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Back from Bankruptcy: The Billion-Dollar Families Whose Fortunes Survived

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Back from Bankruptcy: The Billion-Dollar Families Whose Fortunes Survived

Its credit lines were on the verge of drying up.

It was the worst of the recession in 2009 and the nation’s second-largest real estate owner, shopping mall giant General Growth Properties GGP +0.92%, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Cofounder Matthew Bucksbaum had already stepped down as chairman of the board in 2007. His son, John left his CEO post in 2008.

They watched as the then six-decade long company filed the largest-ever bankruptcy in U.S. history. The stock price dropped to a low of 50 cents per share, compared to this July’s $24 per share average. In 2008, Forbes estimated their family was worth $2.2 billion. After filing, it dropped to about $300 million.

The company survived, and although the family wasn’t running it anymore, their fortune rebounded. Five years later, their family is now worth a combined $1.8 billion, six times more than at the abyss.

The Bucksbaums’ wealth roller coaster ride spotlights the often-overlooked reality of having a big fortune: When large wealth is beholden to one company’s successes (or failures), there’s also a huge risk if things go wrong.

For at least five of Forbes’s richest families in America, that meant having to face bankruptcy at some key point. Their wealth survived the tumult. Those clans are now worth a combined $24 billion. Here’s a recap of the topsy-turvy histories.

The Haseotes Family, worth $2.1 billion

Today: Cumberland Gulf Group, founded by Greek immigrants in 1939, the family owns 600 convenience stores and 2,000 gas stations under the names Cumberland Farms , Exxon and Gulf. Gulf Oil is one of its subsidiaries.

Bankruptcy: In 1992, Cumberland Farms filed for bankruptcy after a family member had taken out high loans from the company to buy himself a refinery and three oil tankers.

The Hunt Family, worth $15 billion

Today: The family’s large net worth spans the discrete fortunes of legendary wildcatter H.L. Hunt’s several descendants. Many are now big in the oil and shale industry.

Bankruptcy: Texas brothers William Herbert Hunt and Nelson Bunker Hunt owned about 195 million ounces of silver — 60% of the U.S. market — in the 1970s. But silver prices crashed about 80% in 1980, forcing them into bankruptcy. That’s an estimated loss of about $7.2 billion.

The Fertitta Family, worth $2.6 billion

Today: Brothers Frank and Lorenzo own mixed-martial-arts league Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has the largest pay-per-view audience in the world. Other assets include the U.S.’ first legal online gambling site and Las Vegas casinos.

Bankruptcy: The pair owns Station Casinos, which counts about two dozen gambling hot spots across Las Vegas. Station Casinos filed during the recession in 2009 and emerged two years later.

The Hess HES +0.27% Family, worth $2.5 billion

Today: The family is still leading their eponymous oil company, but their control over its management is weakening.

Bankruptcy: The Great Depression forced Hess’s precursor, a heating oil distribution firm, into bankruptcy. Son, Leon, took over his father’s company in 1933 and created Hess Incorporated, transforming it into the iconic energy conglomerate it is today.

Sorvino Chloe (2014 July 13) Back from Bankruptcy: The Billion-Dollar Families Whose Fortunes Survived. Retrieved on July 19, 2014 from Forbes.com