'Hidden Billionaires' Profiles Under-The-Radar Rich

Originally published on August 11, 2011 7:20 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

From a Peruvian banking magnate to a Canadian who made his fortune betting on Gold, to a French feminist who heads the world's largest advertising company, a new article profiles eight of the world's hidden billionaires.

Bloomberg Market's Matthew Miller spent months scouring the globe for billionaires who control big parts of the economy, yet have managed to fly under the radar. He joined us from New York to talk about them.

Good morning.

Mr. MATTHEW MILLER (Bloomberg Markets Magazine): Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thanks. Well, let's start with the Peruvian banker that I mentioned and you profile. Tell us about him.

Mr. MILLER: Well, Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor is sort of riding the emerging markets boom. He was born in Peru, educated in the States, worked on Wall Street for about 10 years, and then his father had purchased a bank in Peru and was enticed to come home and run the family business. His father died soon after and he was basically able to take what was a bank, build it into one of the largest financial services companies, but also develop a retail angle. So now he owns a lot of supermarkets. He owns movie theaters and restaurants and hotels, and that sort of thing. And he's been able to basically weather serious political instability, hyperinflation in Peru, and in the meantime been able to build up this company that basically serves the middle class.

And that's the big story throughout the emerging world, is you know, see large swaths of people who used to be impoverished grow into lower middle class or middle class and have this disposable income they're able to spend. And so Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor has basically been able to build his billion dollar fortune by servicing all their needs.

MONTAGNE: You also of a Brazilian real estate company and the man who created it. And he basically put into effect a premise that created a lot of wealth here in America back in the '50s. He started creating little Levittowns(ph).

Mr. MILLER: That's right. Rubens Menin basically built his $1.6 billion fortune by what he calls building homes for the bricklayers and maids of Brazil. So those people who are just coming out of poverty and are able to afford homes, he was basically able to build these - they're modest dwellings certainly by American standards, but if you build enough of them and you're able to extend lines of credit at reasonable interest rates, you can make a lot of money.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Well, let's talk about one of these billionaires, a woman, a French woman who chairs a major advertising company. And before you describe her to us, I mean how does someone in that job - high-profile, one would think - stay so low-profile that you in a sense had to discover her?

Mr. MILLER: Well, with Elisabeth Badinter, she's actually the heir to Publicis, which is the world's third largest advertising firm. When you see ads for Nestle or for GM, often the company is involved with those ads. But basically she inherited what is now a 10 percent stake in the company, worth more than a billion dollars.

But how does she stay so hidden? Well, it actually is the case that she is really a rock star in France for a whole different reason. She's a feminist author. And when you're off doing that and then running your company sort of in the chairman's role, you're able to go off and do this other stuff.

MONTAGNE: Well, finally, a Canadian who has gotten very rich off of gold, which sounds quite natural. And especially, as we know, the price of gold has gone way up, but he got very, very rich. Who is he?

Mr. MILLER: Eric Sprott is very well-known in Canada and not very well-known outside of Canada. But essentially he's been able to take a very bearish view of the economy, invest in precious metals, especially gold and silver, and has seen tremendous returns. So he has an asset management firm. Basically he runs a hedge fund and a lot of other funds. The hedge fund as of June 30th was up about 640 percent since its inception in 2001. And so basically he's made some very bearish bets going with gold, being very anti-dollar, and it's paid off for him and it's probably paying off for him this week as well.

MONTAGNE: Matthew Miller is editor-at-large for Bloomberg Markets magazine. And its current issue, the one now in the newsstands, features his article, "Hidden Billionaires." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.