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Billionaire Malone on Wealth, Death and Yachts

John Malone
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
John Malone

When it comes to his personal fortune, John Malone prefers to put his billions into land and charitable foundations rather than toys.

There is one toy, however, that he does enjoy: Barry Diller's yacht.

In an exclusive, highly personal interview with CNBC's David Faber last week, Malone gushed over Diller's yacht, calling it a great example of the executive's management skills. The 305-foot sailing yacht, called EOS, is by most measures the largest sailing yacht in the world.

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"It's gorgeous. It's fabulous," Malone told Faber. "And better than a fabulous crew, which only Barry could organize, the harmonious elements of it. We would be hopeless. We can't have two employees without fighting. So I don't know how he does it."

In the highly personal interview, Malone, the billionaire cable magnate and chairman of Liberty Global, talked about his personal wealth and about being the largest landowner in America, with more than 2 million acres.

Malone said his main goal in buying land is preservation, and he hopes to buy more. He said his properties, which include timberland and ranches, are also a steady business and good protection against inflation.

"The conservation of lands is important," he said. "That was a virus that I got from Ted Turner."

"The forestry part of it in the Northeast is a pretty good business," with "very low return on capital, but very stable and leverageable," Malone said. "And we think it will provide good inflation protection in the long run. That's basically the motivation there. It just seemed like a good thing to do." The holdings, he said, are only a "relatively small part of ... my net worth."

Half of Malone's land holdings are in Maine and New Hampshire, the other half in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

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When it comes to his family's wealth, Malone said he has put his wife's money in Australia and Canada in recent years for security. "It's worked well," he said.

Malone said most of his wealth—"around $5 billion or $6 billion"—will go to charitable foundations, which will hold controlling interests in his companies if he dies. His kids and grandchildren will serve on the foundation boards. Eventually, he said, he hopes the foundations will diversify out of the companies and possibly sell the controlling positions to management.

"That's the exit scenario for me," Malone said. "My will pretty much says, 'Give each company the opportunity to own the control stock, if it's ever divested.' " His controlling interest in Liberty Global has already been put into a trust "so that it's just parked," he added.

Unlike other media titans, such as Rupert Murdoch, Malone said he's not interested in creating a corporate dynasty.

"Clearly Rupert's got family and a trust in Australia, and he can hold the control position indefinitely in an Australian trust," Malone said. Murdoch's News Corp. has "a great guy running the company today in Chase [Carey, the COO]," he added.

He predicts one of Murdoch's children, his son James or daughter Elisabeth, will one day run the company. "I think when Rupert bought back the daughter's company, that was to get her back into the race, as it were, in terms of who ultimately can run the empire."