Being wealthy is very different from being rich, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. Being wealthy means having income streams that guarantee you high lifestyle, a lifestyle that cannot change no matter how bad your spending decisions can be.
Unlike the wealthiest men in the world whose fortunes keep on changing, the number of wealthiest women in the world has somehow remained the same over the years. There are also signs that the number is increasing, thanks to women who have either improved the fortunes they inherited or the fortunes they have built over the years.
The following are the 15 wealthiest women in the world. While some most of them are heirs, a few are women who have struggled to build their fortunes.
1. Liliane Bettencourt – France
Liliane Bettencourt is by all accounts the wealthiest woman in the world with a net worth of $39.5 billion.
She was born Liliane Henriette Charlotte in Paris in 1922. She is the only child to the late Eugene Schueller and Louise Madeleine Berthe. Her late father died in 1957 having established L’Oreal, one of the largest cosmetics and beauty companies in the world.
Liliane’s mother died when she was only 5 years and although her father later married, she remained very close to her father. She joined her father’s company when she was 15 as an apprentice.
She got married to cabinet minister Andre Bettencourt in 1950. Her husband later joined L’Oreal, rising through the ranks to become the company’s deputy chairman. The death of her father in 1957 paved the way for Liliane to inherit her father’s fortune.
Liliane and her husband are heavily involved in philanthropy. They both founded Bettencourt Schueller Foundation in 1987. The foundation mainly supports humanitarian, cultural and medical projects.
2. Alice Louise Walton – USA
Alice Louise Walton is reported to be the second wealthiest woman in the world with a net worth of $33.8 billion.
She was born in New Port, Arkansas in 1949 to Helen Walton and Sam Walton. Her father is the founder of Wal-Mart Stores. She graduated from Trinity University in Texas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in finance and economics.
Her first job was as an equity analyst and money manager with First Commerce Corporation. She later moved to Arvest Bank Group as the vice chairperson and head of investments. This was before she moved over to be the president of Llama Company, an investment bank that her father established in 1988. Her father later closed the bank in the late 1990s to focus on his 3,200-acre ranch in Texas.
Although Alice is not directly involved with Wal-Mart Stores, she holds business shares that earn her handsome dividends.
3. Jacqueline Mars – USA
Jacqueline Mars is an American investor with a net worth of $27 billion.
She was born in 1939 to Audrey Ruth Meyer and Forrest Mars. She is the granddaughter to Frank C. Mars. Her grandfather founded Mars Inc. in 1911. Mars Inc. is the largest candy maker in the world.
Jacqueline graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1961 with a B.A degree in anthropology. It did not tale long before she got married to David H. Badger the same year. Their marriage ended in divorce after they had three children. She later got married to Hank Vogel in 1986 only to divorce again in 1994.
Her net worth is on account of her shares in Mars Inc. It is also believed that each of her two brothers has the same net worth.
4. Maria Franca Fissolo – Italy
Maria is one of the wealthiest women in the world. She has a net worth of $26.2 billion.
She was born in 1941 in Italy. Very little is known about her childhood and family. She got married to the late Michele Ferrero in 1962. While her husband founded and built Ferrero Group, one of the largest snack producers, her father-in-law founded Nutella.
After her husband’s death, Maria founded Ferrero SpA, the second largest confectionery company in Europe.
5. Laurenne Powell Jobs – USA
Laurenne is a business woman, a chief executive and founder of Emerson Collective. This is an organization that champions the development of environmental conservation, education, social justice and immigration reform policies. She has a net worth of $20 billion.
She was born in 1963 in New Jersey where she grew up. She later joined the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences from where she graduated with a B.A degree in political science. She went on to graduate with a B.S. degree in Economics from the same university in 1985. She later went on to Stanford Graduate School of Business from where she obtained her M.B.A. in 1991.
Laurenne attended a lecture delivered by Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc. in 1989 while pursuing her M.B.A. studies. The lecture was delivered at the Stanford Graduate School. Laurenne was seated at the front row and engaged Steve Jobs in a conversation. The two later had dinner together and their relationship started. They got married in 1991.
Laurenne later co-founded Terravera, a company dealing in natural foods. The death of her husband in 2011 paved the way for her to inherit her husband’s fortune in Apple Inc. She also inherited the Steven P. Trust, which has a 7.3% stake in The Walt Disney Company.
6. Susanne Klatten – Germany
Susanne is the wealthiest woman in Germany with a net worth of $19.6 billion. She is a well-established investor.
She was born Susanne Hanna Ursula Quandt in Bad Homburg in 1962. She earned her first degree in business finance and worked briefly at Young & Rubicam from 1981 to 1983. She later joined the University of Buckingham to study marketing and management. She wrapped it up with an MBA degree specializing in advertising from IMD in Lausanne.
Susanne is married to Jan Klatten who she met while doing an internship with BMW in Germany. Klatten was the engineer in charge. The two later got married in 1990.
Susanne has been able to build on to what she inherited from her father after he died. She inherited her father’s half stake in Altana, one of Germany’s largest pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing companies. Her position on the company’s board gave her the opportunity to improve the company to become a force to reckon with in the world.
She also holds a stake in BMW where she sits on the board together with her brother. This is in addition to 8% stake in SGL and 25% stake in Nordex, one of Germany’s turbine manufacturer. She has of late acquired shares in Paques, a Dutch biotech company, and Germany’s Avista Oil.
7. Georgina Hope Rinehart – Australia
Rinehart is any standards the wealthiest person in Australia with a net worth of U$18.6 billion. Although she inherited part of her wealth, a big percentage of that wealth is out of her own work. She is currently the chairman of Hancock Prospecting. This is a private company mineral and exploration company established by her father.
Rinehart was born in Perth in 1954 to Hope Margaret Nicholas and Lang Hancock. Although she later joined the University of Sydney to study economics, she dropped out to work alongside her father. This earned her extensive experience and connections within Australia’s mining industry.
She met Englishman Greg Milton in 1973 and got married. Milton later changed his name to Hayward. However, the two divorced in 1981 only for Rinehart to marry Frank Rinehart in 1983 in Las Vegas. The married did not last since Frank died in 1990.
Rinehart became chairman of Hancock Prospecting Pty Limited Group of companies in 1992 when her father died. Rinehart soon embarked on developing the undeveloped mining sites that the company owned. She later acquired shares in other mining entities including Rio Tinto, Alpha Coal, Roy Hill and Port Hedland. She has of late acquired stakes in Ten Network Holdings and Fairfax Media to become a major shareholder in Australia’s mining and media industries.
8. Abigail Pierrepont Johnson – USA
Abigail Johnson is an established businesswoman. She is also the CEO and president of Fidelity Investments. She is also the chairwoman of Fidelity International. Fidelity was founded by her father. She is reported to have a persona net worth of $14 billion.
Very little is publicly known about Abigail’s early childhood. She graduated with a B.A degree in art and history from Hobart and William Smith in 1984. She later worked at Booz Alen Hamilton before joining Harvard Business School where she earned her MBA. She later joined Fidelity as a portfolio manager and analyst in 1988.
9. Iris Balbina Fontbona Gonzaez – Chile
Fontbona is one of the wealthiest women in the world. Indeed, she is not only the wealthiest individual in Chile. She is also one of the five wealthiest individuals in Latin America with a net worth of $12.9 billion.
Fontbona was born in 1942 in Chile. She joined high school but met Andronico Luksic Abaroa when she turned 17. Abaroa was 20 years older than her. The two got married in 1960.
Fontbona became wealthy after her husband died of cancer in 2005. She inherited majority stakes in such companies as Antofagasta, a mining company based in Santiago, Banco de Chile, a copper products manufacturing company, CCU, Chile’s largest brewer and CSAV, one of the world’s largest shipping companies.
10. Charlene de Carvallo-Heineken – Dutch
Charlene is a well-established businesswoman. She is reported to have a personal net worth of $12.7 billion. Her wealth revolves around Heineken International.
Charlene was born in 1954 to Lucille Cummins and Freddy Heineken, the Dutch industrialist. Her mother hailed from the American Kentucky family, which is involved in distilling whiskeys. Charlene went to Rijnlands Lyceum Wassenaar college before joining the University of Leiden from where she graduated with a degree in law.
She later met and married Michel de Carvallo, a former actor (Michel Ray) and established financier. The two had met while skiing in Switzerland.
Her father died in 2002, paving the way for her to inherit his fortune. She currently holds 25% controlling shares in Heineken where she is also the executive director. Her husband also sits on the board.
11. Massimiliana Landini Aleotti – Italy
Very little is known publicly about Massimiliana. It is widely believed that she was born either in 1942 or in 1943.
She is reported to have a personal net worth of $11.6 billion. Although she has managed to acquire part of the wealth on her own, a big part of it is made up of what she inherited after her father died.
She owns Menarini, a pharmaceutical company that her father had founded. While she retains ownership of the company, her daughter, Lucia serves as the chair. Her son, Alberto Giovanni serves as the vice-chairman.
Zhou Qunfei – Hong Kong
Unlike some of the wealthiest women in the world, Qunfei has worked over the years to build her wealth. She has a personal net worth of $10 billion, which makes her the wealthiest woman in China.
Qunfei was born in 1970 to a family that was simply poor. Her father was a former soldier who provided for the family by making and selling crafts. Her mother died when she was only five years old. Although she attended school, she was forced to drop out to help her family members that included two siblings raise animals to sustain their livelihood.
Qunfei later secured a job with a family-owned business that made parts of watches. She earned poor pay and out of frustration, she wrote a resignation letter addressed to the factory manager. She never quit because she got promoted out of sympathy. However, the business folded up.
Qunfei had no alternative but to put to use the knowledge she had gained. She set up her own watch parts-making business with her small savings at age 22. Her high-quality lenses became very popular with buyers. She soon secured a contract with TCL Corporation. Her business was to make and supply mobile phone screens.
She later received a request from Motorola to make glass screens for the Motorola Razr V3. She later founded Lens Technology, a company that specialized in designing and making mobile phone glass touch display screens. It was not long before such other mobile phone manufacturers as Nokia, Samsung, Apple, and HTC started placing orders.
Lens Technology was listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2015. She initially got married to her former factory manager but later divorced. She is currently married to Zheng Junlong, a former factory colleague who also a board member of Lens Technology.
13. Blair Parry-Okeden – Australia
Blair is a teacher by profession. She is a well-established businesswoman, writer, and media personality.
She was born in 1950 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barbara Cox Anthony. She went to Hawaii School for Girls, a school that had been founded by her mother. It is from the school where she trained as a teacher. She is reported to have a personal net worth of $9.8 billion.
Blair moved back to Australia from the USA in 1970. She met and married Simon Parry-Okeden. The two were blessed with two children (boys). However, the marriage ended in divorce.
Blair’s grandfather, James M. Cox had established Cox Enterprises, a large company where her mother had 25% of the shares. The remaining shares were held by their grandfather, her brother and her aunt.
The death of her mother died in 2007, which paved the way for he to inherit the 25% shares. Her brother remains the chairman of the company her aunt also sits on the board. Although Blair has no role in the company, she earns attractive dividends enough to propel her to the status of one of the wealthiest women in the world.
14. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus – Switzerland
Margarita was born in 1962 in Russia. She is a Swiss businesswoman and chairwoman of Louis Dreyfus. She is reported to have a personal net worth of $9.5 billion.
Interestingly, Margarita grew up in an orphanage. She went to school before joining college and qualified as an accountant. Details about her parents are very scanty although they were Swiss. How Margarita came back to Switzerland is also not known.
What is known is that she Robert Louis-Dreyfus on a Zurich-London flight in 1988. The two married in 1992. By then, Margarita used to work in a retail outlet selling circuit boards. She literally became a housewife after marrying Robert.
The death of her husband in 2009 from leukemia paved the way for Margarita to become the chairwoman of Louis Dreyfus Group of companies. The group owned Olympique de Marseille, the French Ligue 1 football team.
Margarita later spearheaded the sale of Olympique de Marseille in 1996 after a lengthy negotiation involving Jean-Claude Gaudin and Frank McCourt. The sale earned the group 45 Million Euros.
15. Katharine Ann Rayner –USA
Katharine is one of the few billionaires who never reveal much about their status. She is reported to have own wealth estimated to be $7.4 billion.
There is very little known about her. What is known is that she is the daughter of Anne Cox Chambers and is granddaughter to James Cox, founder of Cox Enterprises, a newspaper publishing enterprise.
Her mother is reported to have distributed her 49% stake in Cox Enterprises in 2015 to her three children including Katharine.
Most of the wealthiest women in the world have earned their wealth through inheritance. Credit must be given to the wealthiest women who although they inherited wealth have built on the same. Big credit goes to self-made women billionaires who have managed to build their wealth literally from scratch.