Elon Musk is now the world’s richest person – here’s what he and other rich South Africans studied

South African-born Elon Musk is now the world’s richest person after Tesla’s shares surged 7.9% on Thursday (7 January).

The climbing share price has boosted Musk past Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 wealthiest people.  Musk is now worth $194.8 billion, or $9.5 billion more than Bezos.

Born in South Africa to an engineer father and nutritionist mother, Musk left home at 17 for college in Canada, in part to avoid serving in the apartheid-era South African army.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in physics and economics, he enrolled at Stanford University but dropped out to create an online publishing platform called Zip2 in 1995. He sold it four years later for more than $300 million.

Musk reinvested some of the proceeds to start X.com, an online payment system. He would merge that with what eventually became PayPal, the e-commerce site that was ultimately sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.

He subsequently founded eclectic car company Tesla, rocket company SpaceX, and SolarCity – which is now the biggest provider of solar power systems in the US.

What wealthy South Africans studied

While Musk studied in the US made his fortune outside of South Africa, data from New World Wealth shows that a number of South African High-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) studied in the country and made their millions here.

The group defines HNWIs as those with a net worth of $1 million or more. Data published this week shows that the country had around 35,000 dollar millionaires at the end of 2020.

Its latest wealth report shows that largest portion of the country’s HNWIs acquired their wealth through the financial and professional services (including banks, law firms, accountants, fund managers and wealth managers), closely followed by the real estate sector.

However, the data shows that these HNWIs typically studied either law, finance or accounting degrees when at university.

The University of the Cape Town is the most popular university among HNWIs (20%), followed closely by the University of the Witwatersrand (18%), and Stellenbosch University (12%).

Industry breakdown

Industry Percentage of HNWIs
Financial and professional services (includes banks, law firms, accountants, fund managers and wealth managers) 32%
Real Estate 14%
Tech and Telecoms (includes software, internet, hardware and telecoms) 9%
Basic materials (includes agriculture and mining.) 8%
Diversified 8%
Healthcare 7%
Retail 5%
FMCG 5%
Media 4%
Manufacturing 3%
Transport & Logistics 3%
Hotels & Leisure 2%

What they studied

Area of study Type of degree Percentage of HNWIs
Law LLB/LLM 27%
Finance and Economics MBA/Bcom/Business Science/CFA 19%
Accounting Chartered Accountant 10%
Medicine and science Doctorate (or other) 7%
Computers and IT Bachelor of Science 6%
Engineering Bachelor of Engineering 5%
Actuarial Bachelor of Actuarial Science 3%
Other Other 23%

Where they studied

University Percentage of HNWIs
University of Cape Town (UCT) 20%
University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) 18%
Stellenbosch University 12%
University of South Africa (UNISA) 10%
Rhodes University 8%
University of Pretoria 6%
University of Johannesburg (including RAU) 4%
US universities 4%
UK universities 3%
Other 15%

Read: The richest people in South Africa at the start of 2021

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Elon Musk is now the world’s richest person – here’s what he and other rich South Africans studied