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The World’s Richest Self-Made Women Billionaires

Contrary to popular belief, around three-quarters of today’s billionaires are actually self-made, and the percentage is growing, a complete reversal of the situation 50 years ago when statistics were first gathered, and proof if any were needed that hard work outweighs inherited wealth everytime. To put it another way, to maintain your net worth, you need to move with the times, not just leave your money in the bank, so to speak – interest earns you little at the moment anyway. In fact, the actual number of billionaires who inherited their total wealth fell by 75% in that period – in raw figures, around 75 are no longer billionaires.

woman making busines

However, perhaps unsurprisingly given that, until relatively recently, ‘the woman’s place was in the home’ even in western societies, the number of self-made women billionaires barely reaches double figures, and the richest doesn’t rank in the top 300. Surprisingly though, given cultural perceptions prevalent around the world, four of the top ten self-made women billionaires are Chinese including the richest, and three are currently resident in China. The rest are American.

The following is a list of the top 10 self-made women billionaires in the world, as of early 2016. Co-founders have not been included unless the company or organisation where they made their start was at zero. This is a snap-shot, as you would be aware that figures can change very rapidly when based on share market valuations.

10. Sara Blakely – $1 billion

Sara Blakely
  • Born: 27 February 1971, Clearwater, Florida, USA
  • Nationality: American
  • Residence: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Start in Business: 2000

With savings earned from previous jobs, Sara founded the hosiery company Spanx in 2000, partly out of personal need, registering patents too. Major stores soon took up her products, an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey helped, and Sara subsequently made her first billion in a little over 10 years. She is now also part owner of the Atlanta Hawks NBA team.

9. Tory Burch – $1.05 billion

Vanity Fair Party - 2013 Tribeca Film Festival
  • Born: 17 June 1966, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Nationality: American
  • Residence: New York City
  • Start in Business: 2004

Tory worked directly in fashion for such as Polo Ralph Lauren and for the fashion magazine Harpers Bazaar before launching her own designs. Oprah Winfrey was also delighted to endorse her, and she now has 160 Tory Burch stores worldwide, as well as merchandising through over 3,000 department stores. Several fashion awards have also come her way, and Forbes ranks her in the top 100 most powerful women in the world!

8. Sheryl Sandberg – $1.7 billion

Sheryl Sandberg
  • Born: 28 August 1969, Washington DC, USA
  • Nationality: American
  • Residence: Menlo Park, California
  • Start in Business: 1995

Sheryl has been in management in one form or another all her working life, and is now the COO for Facebook which she joined in 2008. She is credited with developing the formal business side of Facebook, which has since seen it become one of the most profitable companies in the world, and herself a genuinely self-made billionaire from her efforts within the company. Her share options as part of salary should see her become very rich indeed within a few years.

7. Meg Whitman – $2.1 billion

Image:Hewlett Packard CEO and President Meg Whitman
  • Born: 4 August 1956, Cold Spring Harbour, New York State, USA
  • Nationality: American
  • Residence: Palo Alto, California
  • Start in Business: 1979

Meg has worked for Proctor and Gamble, Bain & Company and the Walt Disney organisation – becoming vice-president in both – then for Stride Right, before becoming CEO of Florists’ Transworld Delivery. She subsequently joined eBay as CEO, overseeing its rise to power over 10 years. Currently she has been CEO of HP since 2011, apparently not so successfully, but her previous track record has seen her wealth deservedly grow to its present impressive level.

6. Xiu Li Hawken – $2.2 billion

Xiu Li Hawken
  • Born: 1962, Harbin, China
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Residence: London, England
  • Start in Business: 1991

Xiu Li began as a journalist before moving into finance, she is the majority shareholder in Renhe Commercial Holdings which she joined in 1996, subsequently developing and operating malls across 15 Chinese cities. She has other investments in agriculture in China, but currently lives with her husband in London.

5. Oprah Winfrey – $3 billion

Oprah Winfrey
  • Born: 29 January 1954, Kosciusko, Mississippi, USA
  • Nationality: American
  • Residence: Montecito, California
  • Start in Business: 1971

Always being a good talker, but orator as well, Oprah began her career on TV at the age of 17, and the rest is a history of one of the most successful talk show hosts of all time in the USA. Her own show began airing in 1986, and was ever popular until she retired in 2011. She was a millionaire at 32, and a billionaire at 35, with yearly earnings approaching $300 million, all of which was very rare for an Afro-American woman, which makes her achievements all the more laudable.

4. Zhang Xin – $3.7 billion

Soho China CEO Zhang Xin Interview
  • Born: 24 August 1965, Beijing, China
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Residence: Beijing, China
  • Start in Business: 1992

Following scraping a living in Hong Kong to save enough for an education in the UK – eventually Master of Economics from Cambridge University – Zhang Xin was hired by Barings in Hong Kong, then by Goldman Sachs in New York, before returning to Beijing and founding SOHO. The company is now the largest developer of office buildings in Shanghai and Beijing, testimony to the clever, hard work of this lady who began with nothing, and now with her husband being described by London’s Times newspaper as ‘.. the most visible and flamboyant tycoons in China’.

3. Wu Yajun – $4.2 billion

Wu Yajun
  • Born: 1964, Chongqing, China
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Residence: Beijing, China
  • Start in Business: 1984

A foundation in government administration, and cultivating business contacts enabled Wu with her husband to register what became Longfor Properties, in 1995. This investment holding company has interests across the major cities of China, in real estate, property development and management, with market capital approaching $9 billion, and almost 8,000 employees.

2. Elizabeth Holmes – $4.7 billion

Elizabeth Holmes
  • Born: 3 February 1984, Washington DC, USA
  • Nationality: American
  • Residence: Palo Alto, California
  • Start in Business: 2003

Elizabeth’s yearning to ‘…discover something new…’ led her to a research project developing a blood-testing device using only a stick, not a vial of blood. There is still considerable discussion over the validity of the testing procedures, but in the meantime Elizabeth has around 20 US and over 60 non-US patents registered to her name, and her current wealth in early 2016 is estimated at half her company, Theranos’ value of over $9 billion.

1. Yang Huiyan – $5.1 billion

Yang Huiyan
  • Born: 20 July 1981, Guangdong, China
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Residence: Foshan, China

The richest woman in Asia and youngest female billionaire, a relatively small gift from her father when she turned 25 has seen her invest heavily in real estate, through her majority share in Country Garden Holdings, but recent downturns in the Chinese economy have seen her wealth dwindle in the last few years. However, she is just 34, and informed speculation is that the Chinese economy still has a long way to go in its expansion.

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