchange in August 2001. Saudi Arabia’s Aramco was a major investor before divesting in 2005.

Vardis’ oldest son, John, is vice chairman of Motor Oil, while his nephew, Nikos, also a major shareholder, is on the board.

THE CYPRIOT BILLIONAIRES 

#228 John Fredriksen – $9,6 Billion Investor

Fredriksen’s empire includes oil tankers, dry bulkers, LNG carriers and deepwater drilling rigs. In 1960s in Beirut, he got into oil trading; in the 70s he bought his first tankers; in the 80s he ran crude for Iran and had tankers hit by missiles. His offshore drilling rig firm Seadrill emerged from bakruptcy in 2018, with Fredriksen helping to raise about $1 billion in new debt and equity. His biggest holding is Marine Harvest, now named Mowi, which has rolled up competitors to become the biggest fish farmer in the world. In January 2019, Fredriksen invested $350 million in Norwegian Air after the airline failed to find a buyer.

#616 Yakir Gabay – $3,2 Billion

Yakir Gabay owns 31% of Frankfurt-listed German real estate company Aroundtown SA, where he serves as deputy chairman of the advisory board. Aroundtown has a $15 billion-plus portfolio of commercial real estate in Europe. In the U.S., Gabay invests in residential property developments. Originally from Israel, Gabay previously served as CEO of the underwriting arm of Bank Leumi, one of Israel’s largest banks.

#836 Maritsa Lazari – $2,5 Billion

Maritsa Lazari is the widow of late billionaire Christos Lazari, who died in 2015, a few months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. The couple, who met in London, married in 1965. Christos eventually created a successful fashion line called Drendie Girl. The couple used the profits from that business to buy up property. Today real estate company Lazari Investments owns 2.82 million square feet across London, mostly office space that it rents out.