Why Forbes Is Dropping Wilbur Ross’ Net Worth—Again
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross apparently lied about his assets for years, fooling Forbes and virtually everyone else into thinking he was a billionaire. In 2017, we unraveled that myth and dropped the estimate of his net worth to $700 million. Now we are lowering it once more, to $600 million.
There is no doubt Ross is a rich man. He formed his own private equity firm in 2000 and scored big with a bet on the steel industry, personally hauling in an estimated $260 million. In 2006, he sold his firm to publicly traded financial firm Invesco for $100 million up front and the chance to earn another $275 million down the road. That adds up to plenty of money, yes, but nowhere near the $3.7 billion Ross once claimed.
There are two principal factors behind Ross’ latest downgrade, from $700 million to $600 million. The first is artwork. The secretary of commerce has a vast collection, centered around the Belgian painter René Magritte.
In 2013, Ross showed off some of his pieces to a Forbes reporter, who put the value of the collection at $150 million. Three years later, Ross’ assistant said the number really should be $225 million, since Ross had acquired additional Magrittes, bringing the total to 41, according to notes taken at the time.
In 2017, while slashing the estimates on Ross’ other assets by more than $2 billion, we gave Ross the benefit of the doubt on the art collection, going with $225 million.
The commerce secretary’s fortune includes an art collection and multi-million dollar homes in New York City, the Hamptons, Washington, D.C., and Palm Beach, Florida.
Further reporting has made us rethink that decision. “Forty-one Magrittes, in my opinion probably are worth $100 million, between $80 and $100 million bucks,” said financier and art aficionado Asher Edelman.
Sure, Ross has other artwork beyond Magritte, including contemporary works by Chinese artists. But when asked to hand over documents to prove the value of his collection, Ross provided nothing. Given the lack of transparency, and Ross’ tendency to deceive, it seems prudent to peg his art collection at no more than $150 million.
The second factor in Ross’ demotion? The commerce secretary lost at least $15 million divesting certain assets after he joined President Trump’s cabinet. Ross waited until October 25, 2017—the last possible day that he could sell off certain holdings—before dumping interests in several entities to funds managed by Goldman Sachs.
The exact price of those transactions remains unknown, but fire sales are not typically a good way of harvesting investments.
If Ross did not learn that firsthand in 2017, he certainly did the next year.
In July 2018, after Forbes exposed a string of potential conflicts of interests, the commerce secretary promised to sell all his remaining equity interests. Three months later, he offloaded one of the last ones, a stake in something called Starboard WLR Associates.
The asset was worth roughly $25 million, according to documentation reviewed by Forbes. But Ross sold it for less than $10 million, wiping more than $15 million off his personal fortune.
Not that he should miss the money too much. Ross disclosed personal cash accounts of more than $150 million on a federal filing.
He and his wife Hilary also own houses in four of America’s big-money towns. There’s an $8 million apartment in New York City, a $10 million mansion in D.C., a $12 million pad in the Hamptons and a $22 million palace in Palm Beach, Florida.
So even though Ross is not a billionaire, he can still live like one.