Who are the richest women in the world in 2020? According to Forbes’s ranking of “The World’s Billionaires,” there are a total of 239 women in the list this year, coming from different parts of the world and various industries such as mining, real estate, finance, pharmaceutical, and others.
But among this long list of moneymaking females, let us find out who made it to the top 10—the most affluent in the list made up of heiresses and self-made magnates and what exactly made them worthy of the coveted billionaire label.
The first thing that might come across your mind looking at the list of the richest women in the world below is that their fortune is practically handed over to them. True, the Waltons, Mars and Heinekens are no strangers to the list, but it isn’t fair to label their fortune as an inheritance alone. One, we don’t dismiss the richest men in the world with the same condescension as easily as with women. Two, and most importantly, inheritance is difficult to keep afloat if you lack the financial acumen. The richest women won’t be on this list today if it weren’t’ for their leadership and guts. Not a few cases when we hear infamous inheritance feuds destroying the next-generation fortune, but these women were able to, not just preserve their wealth, but grow it. Alice Walton, in fact, added yet another six billion to her net worth this year from $40 billion as one of the richest women in the U.S. last year.
Of course, the richest among us have the government to thank for when you realize that wealth is taxed way too low compared to income tax. Just two years ago, the House doubled the exemption value for estate tax, which allows the rich to shelter tons of money away from the prying eyes of Uncle Sam.
The list of the richest women in the world is also quite telling for one thing: the lack of diversity. We only have one Asian making it to the list. The rest are from the West and unsurprisingly white. It does put a damper on talks about wealth distribution in a globalized economy.
As the queen of Chile’s mining industry and the matriarch of the country’s richest family, majority of Iris Fontbona’s wealth comes from Antofagasta, the copper mining company she inherited from her late husband, Andronico Luksic, who also founded what has become one of the world’s largest copper mining businesses. Mining, however, is not the only industry Iris has control over; she is also responsible for the other large businesses under the Luksic Group, which include banking, brewery, and a shipping company.
Gina Rinehart is another mining magnate. Her main business is the iron-ore mining corporation that was originally established by her father, Lang Hancock. Gina, however, neither has the conventional heiress story, nor does she want to be called an heiress—she is not one because did not inherit her father’s wealth, only his burdens.
When her father passed away in 1992, Gina was left with a business that was on the verge of bankruptcy, but which fate she managed to turn around successfully. To her and to those who know her and her story, Gina is a self-made billionaire who made the best out of the terrible financial situation she was forced to deal with. Twenty years after the time she took over Hancock Prospecting, Gina was declared as the world’s richest woman in the world (2012) but has to settle at ninth this year. She still has no plans of stopping soon as she continues to expand her business and travel the world in her $80 million private jet.
The sole heiress to the Heineken fortune inherited 25% stake of the world’s second largest brewing company, Heineken International, after its former CEO and her own father, Freddy Heineken, died in 2002.
Despite being an only child, Charlene was not an active participant in her father’s enterprise—she used to only have one share of the company which was worth $32. Instead of learning the ropes of the family business, she chose to live a low-key life by studying law and settling in London with her husband and children. Within a week of her father’s passing, Charlene was put on the spot by her husband and made the life-changing decision of taking over a quarter of Heineken International’s shares, trading her quiet days in London to the demanding life of a businesswoman, traveling to various parts of the world to explore the empire her father left behind in order to make herself a worthy successor. As Heineken International’s executive director, she is currently the Netherlands’ wealthiest entrepreneur—a position she has been undefeated in for years.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Abigail Johnson broke traditions as she became the most powerful woman in the field of finance after taking over the chairperson position of Fidelity Investments, one of the top three financial services companies in the United States. Inheriting a fortune worth trillions of dollars in asset, however, is not a breeze, especially for Abby who had to penetrate what is typically a male-dominated industry and make a name for herself, which she did. Not only does Abby’s success serve as a proof that a woman can hold her own in a man’s world, she also uses her position to bring more women into finance and investment management business by encouraging them to take part in the industry and by making her company a welcoming place for women who wants to have a flourishing career in the finance industry.
The 56-year-old, German-born businesswoman and mother of three currently owns more than 19% of the world’s largest maker of luxury automobiles, BMW, which also owns the Mini Cooper marquee and the Rolls-Royce brand. Susanne, however, is only the second biggest shareholder next to her brother, Stefan Quandt, who owns more than 23% of the company.
Susanne’s success as an entrepreneur is not reliant on the family’s main business. Over the years, her focus has been on Altana AG, a pharmaceutical company founded by her grandfather, which she has propelled to world-class status. To this day, she remains as the chairman and sole owner of Altana AG, which reportedly earns $2.5 million a year in sales.
Laurene had always been in the shadow of her late husband, Steve Jobs, and would rather keep it that way until he lost his battle against cancer in 2011. His unexpected death at the age of 56 left Laurene with a high-profile fortune tied to her name—a fortune she had to take care of in the midst of grieving the loss of her husband, becoming a sole parent to their children, and dealing with the spotlight she would rather stay away from her.
Unknown to many, Laurene has carved her own mark as a philanthropist, the biggest of her projects is the Emerson Collective, an organization based in Silicon Valley, California, which focus is advocating for social change. The organization was founded in 2004 and operated quietly—too low-key that even one of her ten hires in 2010 was not aware of who was the “Emerson” who owned the company. Fast forward to today, Laurene’s net worth may still be mainly defined by the money from her late husband’s company, but she is also making a name her own name through philanthropy.
Yang has made quite a few accomplishments this year—she earned $2 billion on the first four trading days of 2018, remains as the richest woman in China for six years in a row, and she also turned 37. As the vice chairman of the real estate developing business, Country Garden Holdings, the figures are not all surprising, especially knowing that she owns 57% of the company’s shares.
Yang’s rise to the top of the richest started in 2007 when her father, Yang Guoqiang, transferred 70% stake to her name and made her not only one of the company’s major shareholders but also China’s wealthiest individual at the young age of 25.
The Chinese heiress’s fortune, however, does not revolve around the family’s real estate business. Yang is also the owner of Bright Scholar Education Holdings, the company responsible for operating the biggest international K-12 schools in China.
Jacqueline Mars literally lives the sweet life as an heiress to the world’s biggest confectioner, Mars Inc. Currently, she owns approximately one-third of the company, which is the same as what her brother owns. Other than being an heir to the world-famous candy corporation, Mars is also an active philanthropist and owner of some of the top eventing horses in the United States.
The youngest child and only daughter of Walmart founder, Sam Walton, may not be as focused on the family’s business like her brothers, Rob and Jim, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t earn a dime (or billions) from it. To her credit, Alice is a co-manager of Walton Enterprises, which is one of the family’s holding companies responsible for 50% of Walmart’s largest retailer.
Alice’s passion, however, lies in art, a testament to this is her personal collection which was reported to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in values, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that she opened in 2011 in her hometown of Bentoville, Arkansas.
Before she was declared as the owner of the $107.5 billion stake in L’Oreal after her mother’s death in 2017, Francoise was already playing a big role in overseeing the family’s fortune as the head of their own investment company, as well as the president of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation.
Filling in her mother’s shoes, however, is not an easy task. But although the late Lilliane Bettencourt was the richest woman in the world until the day she died, Francoise manages to hold her own as she secures the first spot in this year’s list of the world’s wealthiest women.
Aside from being the heiress to the cosmetics giant’s fortune, Francoise is also an accomplished author of Greek mythology works and literature that focus on Jewish-Christian relations.
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