The Kardashians have axed their annual Christmas party after Kim Kardashian West’s lavish private-island birthday getaway earned a wave of criticism. While the $2 million gathering was dubbed particularly tasteless in the middle of a global pandemic, the Kardashians have long enjoyed making headlines for their over-the-top shindigs and sensational antics.
The reality show queens are far from the only ones—leading entrepreneurs’ business accomplishments have often taken a backseat to their made-for-television stunts, such as Richard Branson’s attempt to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon and controversial kitesurfing jaunt with a nude model on his back. Similarly, some philanthropic bequests have seemed particularly geared towards earning a place in the spotlight—Sandy and Joan Weill’s $20 million gift-that-wasn’t, rescinded after a cash-strapped college failed to rename itself after them, comes to mind.
There are a growing number of high-net-worth individuals, however, who are blazing a different trail, eschewing an endless cycle of ostentatious parties and paparazzi photos to spend time with family and pursue their passions.
An heiress unlike the others: Ekaterina Rybolovleva
In many ways, it’s surprising that heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva isn’t a frequent feature in the tabloids. After all, when she was only 22 her father, billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, bought her an $88 million penthouse overlooking Central Park to stay in while she attended classes at Harvard University Extension School.
Despite her considerable wealth, however, Ekaterina Rybolovleva has preferred to stay out of the gossip pages and has focused on her keen interest in equestrianism, as well as supporting her husband, Uruguayan Senator Juan Sartori, in his political career.
A skilled horsewoman
Ekaterina Rybolovleva seems to have inherited her father’s love of sport—Dmitry Rybolovlev is the President of football club AS Monaco, owned by a trust belonging to Ekaterina, and also an avid boat racer. While Ekaterina Rybolovleva can be spotted in the stands of Monaco’s Stade Louis II cheering on the Ligue 1 team, her particular interest has always been horse riding.
Trained by British show jumper and Olympic gold medallist Ben Maher, Rybolovleva has competed in a number of competitions around Europe on her horses Cherubin van de Helle, Uropo, Lucky the Man, Obelix du Thot, and Celesto Z, notably winning the Gucci Masters in 2010 and 2012.
Rybolovleva kicked off a new chapter in her life when she met Uruguayan businessman and politician Juan Sartori while he was studying at the economics faculty of HEC Lausanne, and she recently commemorated their 5th wedding anniversary with a sweet snap of the happy couple on a waterfront walk.
Rybolovleva was a constant presence on the campaign trail as her husband ran for the President of Uruguay and was eventually elected Senator. Otherwise, she’s continued to maintain a low profile, focused on protecting the privacy of her two children, Sasha and Giulia. Her Instagram feed, filled with candid family snaps and photos of her beloved horses, is a refreshing change from most socialites’ carefully curatedsocial media presence.
The consummate entrepreneur: James Leprino
Ekaterina Rybolovleva isn’t the only ultra-wealthy individual who prefers a life out of the spotlight. Most people haven’t heard of James Laprino, and there are no known photographs of him online—despite the fact that millions of people have tasted the product that built him a $3.2 billion fortune, nearly the same net worth as the much-flashier Richard Branson.
King of cheese
In fact, his Laprino Foods is the world’s largest mozzarella company and supplies cheese to major pizza chains Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Caesars and Papa John’s. Despite his company’s runaway success—it sells some billion pounds of cheese a year for $3 billion in revenues—the famously private Leprino has remained remarkably down-to-earth.
During a rare interview with Forbes in 2017, Leprino showed reporters the card which he asks all his employees to carry in their pockets—he apparently keeps his in a black leather wallet that’s so worn he has to hold it shut with a rubber band—with the company’s core values of quality, service, price and ethics. “The company was growing so fast”, Leprino explained, “that they were missing this important message”.
Keeping it simple
That little detail is indicative of Leprino’s broader philosophy. Instead of publicity stunts, he used attention to detail and rigorous quality control to build his business up from his parents’ tiny Italian specialty foods store. Leprino secured contracts with the world’s four largest pizza chains by catering to their individual needs—when Pizza Hut instituted higher-temperature ovens, for example, Leprino reformulated its cheese to ensure it wouldn’t burn under the extra heat.
Though his near monopoly on pizza cheese made him a billionaire, Leprino has not only stayed out of the public eye but stayed deeply involved with his business, driving a forklift around Leprino Foods’ factory and personally sifting through customer complaints every Monday morning.
The quiet philanthropist: Azim Premji
Leprino’s dedication to quality control and ethics would make him a kindred spirit of Azim Premji’s. Premji managed to turn his father’s cooking oil business into one of India’s most important tech companies through a commitment to excellence and integrity, turning down lucrative government contracts that would have required bribery and earning Wipro its place at the top of global rankings of the most ethical companies for the past nine years.
All attention on charitable initiatives
Despite his resounding business success, Premji is famously reclusive and unassuming. A mere 100 people—and no photographer— attended his wedding, while the business magnate pays for personal calls he takes at work out of his own pocket, routinely travels in economy class and prefers to patronise local street food stands on his travels than Michelin starred restaurants.
If Premji himself is not a larger-than-life figure, his philanthropy is. The tech magnate would have been India’s second richest man in 2020—if he hadn’t already given away 75% of his wealth. The lion’s share of these funds have gone towards improving primary education in India, while he committed $134 million towards fighting the coronavirus crisis—a number that dwarfed donations made by more internationally-visible philanthropists, such as Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos.
The lives of the ultra-rich have come under particular scrutiny during the pandemic, as the collective wealth of the world’s billionaires has soared to record highs. An increasing number of them, however, are eschewing the media rat race and doubling down on personal passions, family life, building businesses with integrity and crafting charitable initiatives.