Who is the World’s Wealthiest Mormon? Should We Care?

May 16, 2011 | 33 comments
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0-JimJannardA decade ago I compiled a list of the world’s wealthiest Mormons, based on the annual Forbes lists of the World’s Billionaires and of the 400 Wealthiest Americans. At that time there were 7 on the list, down from 8 the previous year. Now only 4 of these are left on the list.

If there are fewer Mormons on the list of the World’s Wealthiest, I think it might be a good thing.

In 2001, the wealthiest of the 7 Mormons was Jon Huntsman, Sr., who ranked at #104 on the list of the 538 world’s richest with a fortune valued at $3.8 billion. He was followed by James L. Sorenson at 124 ($3.4 B), James Jannard, Roger W. Sant and Richard Peery at #292 ($1.7 B), and the Marriott brothers, Richard and Bill, at #336 and #421 respectively ($1.5 B and $1.2 B). David R. Huber had dropped off the list after briefly being the wealthiest Mormon when his company went public and its stock was wildly overpriced.

In the most recent list, the four remaining are (out of 1,210 billionaires worldwide):

  • #376 James Jannard $3 B
  • #651 J. Willard (Bill) Marriott $1.9 B (in the Forbes article as “John Marriott”)
  • #692 Richard Marriott $1.8 B
  • #833 Richard Peery $1.5 B

It is perhaps surprising for some that Huntsman, after being ranked so high on the list, has dropped off, perhaps due to the economy (Huntsman Chemical seems to have been sensitive to economic swings), Huntsman’s charity and perhaps to dividing up the fortune among the 9 children in the family. As I understand it, Huntsman Chemical is now largely run by son Peter Huntsman.

The others who dropped off the list for several reasons: Sorenson died in 2008 and left much of his fortune to charity, which dropped his heirs off the list. Sant and Huber dropped off the list because their companies stock prices declined.

It occurred to me at one point that the percentage of Mormons on this list might be some kind of estimate of how important wealth is to Mormons — Mormons are 4 of 412 Americans on the list, which is less than 1% and less than half the proportion of Mormons in the general population. But, I’m not sure that I have everyone on the current list who is Mormon, and on the list a decade ago Mormons seem to be overrepresented, so I don’t think that this is a good measure.

As for whether or not we should care, I don’t think we should make too much of it. This is an affinity list, no different from a list of football players who are Japanese or politicians who are or were Sikh. Personally, I find it interesting to know who is Mormon, but I don’t think it means anything about Mormonism at all. I also don’t think that the Yankee’s winning means much of anything about New York City (other than perhaps that there are a lot of fans here, making it possible for the team to pay high prices for players).

I have come up with one way that affinity information might be useful. In some cases it gives us a way to connect with friends and neighbors and get the conversation to Mormonism. If your friend is a baseball fan, it might help knowing what baseball players are Mormon.

Of course, I suspect many of you will disagree and suggest that these lists are not worthwhile. Make your case.

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33 Responses to Who is the World’s Wealthiest Mormon? Should We Care?

  1. Jax on May 16, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I love the lists of ‘who is Mormon’, especially in sports. I always like to cheer for them….though it would mean more to me knowing if they were also active, something hard to determine, is none of my business, and is prone to change from time to time.

    But keep them up please…..as you say, they are conversation pieces at least.

  2. anon on May 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

    But seriously, if we’re going to be able to use this for missionary work, then don’t we really need to know if they are active?

    I would probably not be bringing up Jon Huntsman, Jr. in any discussion of Mormons in politics, given his recent comments.

  3. Jax on May 16, 2011 at 9:30 am

    They may not be shining examples of faith, but using a recognizable name tells investigators that we aren’t ‘crazy’, that their are accomplished, respectable people who have also accepted our claims of truthfulness.

    For instance, just allowing the missionaries to use your name when knocking on doors in your area almost doubles their likelihood of success. You don’t have to be there, they just say, “you know Mr. X down the street, he is a member of our church too” and the likelihood that they will be able to teach that person increases dramatically. Same goes for public personas as well, even if they aren’t active.

    But I also like the lists for the “Gee, I never know ______ was a member” factor as well.

  4. Aaron B on May 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

    I havent checked the Forbes list this year, but FYI, for many years the world’s wealthiest Mormon has been Stephen Udvar-Hazy, a Hungarian immigrant in Beverly Hills who made his fortune in aircraft leasing. The reason you, and most Mormons, never mention him in conversations like this is that Forbes has never mentioned his Mormonism, nor has it been mentioned elsewhere. I believe he has been inactive for many years (not 100% sure about that), though his wife has been a RS president in the recent past.

  5. Ardis E. Parshall on May 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Nah, I don’t care who the wealthiest are. I like hearing about their charitable activities and other good uses any members puts their wealth to, though.

  6. Aaron B on May 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I did a quick look, and it appears he should be #2 on your list this year ($2.8 billion).

  7. Left Field on May 16, 2011 at 10:05 am

    The Yankees have lost five in a row.

  8. Robert on May 16, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Huntsman Sr. agreed to donate half his wealth to charity, so that’s probably one of the reasons he’s off the list.

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700053825/Huntsmans-other-billionaires-pledge-to-donate-half-their-wealth.html

  9. Jax on May 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I’m with Ardis on preferring to hear about charity work instead of wealth accumulation. But knowing who is part of my religion is intriguing either way.

  10. Alison Moore Smith on May 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Huntsman, Sr., has a goal to die broke. I’m guessing that dropping off the list is part of the big plan. Great guy.

  11. Kent Larsen on May 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Aaron B (4 & 6):

    Thanks for the information. It is hard to find out about people. I’ll bet there are a couple more at least.

    Left Field (7) — Dare I say that your observation “came out of Left Field?”

    Ardis (5) and Jax (9), I agree also. BUT I can’t help pointing out that its devilishly difficult to find out about the charitable activities of wealthy Mormons if you don’t know who they are!!

  12. Kent Larsen on May 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Alison (10) wrote: “Huntsman, Sr., has a goal to die broke”

    I think that is a wonderful goal, as long as you use the wealth for worthy purposes.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t go into what that says about estate taxes, huh?

  13. Bob on May 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    @ Alison Moore Smith:
    I too plan to draw my last dollar at my last breath. It’s on my Bucket list.

  14. MikeInWeHo on May 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    If your neighbor is a billionaire, this list might be particularly useful in gospel conversations.

  15. Left Field on May 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    #11: I’m just a little testy about the whole “Yankees always win” thing. The Yankees get credit for winning whether they do or not. No matter how bad they are or how long it’s been since the last championship, we still hear endlessly about how the Yankees always win. Even if the Yankees have been stopped for the last ten years running, every spring we have idiot sportswriters pontificating about whether anyone could possibly stop the Yankee “juggernaut” this year.

    The Yankees even *take* credit for winning whether they do or not. A few years ago, when I last went to a game in Yankee Stadium, the gift shop was selling T-shirts asking “Why do they call it the World Series if it’s always in the Bronx?” Never mind that 10-year-old children had no memory of a World Series in the Bronx. Never mind that the Fall Classic had been played in Boston (twice), St. Louis (twice), Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Denver, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay since it was last played in the Bronx. The Yankees get to sell T-shirts awarding themselves championships they never won.

  16. Mark B. on May 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I hate the Yankees whether they win or lose. But I like it better when they lose often.

  17. Bob on May 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    @ Left Field,
    Don’t hold back__tells us how you really feel!

  18. Kent Larsen on May 16, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Can we please NOT hijack this thread and make it about the yankees?

    I only mentioned them as an example of affiliation. Its really not the subject of this post.

  19. Aaron B on May 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Kent, I’m unclear as to what that says about estate taxes. Care to elaborate?

  20. Ken on May 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    #19, Aaron B: In the USA, the purpose of estate taxes is to ensure that extremely large fortunes are NOT passed on down to future generations undivided. It’s good for the nation and good for the economy to have public policies that ensure so much private wealth gets donated to worthy philanthropic causes. Although certain pols call it “the death tax,” my understanding is that the first $3million of inheritance passes down tax free. For most people, that is more than they can possible hope to ever lose.

  21. Bob on May 16, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    We should not care. Just because they have money does not make them “Good enough to be Mormon”. Not when we just had a hugh post where many said “If you doubt__ you are not good enough to be Mormon__why don’t you just leave”?

  22. Kent Larsen on May 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Aaron B (19), Ken (20) is in the right ballpark for what I was referring to. I’m sure Allison will come back and suggest that the opposition to the estate tax is about choice.

    But, it may be best not to go there. My principle motivation was to tease those opposed to the “death” tax a little, not actually make that the focus of this discussion.

  23. Kent Larsen on May 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Bob, I get what you’re saying. I certainly am not into any hero worship here.

    I’m just interested in who is Mormon. Don’t you think it is possible to be interested and NOT think that this makes them “good enough to be Mormon?”

  24. Juju on May 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    I like to know about successful Mormons. Thanks much for the article.

  25. Chris on May 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    What are the chances of a rich person getting into Heaven?

  26. Jenne on May 17, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I’m looking forward to the Mormons on Broadway list or the Mormons of distinction in the non-profit sector. I personally appreciate this list and others like it because it shows the diversity of good in the world and how we as Mormons can be in the world in a wide variety of ways and stand as examples of people who embrace good wherever it can be found. Like Mosiah said, wealth isn’t a bad thing when its used for good. The same could probably be said of football as well… :-)

  27. Kent Larsen on May 17, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Chris (25), are the chances of a rich Mormon getting into Heaven any better than those of the average rich person?

  28. Don on May 17, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Is wealth something we should aspire to? Is this what the Lord wants us to do?

  29. Jax on May 17, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Kent,

    I don’t think their chances are any better than anyone elses.

    Don,

    I’m pretty sure there is not account in any scripture showing how the accumulation of wealth is a good thing. Wealth shouldn’t be avoided, it should just be spread out again as soon as it is received.

    Jenne,

    Mosiah didn’t say it wasn’t bad as long as it was used for good. He said there is no acceptable reason at all to seek it, execpt for the INTENT of clothing and feeding the poor.

  30. Marie on May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I’d be interested in various definitions of “wealthy.” If it means “having a greater-than-average income” then in my view you can be both wealthy and consecrated (enjoying the psychological comfort of a good paycheck while not hoarding your excess, but giving it to those in need). But I agree with Jax’s last comment: retaining great personal wealth over time, even if giving a lot of money to those in need, is problematic for someone committed to complete consecration (Luke 21:1-4). Hooray for Huntsman Sr. and any other rich folk (Mormon or non-) who have fallen in a blaze of philanthropic glory from the Forbes lists!

    Now to look inward….

  31. Spencer L. Jensen on May 17, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    I’m not seeing what all the hoopla is about. We should be closely watching and following righteousness, not wealth. Too many of the saints I work with are caught up in great and spacious houses and huge Suburbans. Articles like this and the Parade of Homes seem like a big exercise in covetousness.

  32. Jax on May 17, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Spencer, maybe if this list were the only list Kent put out you would be correct. But he gives lists of sports players and links articles to other Mormons recieving attention, just so we know who out there in the public sphere shares our religion. This particular list is one put together by others (Forbes 500) and Kent just breaks down there list and tells us who is LDS. Not a exercise in covetousness.

  33. psychochemiker on May 18, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Without knowing who the wealthiest Mormons are, how could the bloggernacle judge and ridicule her/him for making the wrong choice? How else can people on the bloggernacle stick our noses in someone else’s business and tell them how to live their life? If the bloggernacle can’t judge people, what’s the purpose of the bloggernacle?