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What do billionaires do?

The focus of this lesson is the importance of the consumption of goods and services in the creation of wealth and an introduction to the sectors of industry – primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary

Key questions

What makes a billionaire business?

What kinds of work to they do?

Where does Britain’s wealth come from?

What makes a billionaire business?

The billionaires of the world have become wealthy by using and developing resources, and by satisfying needs and wants of a population. Many of them have set up businesses or corporations which employ thousands of people and sell goods or services to millions of people. 

What kinds of work do they do? 

Their businesses develop resources and satisfy needs within four main sections of the economy:

  • The primary sector deals with farming, fishing, forestry and mining

  • The secondary sector processes materials and manufactures goods

  • The tertiary sector transports and sells goods and services, including both wholesale and retail selling, teaching and health care

  • The quaternary sector deals with information and hi-tech research. It includes developing new medicines or mobile phones, software and information networks

Goods, services and money flow constantly between these sectors and large corporations operate both within and across sectors.

Where does Britain’s wealth come from?

There are lots of ways a country can generate wealth. In very general terms, countries in the Middle East sell oil because they have abundant reserves of it. Thailand promotes itself to (mainly) foreign tourists because it has a good climate and a varied physical and cultural landscape that appeals to a wide range of people. One hundred years ago Britain made money from coal and making things in heavy industries like shipbuilding. Britain used make things for the world (like Japan and more recently China) but now UK is selling services to the global super-rich – the billionaires that feature in this module - as well as those on more modest incomes like me and you. The service sector is the dominant sector of the UK economy. This means that the Tertiary sector jobs outnumber the Primary, Secondary and Quaternary sector jobs.

The UK service sector makes up about 73% of GDP and is mainly dominated by financial services, especially banking and insurance. Tourism is very important to the UK accounting for 3.5% of the economy and worth £85 billion in 2005 with International tourists spending £17 billion and UK residents spending £67 billion. Manufacturing has been in steady decline since 1960s, although this sector is still important for overseas trade. The manufacture of pharmaceuticals is important to the UK also.  Primary industries such as farming and mining are less important sources of wealth, especially agriculture which accounts for only one per cent of GDP. Primary energy production is still important however as Britain still has natural gas and oil reserves although they are diminishing.

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the most commonly used indicator of national income. It attempts to measure the sum of incomes received by the various sectors of the economy: manufacturing, agriculture, service industries

  • When the income from abroad is included - what domestic companies earn abroad minus what foreign companies earn here and expatriate - then the GDP becomes the Gross National Product (GNP)

  • A crude measure of a country's wealth is Gross Domestic Product (GNP) per capita: the figure for GNP divided by the population

  • In order to compare GDP per capita across countries there is the need to use a common currency. Most international institutions like the World Bank use the US dollar for this purpose. This may give a misleading picture of how much an individual in a particular country can actually purchase in his own currency

  • Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) tracks the cost of a basket of traded and non-traded goods and services across countries. This gives a better indication of the purchasing power of an economy and consequently its relative wealth


Most of the world's billionaires earn their fortunes through work or economic activity.

What kind of work or economic activity do they do?

The brand Billionaire or mere millionaire activity will give you some ideas.

Main Activity

What kind of work do they do?

There are four different kinds of economic activity (paid work) that people can do (and that includes our billionaires):

  • Primary – gather material from the earth. Mining, drilling oil, farming or fishing for example

  • Secondary –turn materials into things to sell. Making bread from wheat or ships from metal for example

  • Tertiary – Provide a service for people. Tesco, teachers, carers, accountants, and taxi drivers are all providing service, some we pay for directly to them and some through taxes

  • Quaternary – Doing hi-tech research. Work on developing new medicines, new software and the latest mobile phones for example

  • Match the billionaire to the sector of industry that has made them their money. Pigeon-hole a billionaire.

Are there any difficulties that arise in assigning billionaires to a particular pigeon-hole – there is considerable overlap. Bill Gates for example invents things (quaternary) but his firm also manufactures (secondary) and sells goods (tertiary), thus Microsoft straddles the quaternary, tertiary and secondary sectors.

Where does Britain’s wealth come from? So what sectors of work do the UK’s top billionaires work in? How do they compare and with the contributions that the different sectors of industry make to UK national wealth as a whole. Look at UK billionaires and UK economy which shows descriptions of our billionaires and graphic showing the national economy.

Can you identify any identify similarities and differences?


You are hired.

Be the ‘The Apprentice' and apply for a job with your favourite billionaire.

Download the application form for a job with one of the billionaire’s global businesses.

Choose one billionaire you would like to work for, tell them why and how you want to work in that sector. Choose from:

  • William Gates III - IT and software - Microsoft

  • Warren Buffett - Financial investments

  • Ingvar Kamprad - Retailing - IKEA

  • Sheldon Adelson - Casinos, hotels & tourism

  • Bernard Arnault - Luxury retail goods – Christian Dior

  • Amancio Ortega  - Retailing - Zara

  • Liliane Bettencourt  - Beauty products - L’Oreal

  • Roman Abramovich  - Oil

Remember to make sure you show them your business acumen and understanding of global patterns of wealth in the world, and how being a geographer and studying geography has given you the skills they want and need, good luck.

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Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 Billionaire Pigeon Holes


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Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 Billionaire Pigeon Holes (1)


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Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 UK Billionaires and UK Economy


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Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 UK Billionaires and UK Economy (1)


226 KB

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 Application Form For A Job With Billionaire


219 KB

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 Application Form For A Job With Billionaire (1)


1 MB

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? Lesson 2 Brand billionaire or mere millionaire?


5 MB

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