Women Billionaires and 8 Products That Made Them Successful

Category: Financial News

There may be a great deal of addition to the list of the world’s billionaires, as shown in Forbes 2013 list where there are now 1,426 (welcome 200 newcomers!) on this elite annual roundup, with a record-high combined net worth of $5.4 trillion. But the fortune wand had been kinder to women as well, who comprised 138 of the total number, the highest so far in years. Of this rich women, 24 are considered to be self-made, or those who have built their own businesses and grew their own money rather than inheritance, old money, or rich association.

Given the element of business and entrepreneurship spirit in their financial achievements, we now focus the spotlight on “products” – the core of these thriving businesses that made billionaires out of these women. This way, we hope to reach out to as many ladies as possible not by identifying themselves with “profiles” but by exploring basic yet proven business ideas that may make a difference in their bank accounts in the long run.

Forget patterns of innovation for a while. What we have found out as we rounded up the money-making products is that the best things to start your path to fortune are still the ones that respond to mankind’s most basic needs – food, clothing, physical domain, shelter.

So what are the prized products that propelled the world’s current crop of women billionaires to the 10-digit net worth game? Here they are, ranked from the top based on the number of self-made women billionaires who managed them.



Clothes make the man, but they can make women billionaires, and this has been the fortunate case for some of the world’s richest women. Not all of them are downright fashionable, but with the right mix of skills and talents and of course that persistent business savvy, they added value to the practical need for clothing. Women empowerment has never made a stronger statement with six of the 24 self-made women billionaires all into clothing businesses.

Those who raked in billions through garments and fashion (clothing, accessories, bags and shoes)  include Rosalia Mera ($6.1 billion) who started out helping her former husband make dressing gowns and lingerie – home-based, and grew it into the global fashion retail house Zara; Jin Sook Chang ($4.5 billion) who came from Korea to the US in 1981 and opened up a clothing store three years later, now known as fashion forward retailer Forever 21 with 480 stores around the world; Doris Fisher ($2.8 billion) who opened up an ordinary jeans-and-music store in San Francisco which grew into the clothing institution Gap; and Giuliana Benetton ($2 billion) who started by knitting sweaters that her brother Luciano hawked around on his bicycles, and now owns  Benetton with her siblings.

Younger American women entrepreneurs who also found clothing the best path to billions include Sara Blakely ($1 billion), the youngest self-made female billionaire on the list with her innovative “girdle” shapewear called Spanx; and Tory Burch ($1 billion) who grew her self-named bohemian female clothing brand, made popular by its $200 Tory Burch ballet flats.



Land remains the most valuable thing on earth and from the earliest days up to the present, nothing much has changed in that, land still dictates the fates of men and their fortunes and destinies. This is why four out of the 24 self-made women billionaires of 2013 are all dabbling into land businesses (real estate, property development, land holdings and commercial development, among others).

Four notable women, all from China, grew vastly fortunate with land, capitalizing on the nation’s vast tracks of properties and the escalating need for fellow Chinese as well as investors for residential, commercial and mix-use land.

They  include Wu Yajun ($4.3 billion) with her Longfor Properties which had its humble roots in Chongqing, Central China before conquering big-tier cities;  Laiwa Chan ($4.1 billion) with her Fu Wah International Group behind the largest luxury developments in Beijing; Zhang Xin ($3.6 billion) with her Soho China which made the biggest private land purchase in history in Beijing; and  Xiu Li Hawken ($1.5 billion) of Renhe Commercial Holdings, operators of China’s popular  underground malls.



Food remains among commodities with the best billionaire-making potential, and not surprisingly. Food ranks as the topmost human need. What binds all creatures in the food chain hierarchy is of course, food. From food services to actual food products and even food flavorings, victuals guarantee an almost no-fail business model especially for the naturally nurturing feminine kind.

The four self-made women billionaires in the food business include Marian Ilitch ($2.7 billion) who had her small beginning with a single pizza shop, and has now expanded to the global pizza franchise Little Caesar’s Pizza; Peggy Cherng ($2 billion) who opted to start a casual family-style Chinese restaurant called Panda Express (over a promising software development career in 3M), and now has 1,500 restaurants globally; Chu Lam Yiu ($1.9 billion) who is the chairman of  Huabao international, China’s gigantic food flavorings and seasonings empire; and Lynda Resnick ($2.2 billion), an agricultural goddess in her lucrative realm Roll Global, which operates POM Wonderful, Fiji Water, Teleflora, a winery and citrus and nuts farms.



When one has already accomplished the mission of acquiring a piece of that all-too-important property, then it is just right that the need for housing becomes eminent. Three of the 24 self-made women billionaires have smartly ventured into grooming their humble housing and housing supplies and services businesses into profitable ventures that they are now.

Women who capitalized on one of man’s basic needs include Diane Hendricks ($3.8 billion) with her ABC Supply, now the US’s largest roofing, window and siding wholesale distributor; He Qiaonv ($2 billion) who used her knowledge in landscape architecture to grow Beijing Orient Landscape, now one of China’s largest interior design firms; and Elena Baturina($1.1 billion), called the Empress of construction with her companies Inteko, one of Russia’s largest and Patriot that caters to affordable housing.



While clothing, food, land and housing frontlined the star products that led average business ideas and driven businesswomen into the lounges of the exclusively rich clubs, health and healthcare including medical products and related services also come up as among the most lucrative, with a known profit advantage. Not only is health a major individual concern, health businesses from pharmaceuticals to healthcare plans and medical IT are among the biggest and most successful global ventures today.

Three of today’s richest self-made businesswomen are into the health and medical care industry. They include Gayle Cook ($4 billion) who started a family-run medical device business in 1963 from their own apartment in Indiana, and helped grew it to become Cook Group; Judy Faulkner ($2 billion) who founded the health record software company Epic Systems in 1979 and with its technological edge, developed it to become America’s top digital health data storage solutions provider, covering 40% of the country’s population; and Dulce Pugliese de Godoy Bueno ($1.9 billion) who together with her husband founded Amil, Brazil’s health plan operator that is now the largest in the whole of Latin America.



What is the meaning of life? Pursuit of happiness remains the top answer, which is probably why two of the world’s gifted businesswomen are into the service of entertainment, one catering to the general stronghold of women and households while the other one is on the lifestyle platform.

Oprah Winfrey ($2.8 billion), the poster girl for “self-made and successful” is an African-American icon who started it out with 25 long years of Oprah, then a daytime television show which empowered her to become the female media mogul that she is today with her Harpo productions company; while Elaine Wynn ($1.7 billion) started out a gamings business with her husband and helped grew it into the global brand Wynn, a casino and hotel empire that spans from Las Vegas to Macau.



Online services are hot, and online marketplaces are big factors why social networking has boosted the success of advertising and marketing today.  Social media-based selling and buying sites now number thousands, proof of its relevance in today’s world.

One pioneering online marketplace was behind the success of a woman billionaire. Meg Whitman ($1.9 billion) was known for her business guts that transformed the then tiny online marketplace eBay into an almost $8 billion profit-making company by leading strategic alliances for  the online startup (before moving to HP in the same capacity).



Yes, the world may have become digital and among its victims is the humble paper, what with all the “paperless” transactions that digital processing have been boasting about decades ago. But can we really do without paper? Apparently not. Obviously, electronic and virtual replacements cannot replicate the practical use of paper in our lives, from books to paper bags and napkins and of course the toilet paper.

Anyway, the vast need for paper got one woman a billionaire status. Yan Cheung ($1.1 billion) got her start from a simple waste paper importing business in Hong Kong in 1985, which she managed to become Nine Dragons, one of the biggest paper recycling and manufacturing companies in China today.

Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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