Correction appended: This story incorrectly reported the age of billionaire Charles Munger. He is 83.
Before they were the nation’s richest, they sang The Victors in the Big House. These are the eight wealthiest living students who ever passed through the Engin Arch on their way to greatness. The ranking next to their name denotes their spot on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans.
13 – Larry Page
What do Legos and a ubiquitous Internet behemoth have in common? Not just their colorful logos.
They each have the blessing of Engineering alum Larry Page, who graduated from the University in 1995.
While he was a student at the University, Page built a working Inkjet printer out of the popular toys, and playing with Legos remains one of his favorite pastimes. A 2006 article in Time magazine described Page, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Google CEO Eric Schmidt playing with a table full of the brightly-colored building blocks. Page has said Lego Mindstorms kits – which include a small robot – are among his favorite pieces of technology.
Page, 34, grew up in East Lansing. He and his older brother, Carl, broke with the family’s Spartan tradition – his mother Gloria taught computer programming at Michigan State University and his father was among the first professors to teach computer science there – to come to Ann Arbor. He studied computer engineering and was a member of the University’s Solar Car Team. Page also served as president of engineering honor society Eta Kappa Nu and recalled selling doughnuts as a fundraiser for the society as one of his favorite memories of University life.
After graduation, he moved on to Stanford University, where he met Brin. Google was born soon after.
A decade after graduating with honors in 1995, Page returned to the University to deliver the commencement speech for the College of Engineering. He’s also serves on the College of Engineering’s National
The immanent arrival of Google offices in Ann Arbor, is a boon to the city and state economy, and some have said it’s a result of Page’s fond memories of Ann Arbor.
Despite being the richest University alum, Page insisted that Google’s not about the money. After all, Google came up with the inspirational business model “do no evil.” Apparently sometimes, it works.
– Taryn Hartman
52 – Samuel Zell
USA Today once called Sam Zell “the country’s largest landlord, with 125 million square feet of office space and 225,000 apartments.” A graduate of both the University’s undergrad program and law school, Zell got a jump start on his real estate career in 1960s Ann Arbor with his Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity brother and future business partner, the late Robert Lurie.
Lurie was an engineering student who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University, and is the namesake of the Lurie Tower on North Campus. The partnership worked like this: Vivacious and exuberant Zell made the deals, and math-minded Lurie crunched the numbers behind the scenes.
The two aspiring moguls started their own real-estate business while still studying students at the University. Zell left the Univeristy in 1966 with a bachelor’s and a law degree. He sold the apartment business to Lurie before returning to Chicago, believing he was destined for bigger, brighter things.
Zell became a big-time player in his own right, as his Chicago-based Equity International corporation expanded beyond real estate and soon proved to have an eye for lucrative investments. Today, Zell finds time outside of running huge chunks of real estate to ski, play racquetball and ride his motorcycle.
In 1999, Zell and Lurie’s widow Ann gave a $10-million gift to the University in the form of the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Ross School of Business. He has also endowed the Samuel Zell/Robert Lurie Real Estate Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the Northwestern University Center for Risk Management. Zell was an LSA DeRoy Visiting Professor in Honors the College and has also made contributions to the business school’s Polish Studies Program.
– Taryn Hartman
64 – William Morse Davidson
From graduating in the Big House to running a glass business to owning wildly successful professional sports teams, Bill Davidson has had quite a run. And at 85, he’s not finished.
In 1947, Davidson graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. An avid basketball fan, he became the owner of the Detroit Pistons in 1974. In 1997, he scaled the Forbes list of the most generous Americans, landing at the number 10 spot. And in 2004, Davidson made sports history by becoming the first owner to win championships in three different professional leagues.
Even at his advanced age, Davidson still attends his teams’ games. In 2004, when the Pistons won the championship, Davidson delivered a victory speech that the Detroit Free Press labeled “saucy,” in which he jubilantly decried Pistons skeptics’ doubts as “bullshit.” The current owner of the Pistons, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Shock, however, has managing experience that extends well beyond the playing field.
Davidson began his career by working at a law practice. After three years, he quit his job to take over and resuscitate several failing companies. Later, Davidson assumed control of the Guardian Industries Corporation, which manufactures glass, when his relative who owned it died and it went bankrupt. Today, the Auburn Hills-based company runs facilities in 21 countries on five continents.
Davidson has been generous with his success. In 1992, he donated $30 million to the University to establish the William Davidson Institute currently located on the first floor of Wyly Hall. Recent donations since then have been more lavish, but at the time, it was the largest gift the University had ever received.
– Kirsty McNamara
77 – Joan H. Tisch
She may have lived in Ann Arbor for four years, but Joan Tisch is a New Yorker at heart. The Tisches are a family with immense star power. A Google image search yields several pictures of Tisch with Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker at a benefit hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to honor Tisch, 80. Her husband was the owner of Loews Hotels and the New York Giants, and her son Steve is an elite Hollywood producer behind films like “Forest Gump” and “Risky Business.”
But while the family may have moved onto bigger cities and bigger projects, they haven’t forgotten Ann Arbor.
An English major, Tisch met husband Preston Robert Tisch at the University. They stayed married for more than half a century until he died from a brain tumor in 2005.
After graduation, Tisch partnered with his brother, Lawrence, and embarked on a career that is almost clich