What Is a Tycoon?

A Tycoon Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

Definition
A tycoon is a business leader, entrepreneur, or individual who has built substantial wealth and influence.
Investor tycoon Warren Buffett
Photo:

Daniel Zuchnik  / Getty Images

A tycoon is a business leader, entrepreneur, or individual who has built substantial wealth and influence. The term was first used to describe wealthy businesspeople who dominated their industries in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Tycoons typically come from prominent industries and, in the past, dominated steel, railroad, and production. Today, the term “tycoon” is often used to refer to someone who runs a tech or internet company.

Definition and Example of a Tycoon

A tycoon is a business leader, entrepreneur, or individual who has built substantial wealth and power through their business dealings. The term was adapted from the Japanese word “taikun,” which was used to describe the shogun.

Initially, the term “tycoon” was used to describe individuals who dominated the steel, oil, and railway industries. For example, Cornelius Vanderbilt is sometimes considered the first American tycoon because he founded the New York Central Railroad.

At Vanderbilt’s death in 1877, it was said his estate was worth $100 million—a sum of money that was unheard of at that time. He left the bulk of his estate to his son, who continued to build the Vanderbilt family fortune.

How Tycoons Works

A tycoon is a business owner or entrepreneur who has built massive wealth and influence through their business dealings. The term became particularly popular during the 19th century as owners of companies that helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution became wealthier.

Two types of tycoons emerged during this time: the robber barons and the captains of industry. “Robber baron” was a term used to describe business people who engaged in unethical behavior. Captains of industry, on the other hand, were often seen as tycoons who used their great wealth to benefit society.

One of the hallmarks of a tycoon is their ability to influence public opinion and in some cases, the U.S. economy. For instance, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently stated that he wouldn’t sell his cryptocurrencies, including Dogecoin, in a social media thread. Dogecoin, which had previously been falling in value, saw its stock price jump 7%.

Types of Tycoons

Tycoons are characterized by their wealth, influence, and prominence in American society. But there’s no one way to become a tycoon—modern tycoons come from various industries.

Tech Tycoons

Today, when most people hear the term “tycoon,” they often think of individuals who founded tech and internet companies. For instance, Jeff Bezos made his fortune by launching Amazon, which brought in $469.8 billion in net sales in 2021.

Later, Bezos expanded his wealth by investing in real estate, media, and transportation. Currently, Bezos is investing money in his space exploration company, Blue Origin.

Media Tycoons

A media tycoon is a successful entrepreneur or business owner who controls any media consumed by a large number of individuals. Initially, media moguls owned and controlled newspapers and radio networks. Later, the term was often used to describe individuals who worked in television and film. Today, it can also describe social media creators and founders.

Oprah Winfrey is an example of a media tycoon. She built her $2.6 billion fortune through her television show, network company, and magazine.

Investor Tycoons

Traditionally, investors weren’t considered tycoons since they weren’t entrepreneurs. That's because investors build their wealth by investing in other people’s companies. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.

Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors of all time, is considered an investor tycoon. He’s worth nearly $125 billion, and his investment strategy is followed by other investors worldwide.

Note

An essential aspect of Buffett’s investing strategy is looking for undervalued companies. These are companies that have strong business fundamentals but are undervalued in their market performances.

Key Takeaways

  • A tycoon is a business leader, entrepreneur, or individual who has built substantial wealth and influence.
  • The term was prominently used in the 19th century to describe business owners who dominated the steel, oil, and railway industries.
  • In the past, some tycoons were also referred to as “robber barons,” which describes a business owner who engages in unethical and abusive business practices.
  • Today, tycoons often own tech or internet businesses, although there are some noteworthy investor and media tycoons.
  • Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffett are examples of modern-day tycoons because of their wealth and influence.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Toshie M. Evans. “A Dictionary of Japanese Loanwords,” Page 198. Greenwood Press, 1997.

  2. T.J. Stiles. “The First Tycoon,” Page 1. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009.

  3. T.J. Stiles. “The First Tycoon,” Page 568. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009.

  4. Maryville University. “America's Gilded Age: Robber Barons and Captains of Industry.”

  5. Twitter. “@elonmusk, 11:11 p.m. March 13, 2022.”

  6. CoinMarketCap. “Dogecoin Prices.”

  7. Securities and Exchange Commission Filings. “Amazon 10-K: Annual Report For Year Ending December 31, 2021.”

  8. Blue Origin. “About Blue Origin.”

  9. Library of Congress. “African Americans in Business and Entrepreneurship: A Resource Guide.”

  10. Forbes. “Warren Buffet.”

  11. Warren Buffet. “The Essays of Warren Buffet: Lessons for Investors and Managers.” Wiley, 2021.

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