What is a Tycoon?

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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Andres Rodriguez, Gstockstudio, Bussiclick, Maik Meid
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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A tycoon, also known as business magnate or mogul, is an extremely wealthy and powerful person whose fortune derives primarily from one particular industry. This can encompass anything from oil to real estate to shipping vessels, with notable examples being Aristotelis Sokratis Onassis, a shipping tycoon, and Henry Ford, the automotive tycoon. A tycoon usually becomes well-known in both economic and social circles, and many engage in charity endeavors. They often become a household name.

The word tycoon comes from the Japanese word taikun, meaning "great lord". The word has been in use since the mid 19th century, first humorously to refer to powerful members of society, and eventually to identify rich businessmen. In Russia, a tycoon is known as "business oligarch," a term that refers to the wealthy who have a significant impact on political and estate affairs. When the Russian edition of Forbes puts out their annual list of the year's richest people, they make a special note indicating which names on the list obtain their wealth "while not holding a governmental position."


The very wealthy often become known for their eccentricities. Because money stops being an object, it becomes easier to access luxuries that others only dream of. Roman Abramovich, the Russian oil tycoon, has the world's most expensive collection of luxury yachts, including the largest private yacht ever built as of 2007. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, is an avid sci-fi fan, and recently donated $14 million US Dollars to the Seti Institute. The money will be used to build a radio telescope array to search for extraterrestrial life.

Most of the names in the list of world's richest people are tycoons. This includes Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft), Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA), Liliane Bettencourt (L'Oreal), the Walton family (Wal-Mart), Stefan Persson (H&M). While some of these people also own other companies, most of their business is conducted within one particular industry, be it computers or cosmetics. Oprah, who has made her fortune in entertainment, can also be considered a tycoon. While movie stars and celebrities make millions for their movies, Oprah has created her own company, Harpo Studios, and is a leader in all things related to TV and entertainment.


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