The Forbes magazine annual list of the world’s billionaires has always been scant of women, but 35 more women did join this year’s record-length list of 1,426 global über-rich. They now number 138, or 9.7 percent of the total. Last year, they represented 8.5 percent of the list of 1,226 billionaires.
The world’s richest women continue to be heiresses or inheritors of wealth, but every year there appear women who acquired their fortunes largely on their own.
The women in the top 40 are regulars to the list. They include Liliane Bettencourt of the L’Oreal clan, two Waltons -- relatives of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) founder Sam Walton -- the widow Iris Fontbona of the Chilean copper mining giant Antofagasta, Australian mining magnate Georgina Rinehart and Jacqueline Mars of the candy giant Mars, Inc.; the latter two inherited their fortunes and responsibilities when their fathers passed away.
But three women joined the club this year without the help of a family empire or a massive inheritance. These include the following:
Pollyana Chu, 55, CEO of Kingston Financial, one of Hong Kong’s largest brokerage firms, joins the list for the first time with an estimated wealth of $1 billion.
New York fashion designer Tory Burch, 46, made her fortune with her “preppy-boho” line of women’s off-the-rack fashion with Tory Burch LLC. In less than a decade, she accumulated a billion dollars in wealth, putting her on the Forbes list for the first time.
Sara Blakeley of Atlanta, Ga., is the youngest billionaire to make the list. The 42-year-old inventor of Spanx -- the modern-day girdle, for men and women -- went from a $5,000 investment to a billion dollars in net worth in 13 years with her company Spanx, Inc. Blakeley is the youngest self-made female billionaire; Burch is second.
These three entrepreneurs join a small sub-set inside Forbes annual list of self-made women. Here are the others:
Elena Baturina, 49, started out as a worker at a cement factory in Moscow before taking courses in management, marrying the mayor of Moscow and building her own notoriety in real estate and construction. With her brother, she founded Russian construction company Inteco. She’s worth $1.1 billion.
Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman, 56, might be struggling with reviving the technology giant she currently heads and might have lost an expensive bid to govern California in 2010, but nobody can say she didn’t get onto the list with her $1.9 billion in wealth.
Oprah Winfrey, 59, needs no introduction. America’s only African-American on the list is worth $2.8 billion from her media company, Harpo, Inc. These were dollars earned without the help of a billion-dollar inheritance.
Doris Fisher, 81, co-founder of the Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS), co-founded the San Francisco-based retail giant with her late husband, Donald, in 1969. She’s worth $2.8 billion.
Zhang Xin, 69, runs SOHO China Ltd (HKG:0410), one of the largest property developers in China, along with her husband. The wife-and-husband team made their fortune in commercial real estate in Beijing and Shangahi. The dynamic duo is worth $3.6 billion despite recent declines in profits.
Rosalia Mera, 69, is Spain’s wealthiest woman. She co-founded Inditex SA (MCE:ITX), parent company of the Zara brand of clothing, with her then-husband, Amancio Ortega Gaona. Her estimated worth is $6.1 billion.