When it comes to rich guys who happen to be smart, they generally run a dime a dozen. Few are as smart in the unique way that Jimmy Wales is smart – he is the founder of Wikipedia, after all, and he certainly qualifies. As of 2023, Jimmy Wales has a net worth of $15 million.
As you might expect, Wales has a unique tale to tell, and it goes beyond the sanitized version you could probably look up on Wikipedia. As rich as Wales is, he takes an annual salary of exactly $0 a year, and that alone makes him one of the most interesting rich guys on the planet.
Not surprisingly, Wales was an encyclopedia geek when he was growing up in Huntsville, Alabama. His father was a grocery store manager, and his mother ran a private school called the House of Learning.
Given the obvious value of education in the family, it wasn’t exactly shocking that Wales attended a private prep school, from which he graduated at the tender age of 16.
He went on to Auburn, where he earned a B.A. in finance in 1986. He did enter a Ph.D. program at the University of Alabama, but after transferring to Indiana U. his ongoing education turned uniquely private.
From Finance to Knowledge Accumulation
Wales caught on as a finance guy in Chicago, working for the Chicago Options Associates. There he developed an interest in computer games, coding and networks, and that led him to found Bomis, a web portal and “guy-oriented” search engine, in 1996.
Bomis ultimately failed, but Wales didn’t. He pursued another idea he had for an online encyclopedia and launched Nupedia, an open-content encyclopedia whose entries were supervised via peer review.
The predecessor to Wikipedia was slow to grow, so Wales changed the model after meeting with a programmer. Contributors were allowed to post entries simultaneously, and while the purists hated the lack of peer review, the site took off.
The wealth angle behind Wikipedia is intriguing and then some. If he went public with Wikipedia, he’d probably be worth about $10 billion, according to some estimates, but Wales doesn’t seem to care a bit about this.
He makes his money through donations, and while he won’t disclose the exact amount his net worth indicates it’s a healthy sum that won’t leave him on the dole any time soon.
He’s on record as saying there are car dealers in Ohio who have more money than he’ll ever have, although it’s likely that there are many car dealers in the Buckeye state who wouldn’t mind having Wales’ net worth.
Instead, he’s pursued education, and somewhat maniacally at that. He has honorary advanced degrees from several illustrious universities around the globe. He’s gotten involved in politics, pursuing the cause of freedom of information on the web while criticizing both US and UK politics.
Wales has been a busy guy in his personal life. He’s played marriage-go-round with three different wives, and he also had an affair with conservative commentator Rachel Marsden.
The third time proved to be the charm in the marriage game when he married Kate Garvey in 2012, and Wales became a British citizen.
Wales describes himself as an Objectivist and an atheist, and he’s a fan of Ayn Rand who describes his politics as right-wing leaning toward the center. Regardless, Wikipedia and the media group Wales helped found will almost certainly stand as his most unique contribution when his obituary finally turns up on the online encyclopedia.