Women Who Smashed the Diamond Ceiling

Think of the word “billionaire” and odds are, the image of a man pops into your head. It’s not an unfair assumption: according to research firm Wealth-X, there are nearly 2,500 billionaires in the world, and only 12% are female. Among those 294 women, only 49 earned their own billions, with the rest inheriting from a parent or spouse.

Whether heiress or entrepreneur, the wealth of most billionaires is concentrated in their own businesses, as well as in cash. Let’s have a look:

Grande dames

Liliane Bettencourt (France; $40B) is the #1 richest woman in the world and the 11th richest person, according to Forbes. Bettencourt’s father founded L’Oreal and today she and her children own 33% of the cosmetics empire.

Art collector Alice Walton (USA; $35B) is the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and Forbes’ List’s 16th richest person in the world. When Alice’s brother John died in 2006, his wife Christy Walton (USA; $5.5B) inherited one-sixth of his fortune. At the time, it was reported that John’s estate held “enough stock to make more than $220 million in dividends in just six months,” according to website Investopedia.

The third and fourth wealthiest women have the sweetest fortunes. Jacqueline Mars (USA; $27B) inherited one-third of her father’s estate, which was built on her grandfather’s privately-held candy company, creator of the popular Mars Bar and M&Ms. Maria Franca Fissolo (Italy; $22B) also inherited her wealth in a delicious way; her husband Michele Ferrero founded the private company that produces Nutella, Kinder treats and Tic-Tac mints.

Modern heiresses

Inheriting wealth nowadays rarely means resting on one’s gilded laurels. Laurene Powell Jobs (USA; $20B) inherited her fortune from husband Steve Jobs in 2011, becoming the beneficiary of $560 million worth of Apple stock and an 8% stake in Disney, (she recently sold half). Powell funds initiatives in the areas of education, immigration reform and social justice.

Susanne Klatten (Germany; $18.5B) may have inherited half of BMW, but she is well known for her solid leadership of pharmaceutical company Altana AG. She uses a family office to manage her investment portfolio, more than half of which is BMW shares, another 16% in Altana shares and she keeps 22.5% in cash.

Shari Arison (USA/Israel; $5.6B) inherited 35% of her father’s wealth in 1999, under the holding company Arison Group, which began with Carnival Cruise Line and later acquired Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim. Today Arison’s investment portfolio is evenly-balanced with $1.6 billion of shares in Carnival, $1.6 billion of shares in Bank Hapoalim, $1.1 billion in Arison Group and a cool $1 billion in cash.

The Chairman, CEO and President of Fidelity Investments inherited both wealth and position through a business built by her grandfather. Now, Abigail Johnson (USA; $13B) is named by Forbes’ as one of the most powerful women in the world. Johnson believes that money management is a strong career choice for women, given the importance of quantifiable results. If you achieve the numbers… “No one can take that away from you.”

Brilliant entrepreneurs

You may not know the name Zhou Qunfei (China; $7.4B), but if you use an iPhone or Samsung device, you’re acquainted with her products. At the age of 22, Qunfei used $3,000 in savings to start a company making glass screens for watches. She expanded to screens for mobile phones and tablets and today her company, Lens Technology, has made “The Touchscreen Queen” the wealthiest self-made woman in the world.

Taking a gamble came naturally to Denise Coates (UK; $3.6B) who grew up working as a cashier in her father’s betting shops in Stoke-on-Trent England. In 2000, she put her money (and a big bank loan) down on the future of online sports gambling and created the website Bet365.com. Today her company is one of the world’s biggest online gambling enterprises and Coates is one of the highest-earning individuals in the UK.

The founder of Spanx who famously started her business with $5,000 of her own savings has recently diversified her investments with a stake in the Atlanta Hawks basketball team. Quoted at Business InsiderSara Blakely (USA; $1.06B) advises, “It’s really important to save money and create a nest egg…. I always had a portion of my paycheck put into saving and that was an easy automatic way.”

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