Taking Stock of Area Billionaires' Coffers

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Washington region still has its share of billionaires, but even they have been unable to escape the hit from this recession.

Start with the chocolatiers known as the Mars family. According to Forbes Magazine, the three offspring of Forrest Mars split $27 billion, down from $42 billion last year. Forrest Jr., Jacqueline and John are the wealthiest locals, worth $9 billion each.

That's a lot of Snickers bars.

Ted Lerner, owner of the Washington Nationals and Tysons Corner mall, came in at $3.2 billion. Lerner's estimated net worth actually increased from last year, when Forbes had him pegged at $2.5 billion. Don't attribute the increase to the value of his Washington Nationals baseball team, which Lerner bought three years ago for $450 million. Forbes estimates it's worth around $460 million.

The billionaires' average net worth fell 23 percent, Forbes reported.

Also on the list is Mitchell Rales, who along with brother Steven founded and built Danaher, the District-based manufacturing conglomerate. Mitchell's net worth -- most of which is tied up in Danaher -- is $2.3 billon, down $500 million from last year. No surprise there. Danaher stock closed Friday below $54, or about 35 percent off its 52-week high. Steven's net worth also took a hit, falling to $2.1 billion from $2.6 billion.

Which brings us to the Carlyle Group, the private-equity giant based on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District.

Carlyle's troika, William E. Conway Jr., Daniel D'Aniello and David M. Rubenstein, have seen their net worth drop 44 percent, from $2.5 billion each in 2008 to $1.4 billion now, the magazine said. Sure, it's just an estimate, but the drop reflects the hit that the private-equity business has taken as a result of both the credit market meltdown and worldwide recession.

Then we have our local professional football team owners: Steve Bisciotti of the Baltimore Ravens and Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins.

Bisciotti's fortune, built on the staffing business, has dropped to $1.2 billion, down only $100 million from last year.

Snyder squeezed into the world's billionaire club with an estimated net worth of $1 billion, down from $1.3 billion last year, according to Forbes. Most of his wealth may be attributable to the Redskins, one of the most valuable franchises in all of sports. Even in this recession, the Redskins would probably fetch well over $1 billion.

Snyder, who serves as chairman and director of Six Flags, the amusement park chain, has seen his stock in the company decline by more than 90 percent in the last year.

A few made the list last year but not this one: AOL founder Steve Case, whose wealth last year was estimated at $1.2 billion; Richard and John Marriott Jr. of the eponymous international hotel giant, who were worth $1.7 billion; and B. Francis Saul II, who agreed last year to sell his Chevy Chase Bank to Capital One.

-- Thomas Heath

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