The Sunday Times, 24 June 2001
What the media says
PSYCHOLOGISTS in California are concerned by a sudden rise in the number of high-tech zillionaires who have lost their fortunes and cannot handle their new found relative poverty.
They say the collapse of the dotcom bubble is creating a problem as big as "affluenza", the inability to handle sudden wealth, which two years ago was providing therapists with a booming business.
Stephen Goldbart at the Money, Meaning- & Choices Institute in San Francisco, says: "There is no way to know what it is like to make a whole lot of money quickly and then lose a whole lot quickly. Some of these people are suicidal."
Like affluenza sufferers, the instant poor judge themselves and others solely on their wealth. They often suffer from low self-esteem, insecurity, guilt, paranoia and insomnia. While most fallen tycoons do not suffer in this way, the size of the problem could be enormous because American entrepreneurs and investors have lost nearly $4 trillion (2.8 trillion pounds) in the past year.
A list of the world's biggest losers is included in Forbes magazine's upcoming issue. At its head is David Huber, founder of both Ciena and Corvis, whose fortune has plunged from $7.5billion to $700m.
But Branson, a hot-air-balloon enthusiast, could soon be rinding high again. His Virgin Mobile signed deals with SingTel, Cable & Wireless and Sprint.
Ronit Lami, a London psychologist who treats people suffering from affluenza or "sudden wealth syndrome", says her patients are highly motivated perfectionists who will do anything to achieve their ends.
She says: "It doesn't matter how much money there is in the bank, there is never enough. There is a huge fear of failure. If they suddenly lose their money, they suffer deep depression. Many identify themselves through their possessions, so their whole identity collapses."
As American-style capitalism and consumerism spread around the world, Lami believes the problem will grow. 'There is nothing wrong with money, but you need balance. Gandhi said the more material affluence you have, the less you are in contact with your inner self and the true values of life."
Sycwnore Networks' Gururaji Deshpande has only $700m of his $8.9 billion fortune left. Germany?s Thomas
Haffa, whose EM.TV bought the Muppets and 50% of Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One last year, lost $3.5 billion of his $3.75 billion fortune.
None of these gentlemen, of course, is reported to have shown any of the symptoms mentioned above.
If anyone should be feeling suicidal it is, perhaps, the Japanese. Dragged down by a recession and a weak yen, 14 of the non-American billionaires who fell off Forbes' richest list this year are in Japan.
The most spectacular flameout is Yasumitsu Shigeta, 36, whose mobile-phone and internet company, Hikari Tsushin, has lost 98% of its stock-market value. His fortune, worth $25 billion in mid-1999, has fallen to a mere $350m. Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, the property tycoon who was the richest man in the world in 1990 with an estimated worth of $16 billion, has seen his fortune shrink to $2.8 billion and his global ranking fall to 167.
Among British billionaires the biggest loser, according to Forbes, is Sir Richard Branson whose $3.3 billion fortune fell to $1.8 billion. Contributing to the bad year were tumbling profits at Virgin Atlantic, rail chaos hurting Virgin Trains and a losing bid for the national lottery.
Tycoons struggle with rapid wealth loss
How do owners cope if a company's value plummets and they are left with just a few billion? By Gareth Alexander in New York
360 Bedford Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210