What Should You Ma­jor In If You Want To Be A Bil­lion­aire?

ForbesWeekly - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENIZ CAM, FORBES STAFF

For this year’s Forbes 400, we asked the na­tion’s rich­est what they ma­jored in as un­der­grad­u­ates and heard from about 290 of them.

There were some 80 dif­fer­ent ma­jors re­ported, with the big­gest num­ber—45— re­spond­ing that they had ma­jored in eco­nomics, fol­lowed by 42 list mem­bers with de­grees in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion (which was the top ma­jor for the U.S. pop­u­la­tion in 2015).

TD Amer­i­trade co­founder Joe Rick­etts, who stud­ied eco­nomics at Creighton Univer­sity, de­scribes his first eco­nomics class as a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence—one in which a light bulb went off and then ev­ery­thing in his life made sense. Other high-pro­file bil­lion­aires who were eco­nomics ma­jors in­clude the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots owner Bob Kraft (at Columbia), Ci­tadel founder Ken Grif­fin (Har­vard), and Hewlett Packard En­ter­prise’s CEO Meg Whit­man (Prince­ton).

The 45 who stud­ied eco­nomics went to 29 dif­fer­ent schools, from Chap­man Univer­sity to Johns Hop­kins. Thanks to its Whar­ton School, Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia con­ferred the most bach­e­lor’s de­grees in eco­nomics to this year’s Forbes 400 class. Nine bil­lion­aires in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Lau­rene Pow­ell

Jobs, and hedge fund man­ager Steve Co­hen stud­ied eco­nomics at UPenn. (UPenn also hap­pens to be the school that grad­u­ated the most mem­bers—18—of The Forbes 400). Amherst Col­lege, Dart­mouth Col­lege, Duke Univer­sity, Stan­ford, and South­ern Methodist Univer­sity trailed UPenn, giv­ing out eco­nomics de­grees to two bil­lion­aires each.

The fact that eco­nomics ma­jors dom­i­nate the ranks of the 400 rich­est Amer­i­cans is not really sur­pris­ing, ac­cord­ing to Sara El­li­son, a se­nior lec­turer in the MIT Eco­nomics Depart­ment. “Stu­dents have cho­sen eco­nomics be­cause they have a cu­rios­ity about the way the world works,” El­li­son says, a cu­rios­ity that makes peo­ple de­velop new sys­tems and con­trib­ute to ex­ist­ing firms. “This is of­ten the pro­file of the very most suc­cess­ful peo­ple.”

“Stu­dents who choose to study and ma­jor in eco­nomics gain an im­por­tant skillset, dis­ci­pline in think­ing and knowl­edge, which helps them be­come bet­ter de­ci­sion mak­ers,” says Lidija Po­lut­nik, the chair of the eco­nomics depart­ment at Bab­son Col­lege, where bil­lion­aires Peter Kel­logg and C. Dean Metropou­los stud­ied busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It is not only a ques­tion on how to make money,” con­curs Pro­fes­sor Ni­cholas Econo­mides from NYU. “It is un­der­stand­ing the struc­tures that cre­ate prof­itable op­por­tu­ni­ties.” Of course, not all Forbes 400 mem­bers chose to study the sci­ence of money. Eigh­teen bil­lion­aires were more in­ter­ested in what came be­fore it, choos­ing to ma­jor in his­tory, the third most pop­u­lar ma­jor for The Forbes 400. Among them were real es­tate mag­nate (and for­mer L.A. Clip­pers owner) Don­ald Ster­ling, U-Haul heir Joe Shoen and soft­ware firm SAS co­founder John Sall.

“Past per­for­mance is none­the­less one of the best in­di­ca­tors we have about how the fu­ture might un­fold,” says Seth Rock­man, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Brown Univer­sity. “Busi­ness peo­ple grasp this in­tu­itively, whether they track a price se­ries over a decade, look at a 52-week high, or con­sider the dif­fer­ent ways that hu­man so­ci­eties across time and space have en­forced con­tracts or reg­u­lated trans­ac­tions.”

Other pop­u­lar choices in­cluded elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing (17 Forbes 400 mem­bers), math­e­mat­ics (13), and English (11). Oth­ers’ ma­jors ranged from drama and Ja­panese lit­er­a­ture to re­li­gion and recre­ation and leisure stud­ies, prov­ing that while cer­tain ma­jors might help, there is no one sure­fire course of study. FW

the con­cepts that he wanted to bring to life, [could be],” says the younger Zappa. “Those were the sort of pos­si­bil­i­ties, and I ac­tu­ally have the pa­per­work and the patent searches and all that stuff from that time pe­riod in his life.”

Frank Zappa passed away in 1993 with­out see­ing those ideas to fruition, but to­day, Ah­met is pick­ing up where his fa­ther left off. He has part­nered with a com­pany called Eyel­lu­sion, which spe­cial­izes in creat­ing live rock shows fronted by dead stars, with the goal of bring­ing to life a tour head­lined by a holo­gram-like Frank Zappa il­lu­sion, per­haps as soon as 2018.

Be­ing dead is no longer an im­ped­i­ment to tour­ing, thanks to the ad­vances made by com­pa­nies like Eyel­lu­sion, whose first live ex­pe­ri­ence—a slate of shows fea­tur­ing tech­no­log­i­cally rein­car­nated Black Sab­bath front­man Ron­nie James Dio, backed by a live band—will kick off in Ger­many this De­cem­ber. And that opens up a fresh model for keep­ing stars rel­e­vant, and pos­si­bly even adding new fans, long af­ter they’re gone.

“If you think about what gets an artist press, it’s al­bums, tour­ing,” says Eyel­lu­sion chief Jeff Pez­zuti, 44. “Some­body like Ron­nie drives mu­sic that’s passed down to that next gen­er­a­tion. And you want those fans that are about my age or older to be able to have an­other chance to see Ron­nie, be­cause watch­ing on YouTube is not the same.”

Pez­zuti, a for­mer mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive and life­long mu­sic fan, formed Eyel­lu­sion af­ter be­ing in­spired by Tu­pac Shakur’s post­mortem de­but at Coachella in 2012 and Michael Jack­son’s in Las Ve­gas shortly there­after. De­spite the buzz gen­er­ated by both, the holo­graphic tour­ing in­dus­try hadn’t taken off, de­spite ru­mors of stars from Whit­ney Hous­ton to Bil­lie Hol­i­day re­turn­ing to the stage.

So Pez­zuti launched his com­pany with a fo­cus not on tech­nol­ogy, but pro­duc­tion. He part­ners with es­tates to cre­ate tour ideas, then sells the con­cept to con­cert pro­mot­ers; the tech side is out­sourced to a com­pany called Vn­tana, which has pro­duced holo­grams for clients rang­ing from Lexus to the NFL Hall of Fame, and a sim­i­lar out­fit known as ARHT Me­dia.

While plan­ning Eyel­lu­sion’s de­but with Dio’s es­tate, Pez­zuti met with Ah­met Zappa, who was so blown away that he joined the com­pany as di­rec­tor of global busi­ness de­vel­op­ment—and started to work on a tour con­cept that re­volved around his late fa­ther.

“He recorded this show in the early ‘70s, he went to the sound stage, and he did a multi-cam­era shoot that no one had ever seen,” says Zappa. “We have lots of other con­tent, but this par­tic­u­lar show just felt like what would be a great ba­sis for putting Frank back on tour.” Much of the tech­nol­ogy used by Eyel­lu­sion and its com­peti­tors revolves not around ac­tual holo­grams, but holo­gram-like il­lu­sions that date back to a 19th-cen­tury con­cept. The mech­a­nism is fairly sim­ple: pro­ject­ing an im­age onto a tilted piece of glass on the floor of the stage and re­flect­ing it up through a My­lar screen, thereby creat­ing the il­lu­sion of a three-di­men­sional hu­man. That fig­ure is usu­ally a video cap­ture of an ac­tor, with the de­sired face ap­plied later.

This model al­lows a great deal of flex­i­bil­ity, es­pe­cially when it comes to an act as ec­cen­tric as Frank Zappa. His son imag­ines Clay­ma­tion ver­sions of the rocker al­ter­nat­ing with life­like il­lu­sions—and per­haps even ab­sur­di­ties like Zappa’s snake­skin plat­form boots—singing his songs.

Of course, deal­ing with es­tates also means nav­i­gat­ing fam­ily drama. In the case of Zappa, that in­cludes on­go­ing squab­bles be­tween Ah­met and his brother, Dweezil, over what could and should be done in their fa­ther’s name. “Hon­estly, it’s been really chal­leng­ing,” says Ah­met. Per­haps that sort of sit­u­a­tion is why Eyel­lu­sion is also look­ing at creat­ing holo­gram-es­que rep­re­sen­ta­tions of liv­ing acts. Hy­po­thet­i­cally, if Eminem wanted to bring out Ri­hanna to sing the hook of “The Mon­ster,” he could sim­ply li­cense an il­lu­sion of the songstress rather than play­ing her cho­rus from track or shelling out for a real-life per­for­mance.

Cur­rently, Eyel­lu­sion’s fo­cus is Dio and Zappa. And for Ah­met, the ex­pec­ta­tion of his fa­ther’s mu­si­cal rein­car­na­tion has taken on a fit­tingly macabre sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion.

“Peo­ple are gonna lose their minds, their brains are gonna melt out of their ears,” he says of the tour. “I can’t wait. Their eye­balls are gonna ex­plode!” FW

Hewlett Packard En­ter­prise’s CEO Meg Whit­man stud­ied eco­nomics at Prince­ton.

Frank Zappa--and other de­ceased stars--will soon be re­turn­ing to a stage near you

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