While many of us can name many of the world’s richest men off the top of our heads (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, just to name a few), how many female billionaires can you list? Yeah, I thought so. And it’s not because they don’t exist – They do! There are plenty of women out there making tons of money and living the life so many of us dream of. And they all got there in a variety of ways. But of course, many of their names will be unfamiliar to us as they tend to take a lower profile. However, one thing you can’t deny is that the companies they’re associated with are all some of the biggest and richest in the world.
As with many billionaires, many have inherited their wealth. While some sit back and just rake in the money, living the good life, many are actually very involved with their assets. And at least one has risen from poverty to become one of few self-made female billionaires, and her story is an inspirational one, for sure.
This list changes depending on the stock market, but as of the time of this writing, here are the top 20 richest women in the world and a little about how each one rose to the top.
20. Randa Williams – $6.2 Billion
Randa Williams owes a lot of her success to her late father, Dan Duncan, who founded the energy pipeline company that has contributed to her massive wealth. While she did inherit her wealth, she has at least had some role in managing it as an elected non-executive chairman of the company, Enterprise Products Partners. As the demand for pipelines in natural gas, oil and petrochemicals are soaring, so too, are the stock prices – and ultimately, her wealth. Williams is also fairly active in the Houston community, including sitting on the board of the Ballet Foundation, the Girl Scouts and the Museum of Natural Science, among others. She was previously an attorney who graduated with her J.D from the University of Houston.
19. Eva Gonda de Rivera – $7.1 Billion
Eva Gonda de Rivera is a recent addition to the billionaire list after accumulating $300 million in one year alone – even as Mexico’s economy slowed down. de Rivera is the controlling trust of Fomento Economico Mexicano (Femsa), a bottling and convenience store company located in Mexico. She inherited her stake in Femsa from her late husband, Eugenio Garza Laguera. Femsa shares are traded not only in Mexico, but also on the New York Stock Exchanges, and the family now owns 27% of its shares. The reason for the massive growth in her wealth comes from the expansion of the Oxxo convenience store chain and of Femsa’s Coco-Cola bottling division across Latin America.
18. Chan Laiwa – $7.3 Billion
Chan Laiwa‘s story is truly one of inspiration. Laiwa is one of only about 19 women who are self-made billionaires, and her story is one to remember. She happens to be a descendent from the noble Manchu family, however, at the time of her birth, the imperial family had collapsed and the family was poor. Laiwa rose from poverty in China, dropping out of high school to support herself by repairing furniture. She built up her furniture repair business until she had enough money to invest in some real estate. With her earnings, she bought 12 villas. From there, she founded the Fuwah International Group in the 90s focusing mostly in real estate, but diversifying her portfolio with agriculture, tourism, electronics, and red sandalwood art production. While she’s handed most of the daily management activities off to her son, she now focuses more on her museum instead. In 1999, she founded the China Red Sandalwood Museum in which she invested 20 billion Yuan. In addition to the museum, she is also known for her philanthropy.
17. Blair Parry-Okeden – $8.2 Billion
Blair Parry-Okeden inherited her wealth from her grandfather, James M. Cox, the founder of the media conglomerate Cox Enterprises. Her brother, Jim Kennedy, is the chairman and her aunt is the largest shareholder in the company and sits on the board. However, Parry-Okeden has no role in the company. She inherited her 25% stake when her mother, Barbara Cox Anthony passed away in 2007. Parry-Okeden lives in Australia, and she’s not the only Cox Enterprises heir to be included on this list. Her aunt, Anne Cox Chambers, is listed higher up in our rankings. Cox Enterprises is in charge of Cox Communications, Cox Media Group and Cox Automotive.
16. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus – $8.6 Billion
After a chance meeting on a plane, it was love for Margarita and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the owner of the French commodities behemoth Louis Dreyfus. Margarita is Russian-born and the French press often refer to her as “the tsarina.” She attended law school in Moscow, but once she was married, she dedicated her life to being a full-time wife and mother, until her husband died. When Robert passed away in 2009 from leukemia, his wife Margarita has stepped up to take over the company, making big changes, and publicly declaring that she planned to up her stake. She currently resides in Zurich, Switzerland.
15. Elaine Marshall – $8.9 Billion
Elaine Marshall and family owe a large chunk of their wealth to the 15% stake that have in Koch Industries (aka the world’s richest brothers). Of course, this money is held in trusted for her, her two sons, and other relatives as well. She inherited her staggering wealth from her husband, E. Pierce Marshall who passed away in 2006. Pierce Marshall was the son of J. Howard Marshall II who initially got into investing with Koch Industries. However, there is some reason to believe that not all is financially secure for Elaine Marshall and family as the IRS could claim a $75 million debt in back taxes, and a federal judge ordered the family to pay nearly $50 million to the estate of Dannielynn Smith, daughter of Anna Nicole Smith who was married to J. Howard before he died.
14. Carrie Perrodo – $9.4 Billion
Carrie Perrodo was a top model from Singapore known as Ka Yee Wong before she met French entrepreneur Hubert Perrodo in the 70s. Her husband was already traveling the world and making money in the oil and gas industry, and Carrie shared his desire for owning her own business. She launched her own modeling agency known as Carrie’s Models at the same time her husband started his first company. Eventually, Hubert would go on to form Perenco, one of the world’s largest, yet family-owned, oil companies. The company’s annual revenues are $6 billion. After Hubert died in 2006 while hiking in the Alps, it’s expected that his company will be passed down and split between Carrie and their three children. Perrodo no longer owns Carrie’s Models, she sold it years ago, but the agency is still active today.
13. Charlene de Carvalho Heineken – $11.4 Billion
Chances are, Heineken is a name that sounds familiar. And you would likely be right in assuming where Charlene de Carvalho Heineken‘s wealth came from – beer. Heineken is currently the richest person in the Netherlands thanks to her stake in, you guessed it, Heineken beer. She inherited the beer company from her father, Freddy Heineken, over a decade ago, and her son recently took over a board seat. Her husband, who is an investment banker and former child actor, also sits on Heineken’s supervisory board. For the most part, she keeps to herself, and lives a rather secretive life, avoiding speaking to the press as much as possible. While she happens to be one of Europe’s wealthiest women, she is also one of the world’s least known billionaires. And it seems like she intends to keep it that way.
12. Gina Rinehart – $11.8 Billion
At one time, Gina Rinehart was the world’s richest woman. But over the last few years, she’s fallen a few pegs on that list. To this day, she still remains Australia’s wealthiest person, however. The reason for the decrease in wealth can be attributed to a slump in iron ore prices. Rinehart is currently the executive chairman for Hancock Prospecting. Rinehart briefly went to college, studying economics, but eventually dropped out and started working with her father, Lang Hancock, learning all about the iron-ore industry. It hasn’t been easy managing the assets though, mainly due to court battles within her own family including one case in which she is grappling with her stepmother over control of the Hancock assets. And two of her own children are involved in a legal feud over the family trust as well. But there is now a mountain range named after her family, the Hancock Range is 40 miles northwest of the town of Newman.
11. Iris Fontbona – $12.8 Billion
Iris Fontbona is the richest person in Chile after the death of her billionaire husband, Andronico Luksic. Along with their three sons, Iris inherited his business, Quienco. Unfortunately, one of her sons died of lung cancer at the age of 57 and his son ended up taking over his role in the family business. The family still holds a major stake in the company, which is a consumer packaging business with interests in Banco de Chile, along with energy, transportation and port services. The family also has a controlling interest in Antofagasta, which is one of the largest copper mining companies in the world. And because they’re not all work and no play, they also own two chains of beach resorts in Croatia.
10. Johanna Quandt – $13.1 Billion
From secretary to one of the richest women in the world, sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Well in Johanna Quandt‘s case, marrying your boss – who just so happens to be the German executive credited with saving BMW and pulling it out of bankruptcy – doesn’t hurt. She’s now the 8th richest woman in Germany, and the 10th richest woman in the world after she inherited billions from BMW’s rising stock prices. The last few years have been even more generous for Quandt and her family, and her daughter even makes an appearance on the list because of it. While Quandt retired from the board of BMW, she still owns a large chunk of the company. At 88, she lives a quiet life in Bad Homburg, Germany, a town known for its spas. Doesn’t sound like a terrible way to retire, if you ask me.
9. Abigail Johnson – $13.6 Billion
The Johnson’s know a thing or two about keeping it in the family. Their business, that is. Fidelity is one of the largest mutual fund companies in America, and it was Abigaile Johnson‘s grandfather who started the company. Johnson started working for Fidelity before she even started college, taking orders from customers over the phone. After receiving her MBA from Harvard in 1988, she started working as an analyst and the rest is history. Or at least it’s history in the making. In 2012, she landed the role of president while her father remained the CEO. If all goes as expected, Johnson will be taking over that role from her father in the future.
8. Anne Cox Chambers – $16.7 Billion
If Anne Cox Chambers‘ name doesn’t ring a bell initially, no fear. Chances are good you’re more familiar with the products her family produced. Chambers is the only surviving daughter to James M. Cox who founded Cox Enterprises. Still not sound familiar? Well, you may have heard of Cox Communications, a provider of cable and broadband, or Cox Media Group which includes newspapers, and TV and radio stations, or if you’re into automobiles, then you’ve probably heard of something called AutoTrader.com or maybe Kelley Blue Book? Yep, you guessed it, that’s the Cox family and a large part of why Anne Cox Chambers is on this list. An interesting fact about her is that she was once the ambassador to Belgium during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
7. Laurene Powell Jobs – $17.4 Billion
Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of co-founder and former CEO of Apple Steve Jobs, so it should come as no surprise to see her so high up on this list. Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, but Powell Jobs continues to make a name for herself, especially when it comes to philanthropic and political endeavors. She’s one of the top donors to Hillary Clinton’s super-PAC and she uses her platform to advocate for pathways to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. In addition to her political pursuits, she’s also the founder of the Emerson Collective, an organization that helps advance social reform and help less-fortunate students. She also owns more stock in Disney than any other investor – a trust left to her by her husband upon his death.
5. Susanne Klatten – $17.6 Billion
BMW is a name synonymous with luxury and wealth, and it should come as no surprise that the family running this world famous company appears on a number of richest person’s lists. Susanne Klatten is currently the 5th richest person in Germany after she inherited stakes in BMW from her father. But in addition to her stakes in BMW, Klatten also has some control over a few energy companies, including chemical manufacturer Altana, and the wind power company Nordex AG. One interesting fact about Klatten is that she met her future husband while working as an engineer for BMW. She didn’t tell him her true identity at first, waiting until they’d already established a relationship before telling him the truth – that she was really a billionaire.
4. Jacqueline Mars – $24 Billion
The Mars name is synonymous with yummy candy and chocolate, and Jacqueline Mars has her father and grandfather to thank for the lucrative sweets company that earned her a spot on our list. She and her brothers have an equal split of the wealth and all three serve on the board, but have no role in the day to day operations of the company. It all started back in 1911 with a small, homemade candy company run by Frank Mars. In 1929, her father joined the family business and the company invented the delightful nougat found inside the famous Snickers bar and the Milky Way as well. Then, of course, came M&Ms and the rest is history. Considering that many of these brands are some of the most popular candies in America, it should come as little surprise that the Mars family is still going strong to this day. In addition to candy, Mars also makes Uncle Ben’s rice, as well as Pedigree and Whiskas pet foods.
3. Liliane Bettencourt – $39 Billion
Liliane Bettencourt may no longer be the richest woman in the world, but she still remains the richest woman in France. However, while her wealth grew in 2014, Bettencourt is no longer actively involved in running the company which led to her billionaire status, L’Oreal. Diagnosed with dementia, her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers proved that her mother was unfit to manage the company, and her 25-year old grandson took over her spot on the board. L’Oreal is one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world, and Liliana started working for her father when she was only 15 years old, mixing cosmetics and labeling bottles of shampoo.
2. Alice Walton – $39.7 Billion
When you’re the daughter of legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, well life can’t be too shabby. And for Alice Walton, her father’s fortune has gone a long way toward making her one of the richest women in the world. In addition to being the second richest woman in the world, however, Alice is also the chairman for the Crystal Bridges Art Museum where she’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of American art from the likes of Andy Warhol and Normal Rockwell. In addition to art, she’s also donated money within the political sphere, mostly supporting Republican party candidates – until recently. She’s recently donated $25,000 to establish a super-PAC backing a presidential bid for none other than Hillary Clinton.
1. Christy Walton – $42.1 Billion
The Waltons continue to hold onto the crown for being the richest family in the world, but Christy Walton holds several other distinctions as well. She’s the wealthiest woman not only in the US, but also the world, beating out her sister-in-law Alice by several billion dollars. Christy married into the infamous family who created Wal-Mart and inherited her wealth from her husband, John, who died in a plane crash in 2005. Christy Walton leads a rather quiet life, savoring her privacy in Jackson, Wyoming. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Walton’s wealth seems to be going nowhere but up as she stands to receive $470 million in dividends from Wal-Mart in 2014. And yes, that’s after taxes, mind you.
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