News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay

Rediff News  All News  » Business » The World's Richest Women

The World's Richest Women

June 15, 2009 15:51 IST

Image: Policemen stand inside the first cash-and-carry Wal-Mart store in Amritsar, Punjab. (Inset: Christy Walton, the world's richest woman)
Photographs: Munish Sharma/Reuters

It's a stereotype that wealthy women love to spend their days shopping. But what about the super, super, super rich women? What do they do?

Forget shopping. They own the stores.

Business magazine Forbes has released its list of the world's richest women. And while the ongoing global recession certainly ate into their private bank accounts, most of the women featured are already on the road to rehabbed riches.

The twenty listed ladies' combined net worth is a staggering $160 billion, and represent industries as diverse as manufacturing, finance, real estate and commodities.

At number nine, Savitri Jindal, executive chairperson of steel and power conglomerate O P Jindal group, is the only Indian to feature this year, as Indu Jain of The Times of India, fell from the ranks after making the cut in previous years.

Queens of Retail

Image: A customer leaves a Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas. (Inset: Alice Walton)
Photographs: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

In a change from last year, the two tops spots belong to Wal-Mart heiresses Christy Walton and Alice Walton.

Christy, widow of the late John Walton, tops the list with $20 billion to her name. When John unfortunately passed away in a plane crash in 2005, she inherited his fortune of $15.7 billion, which has only grown in recent years.

Meanwhile, her sister-in-law, Alice, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, sits just behind her in second place with a net worth of $19.5 billion. Alice, no stranger to controversy, in 1989 was involved in a car accident that killed a 50-year-old lady in Arkansas. Although it was her speeding that led to the incident, no charges were filed in connection with case. Then, in 1996, she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

In describing how the Waltons have accumulated such massive wealth, Forbes tipped its hat to Wal-Mart, crediting the world's largest retailer for powering through the global recession. Wal-Mart, which has more than 7,900 stores and two million employees, last year recorded $400 billion in annual sales.

She lost $5 billion in one year, but is still number three

Image: L'Oreal cosmetic and beauty products are seen in a hairdresser shop in Nice, southern France (Inset: Liliane Bettencourt)
Photographs: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Now at number three behind the Waltons, is last year's number one Liliane Bettencourt, who is worth $15 billion. Daughter of Eugene Schueller, the founder of L'Oreal, one of the world's leading cosmetics companies, Bettencourt has had a controlling stake of 27 per cent in L'Oreal for the last four decades.

For Bettencourt, the financial crisis may not be her primary concern, as she's recently been burned by scandal. Not only was the family's fortune shaken when fraudulent US  investor Bernie Madoff's high-profile ponzi scheme came crashing down, her own daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, filed a criminal complaint stating that Liliana allegedly gave $1.3 billion in assets and life insurance benefits to photographer Francoise-Marie Banier.

Last year she was worth $20 billion.

A year of scandal and disgrace

Image: The headquarters of BMW in Munich, Germany. (Inset: Susanne Klatten)
Photographs: Michael Dalder/Reuters

The world's fourth richest woman, Germany's Susanne Klatten, is worth $12 billion. But she too, like Bettencourt, would prefer to forget the last year.

The BMW and Altana pharmaceutical heiress was recently forced to go to the police after a former lover, Helg Sgarbi, allegedly threatened to post videos of the two having sex on the Internet. Klatten, who's married and has three children, was blackmailed by her clandestine lover, who had secretly videotaped the two in hotel rooms on several occasions and demanded millions of dollars to keep quiet.

Bravely, Klatten turned Sgarbai in and faced public humiliation, rather than pay his extortion. In March, Sgarbi was sentenced to serve six years in prison for the attempted blackmail.

'Most reclusive of the reclusive'

Image: A girl plays on the deck of a home-made boat made using only Tetra packaging (Inset: Birgit Rausing)
Photographs: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

Switzerland's Birgit Rausing, with $11 billion in assets, is the world's fifth richest woman.

In 2000, she inherited packaging giant Tetra Laval after the death of her husband, Gad Rausing, who was the son of the company's founder. All of her children sit on Tetra Laval's board. The family's been described as the 'richest of the rich' and the 'most reclusive of the reclusive'.

For years she's featured on Forbes list of the world's 100 richest people. At number 39 in 2009, it appears she's entered the top 50 for good.

The Candy Queen of Virginia

Image: A shopkeeper removes Mars Bars and Snickers Bars from the shelves of her convenience store (Inset: Jacqueline Mars)
Photographs: Will Burgess/Reuters

At number six is American Jacqueline Mars, the heiress of Mars Co, who is worth an estimated $9.5 billion after a last October merger between the chocolate giant and chewing gum leader Wrigley Jr Company, which created the world's largest confectionery company. Jacqueline also owns Uncle Ben's Rice and pet food leader Pedigree.

Combined annual sales are estimated to be between $22 and $28 billion.

In 1911, Jacqueline's grandfather Frank Mars began making chocolates in his own kitchen in Tacoma, Washington. Soon, her father took the company to a new stratosphere, with the invention of M&Ms and a chocolate bar that became the precursor to Milky Way, Snickers and Three Musketeers.

Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, USA, Mars Incorporated is entirely owned by the Mars family. It is one of the largest privately owned US companies.

One of Barack wealthiest supporters

Image: Lights on the Las Vegas Strip. (Inset: Anne Cox Chambers)
Photographs: Steve Marcus/Reuters

Anne Cox Chambers, the 90-year-old surviving daughter of Cox Enterprises founder James M Cox, is worth $9 billion. She is number seven on Forbes list, and heads up Cox Communications, the third largest cable company in America, which recently signed a deal to provide services to the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area.

A supporter of the Democratic Party, she was selected by the US President Jimmy Carter as the US Ambassador to Belgium from 1977 to 1981. She also supported Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential election.

A real daddy's girl

Image: Customers leave a sales office of Fidelity Investments in Boston. (Inset: Abigail Johnson)
Photographs: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Harvard MBA Abigail Johnson, worth $8.5 billion, is no passive heiress. The family's Fidelity Investments is run by her CEO father, Ned Johnson, but Abigail is now overseeing the investment company's fixed-income and asset-allocation funds, which amounts to managing assets of about $650 billion. Navigating the stormy waters of the international financial crisis was no small task, but Abigail performed admirably. 

There's no question that she's inherited her father's business acumen. 

India's richest woman

Image: A view of the Mutun mountain near Puerto Suarez, Bolivia. (Inset: Savitri Jindal)
Photographs: David Mercado/Reuters

At number nine, Savitri Jindal is the first and only Indian to feature on the list. When her late husband O P Jindal died in a 2005 helicopter crash, the subsequent transfer of wealth made her India's richest woman. Today, her net worth is a staggering $6 billion.

The 58-year-old mother of nine serves as the non-executive chairperson of the steel and power conglomerate O P Jindal group. Her sons Prithviraj, Sajjan, Ratan and Navin (a Member of Parliament) run the daily operations. The group has nearly 50 plants in India and abroad, including South American countries like Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

Missed the cut: Oprah and JK Rowling

Image: Oprah Winfrey. [Inset: Margaret Whitman (left) and J K Rowling (right)]
Photographs: Kimberly White/Reuters

At number ten is Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, who's worth $5.5 billion, thanks to her 25 per cent stake in on of the world's largest brewers, which controls 170 brands in more than 65 counrtries. Her husband, investment banker Michel de Carvalho, sits on Heineken's supervisory board.

Some high profile female billionaires who didn't make the list include media giant Oprah Winfrey, Harry Potter author J K Rowling and former eBay chief Margaret Whitman, who was mentioned last year as a possible vice presidential candidate for US Senator John McCain.

Another interesting lady who just missed the cut is Barbara Piasecka Johnson, who was born in Poland before moving to the United States. Though she started humbly, as a cook and a chambermaid to J Seward Johnson Sr, of the Johnson and Johnson fortune, she eventually became his bride. Upon his death in 1983, she inherited the bulk of her late husband's wealth, and is worth an estimated $2.8 billion.