How to Lose $13 billion in 24 Minutes

Are you counting down the days until you get paid and can eat something other than plain pasta and sauce again? Or are you struggling to work out how you’ll pay the bus fare to your mate’s birthday bash, let alone buy them a present?

Let these epic tales of financial misfortune soothe your frayed nerves, and remind you that, hey, things are probably going to work out alright.

Li Hejun

On Tuesday, Li Hejun, the founder and chairman of solar energy firm Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, was China’s second richest man with an estimated net worth of over $US30 billion.

But on Wednesday, Hanergy’s share price tanked by 47 per cent in just 24 minutes on the Hong Kong stock exchange, fuelled by investor concerns that a number of core technologies promised by the company might not actually work.

According to a Forbes estimate, the fall cost Hejun over $US13 billion. That’s around $US54 million a minute, or $US9 million a second. It makes that parking fine you got last week seem a little more manageable, doesn’t it?


Li Hejun

Ronald Wayne

In 1976, Ronald Wayne co-founded Apple Computer alongside Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

The original partnership agreement, which Wayne drafted, gave him a 10 per cent equity stake in the company. But just 10 days later, Wayne relinquished his equity for the measly sum of $US800. He later accepted a further $US1,500 to agree to forfeit any future claims against the company.

Today, Apple is the largest company in the world, with a market capitalisation of around $US750 billion, placing the value of Wayne’s original stake at around, oh, $US75 billion.

Although Wayne remained close to both Steves after he left Apple, he never reached their heights professionally or financially, and now lives a modest life in a $150,000 house outside of Las Vegas Nevada, according to Cult of Mac.

To add insult to injury, he lost his life savings in a robbery in his seventies, and in 2000 he sold an original Apple contract to an autograph collector for $US500 that went on to fetch $US1.6 million at auction. Sometimes life just throws you lemons.


Ronald Wayne


Tiger Woods

Back to 2009, golfer Tiger Woods was at the top of his game.

With 14 majors under his belt, unchallenged status as the number one golfer in the world and a squeaky clean public image, he was a marketer’s dream raking in tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals on top of all that lucrative prize money.

But then a string of highly publicised affairs led many of Woods’ key sponsors to withdraw their support of the player and kicked off messy and expensive divorce proceedings with his then-wife Elin Nordegren. The settlement ended up costing Woods an estimated $100 million, or a fifth of his $600 million fortune.

As a side note, Tiger’s not the only person to get stung by an expensive divorce. Aussie Actor Mel Gibson settled with Robyn Moore Gibson for an estimated $US450 million, while Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was estimated to have paid over $US1 billion to finalise proceedings with his wife Slavica.

But the title of most expensive divorce in history could potentially go to Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev. While it’s not yet set in stone, a Swiss court has ordered he pay $US4.5 billion to his ex-wife Elena. Ouch.

Tiger Woods. Image Keith Allison, Flickr.

Tiger Woods. Image Keith Allison, Flickr.

Nathan Tinkler

For a few years last decade, Nathan Tinkler was the face of the Australian resources boom.

A sparky-turned-businessman, the opportunistic Tinkler rode a tidal wave of good fortune making big bets on coal to become one of Australia’s richest people seemingly overnight.

In 2006 Tinkler bought the struggling Middlemount coal mine for $A11.5 million with $A1 million in borrowed money. In 2007, he sold most of the mine to Macarthur Coal in a cash and shares deal worth $AU240 million, which quickly doubled in value after Macarthur Coal became the subject of a takeover bid and its share price skyrocketed.

After selling his stake in Macarthur for $A442 million, he bought the Maules Creek development from Rio Tinto for around half a billion bucks in 2009, floated his company Aston Resources in 2010, and announced a merger between Aston and Whitehaven Coal in 2011 to cement his seemingly inevitable billionaire status.

But Tinkler’s empire was built on a mountain of debt, and he spent almost all of the cash he did have on property, toys and expensive forays into sports like horse racing and soccer.

And when the price of coal started to plummet, dragging the share prices of coal companies along with it, his empire began to unravel. The extent of his current wealth is unclear, but one things for certain: he doesn’t appear on the BRW rich list anymore. Pasta and sauce, anyone?

Nathan Tinkler

Nathan Tinkler

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Image: Alex Proimos, Flickr