'I Got Zucked!'—Sudden Wealth Losses Of the Rich

Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp.
F. Carter Smith | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp.

Mark Zuckerberg’s paper wealth has fallen by more than $3 billion over the past two-and-a-half trading days. It could fall further today, giving us a new term for the business lexicon: “Zucked.” (As in “My stock wealth is down 30 percent, I got Zucked!”)

While Zuckerberg’s daily wealth gyrations may be new, the phenomena of sudden wealth loss is not. It is now part of the world of wealth, where a growing number of personal fortunes are made and lost in the volatile stock market. (See here for dot-coms that soared before going bust.)

Granted, we shouldn’t take up a collection for the slightly less-hyper-rich Zuckerberg. He’s still got more than $16 billion in paper wealth. And there are plenty of retail investors who were probably far more damaged. (They really got Zucked.)

Still, Zuckerberg has plenty of company when it comes to watching billions evaporate overnight. Here are some examples of other entrepreneurs and corporate chiefs who have suddenly lost billions.

Sheldon Adelson – Adelson is hands down the winner of the Biggest Loser contest. In 2008, when the market fell by half, the Las Vegas casino tycoon saw his personal fortune fall by 90 percent, or nearly $25 billion. Things got so bad that he had to lend his company $1 billion. But he took the loss in stride, as befit s a guy who says he grew up in the “slums.” “So I lost $25 bilion,” he told ABC in 2010. “I started out with zero.”

Bill Gates – In 1999, Bill Gates’ fortune topped $100 billion. But when markets fell, the value of his Microsoft holdings quickly sank by nearly $40 billion. With $60 billion left, however, he was still the richest man in the world.

Reed Hastings – If anyone could teach a class in volatile tech wealth, it’s Netflix founder Reed Hastings. He saw his paper fortune skyrocket to more than $850 million last April. Then, almost as quickly, it fell by nearly 75 percent, to around $200 million. What sets Hastings apart is that he prepared for the fall, by selling more than $100 million in stock over the years (and at higher prices) through automatic trading plans.

Lakshmi Mittal – The London-based steel tycoon saw more than 75 percent of his $45 billion vanish during the market swoon and steel crash of 2008. He’s since recovered somewhat, climbing back to $22 billion. It’s still been a bumpy ride – he lost nearly $1 billion in one day of trading one day in March.

Aubrey McClendon – In 2008, the Chesapeake Energy chief was worth about $3 billion, based largely on his company shares. He was so confident in company growth that he borrowed against his shares through margin loans and used the cash to purchase more shares. When energy prices collapsed, the stock fell 80 percent and McClendon’s had to liquidate 90 percent of his holdings. His fortune is now back to about $1 billion – thanks to some generous perks from the company – but the stock is still off by more than 75 percent from its high.

Do you know of other corporate chiefs who have been “Zucked”?

-By CNBC's Robert Frank
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