Billionaire Breaks Ranks
Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez — “Florida’s newest billionaire” when we last did the list in 2013 —broke with his Republican past last year over Donald Trump. The serial health care entrepreneur said he would back Hillary Clinton but ultimately told reporters that on election day he wrote in Jeb Bush. (He reportedly donated $3 million to Bush’s political action committee.) Anthem acquired Fernandez’s Simply Healthcare Plans managed care company in 2015, the year after CVS acquired his Navarro Discount Pharmacy chain. His private equity firm remains active in Miami-based Concordia Care, Vero Beach-based eMindful and Miami-based Strategic Health Holdings.
Comings and Goings
Subway founder Fred DeLuca, our No. 1 from 2013 — who would rank sixth today — died in 2015. Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, No. 5, died in 2014. For most who made our list in 2013 but not this year, it’s not that they became impoverished. “Their wealth increased in the past three or four years, but it hadn’t increased as much” as the wealth of others, says Peter Landers, partner at Global Governance Advisors. Billionaires left behind from our 2013 list: William Koch; Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund manager whose Sears is struggling mightily; Slim-Fast’s S. Daniel Abraham; construction company leader Alfred James Clark, who died; Netscape founder Jim Clark: car dealer Norman Braman [Icon, p. 16]; coal mogul Christopher Cline; and Red Sox owner John Henry.
The World’s Billionaires and Florida
In Mel Brooks’ 1976 film, Silent Movie, the slogan of the giant corporation, Engulf & Devour, was “our fingers are in everything.” The world’s billionaires have their fingers throughout Florida, a testament to the state’s attractiveness but also to the reality that when you have billions to deploy, it has to go somewhere.
Aside from owning an entire street by the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, owns or has invested in Florida farmland, in Tampa’s Channelside and Fort Lauderdale-based car dealer AutoNation, among others.
Spain’s Amancio Ortega, the world’s second-richest person, has backed the Epic Residences & Kimpton Epic Hotel in Miami. In December, he paid $517 million — cash — for Miami’s Southeast Financial Center, Florida’s biggest office building. Ortega has been buying trophy properties in trophy cities around the globe. He earlier bought a block on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road for $370 million.
In 2008, the third-richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, made headlines when Berkshire Hathaway took $224 million from the state in return for a pledge to buy the state’s hurricane catastrophe bonds in the event the state got smacked by hurricanes as it had in 2004 and 2005. Some state leaders complained Buffett would make out like a bandit, but others counseled the state needed the insurance. No hurricanes blew and Buffett did well. Berkshire Hathaway’s fingers reach a wealth of places in Florida: Paint supplies, real estate brokerage, entertainment organizations, auto dealers, distributors and others.
The world’s No. 4, Mexico’s Carlos Slim, is more active philanthropically in Florida than some who claim the state as their residence, but he’s more in the news for dinner at Mar-a-Lago or with basketball stars here.
Larry Page and other Google billionaires touch Florida through Google’s investment in Magic Leap, an augmented reality company based in south Florida.
LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, chaired by the 14th-ranked world billionaire, Bernard Arnault, played a critical role in the transformation of the rundown Miami Design District into a Louis Vuitton, Prada, Cartier, Harry Winston, ultra-luxe shopping area set to blossom even more this year.
The world’s No. 5 Jeff Bezos is a Miami-Dade high school grad. Amazon’s cavernous distribution centers continue to go up in Florida, while his Blue Origin rocket company is building a rocket factory just outside the Cape Canaveral space port fence.
No. 18, China’s Wang Jianlin, touches Florida through his Kansas Citybased AMC Theatres chain and owns Tampa-based World Triathlon, the organizer of Ironman triathlons.
London-born Bahamas investor and currency trader Joe Lewis and his Tavistock own the Pier Sixty-Six hotel and marina in Fort Lauderdale, the Isleworth and Lake Nona golf and country clubs and the high-impact Lake Nona development near Orlando with its health care business park that includes the UCF medical school, a VA hospital plus the USTA’s national campus and a planned training center for KPMG.
The Tax Factor
The wonder is that more rich people don’t move here. People who move from Middle Atlantic and New England states, depending on the state, can save 8% to 9% of income that otherwise goes to state, county and city income taxes plus spare their heirs from piggyback state inheritance taxes. Louis Balbirer, tax services principal at Kaufman Rossin in Fort Lauderdale, says establishing residency in Florida isn’t hard: Get a Florida driver’s license, own a home, register to vote, register the cars here. File for a homestead exemption to designate a Florida home as the primary residence. Live here at least 183 days a year. States up north will have a hard time going after someone for income tax who does all that. Balbirer says high net worth individuals, advised by accountants or lawyers, establish residency properly.
That New York Influence
Of the billionaires who officially reside in Florida, most seem to do little more here than own a home, dock a boat and escape state income and inheritance taxes elsewhere. These New Yorkers aren’t officially Florida residents but have homes here and affect Florida in important ways.
Len Blavatnik, 59
Russia-born, Harvard- educated Blavatnik resides in London and New York, but in Miami he has invested with Argentine developer Alan Faena on Faena’s Miami Beach arts district, a block including the ultra-luxe Faena Hotel, a condo tower with a $60-million double penthouse — bought by Chicago hedge fund head Ken Griffin and since relisted for $73 million — and other spaces public and private. Blavatnik is said to be the owner of the gold-plated mastodon on the Faena Hotel terrace.
Carl Icahn, 80
Indian Creek Village
The activist shareholder’s neighbors include hedge-fund manager Eddie Lampert, retired Dolphins coach Don Shula and car dealer Norman Braman. Icahn’s various Florida-related targets in recent years include WCI and Hertz.
Stephen Ross, 76
Oh, how the University of Florida wishes Ross hadn’t transferred as a student to the University of Michigan. The Miami Beach Senior High grad amassed a fortune in real estate with his Related Cos. And has become Michigan’s biggest donor, with more than $300 million given. He is the majority owner of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. In New York, his Related has the Time Warner Center and Hudson Yards. In Florida, it has the W South Beach Hotel on Miami Beach and, in West Palm Beach, CityPlace, which he has described as not a huge success financially. Ross’ influence ties, in a way, to Miami’s condo skyline. Ross once was majority owner of Miami uber-developer Jorge Pérez’s company. Pérez has been majority owner for years, though Ross still has a small stake.
Richard LeFrak, 71
Formerly an investor in BankUnited, LeFrak’s interests include 1 Hotel South Beach, but his major impact will be SoLeMia, a project slated for more than 4,000 residential units on 184 acres in North Miami. The name combines the first letters of Soffer, the Miami billionaire family behind Turnberry Associates, LeFrak and Miami.
Donald Trump, 70
The new president’s name is all over south Florida: Trump Grande and Trump Towers in Sunny Isles, Trump Hollywood, Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, Trump National Doral and Mar-a-Lago, now the weekend White House for the most powerful person on earth.