Meet the world's richest self-made female billionaires
Every so often, when I'm sat at home shivering under three jumpers and six blankets, too broke to turn the heating on, I think about what it would be like to live like “the other half”. Swanning around like the Rich Kids of Instagram, dining at the finest restaurants, catching first-class flights and even - and this is the real clincher - strolling around barefoot as underfloor heating warms the (presumably marble) tiles.
While it’s easy to assume that those with money have always had it, there are a growing number of female self-made billionaires - women who have gone from humble beginnings to amass grand fortunes. In fact, in the Forbes Billionaire List 2018, which lists all 2,208 individuals in the world with a fortune of more than $1 billion right now, a record 72 self-made women appear. If you’ve always dreamed of making it big, but still find yourself slogging away in a $7-an-hour bar job, meet the ladies who will be your billionaire inspiration.
You might not have heard of Zhou Quenfei, but the chances are, you’ve had an input in creating at least a little bit of her wealth. Her company, Lens Technology, make the touchscreens for Apple and Samsung smartphones. Currently the richest self-made woman in the world, and the 16th richest woman overall, Zhou Qunfei has amassed a fortune of $9.8bn, having dropped out of school at 16 to work. Hers is a real rags-to-riches tale. The youngest of three children born into a poor family, she reportedly lost her mother aged five; today, she owns a $27 million estate in Hong Kong.
With a net worth of $5.6 billion, Diane Hendricks is the richest self-made American woman on the list. She founded ABC Supply, one of the US’s largest distributors of roofing and windows, with her late husband Ken in 1982 and in the last decade has seen sales triple to over $8bn. After growing on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Diane had her first child as a teenager and raised seven kids at the same time as building her empire. In recent years, she has also produced a series of Hollywood movies, and served on the boards of several charities, in addition to being an economic advisor to the Trump election campaign.
By Forbes’ reckoning, Wu Yajun is worth an impressive $8.5 billion, putting her just inside in the top 10 per cent of the 2018 Billionaires list. And her wealth just keeps growing - according to the Hurun China Rich List, the property tycoon has seen a jaw-dropping 83 per cent leap in her fortune in just 12 months. Before entering the real estate business, she actually worked as a journalist, but quit the profession to found her company with her then-husband. They divorced in 2012, as a result of the subsequent divorce payout Wu lost her place as the richest woman in China.
Another American woman making the super-rich list is Marian Ilitch, the daughter of Macedonian immigrant parents, who co-founded Little Caesars Pizza with her late husband. The former Delta Airlines ticket agent, who now has a net worth of $5.3 billion amassed her hefty fortune through the company's 3600 restaurants, as well as the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and Motor City Casino, among other ventures.
With a fortune of "only" one billion dollars, Sara Blakely might be lower down the list than many, but at 47-years-old she is also the USA's youngest self-made female billionaire on the Forbes list - and it's all built on granny pants. It was Blakely who founded the company that many women trust to give them a discreet helping hand under that sexy LBD, Spanx. She knows the pain of slogging it out a crummy job or two just as well as the rest of us, having previously worked as a door-to-door fax machine salesperson and once applied to be Goofy at Walt Disney World but was instead relegated to clipping people into rides.
It's likely that when the teenage Zhou Xiaoguang was lugging 50kg bags of trinkets from train to train, flogging her wares, she could little have imagined that one day she would end up as one of the world's wealthiest women. But those trinkets turned into the jewellery company Neoglory, which today has stores all over China as well as an online presence. Having left school at 16, reportedly because her parents were behind on fees, her business has had a huge effect on the town of Yiwu, where it is based; once known for its poverty, it is now China's top producer of fashion jewellery. She also has a sizeable real estate portfolio, which has contributed to her $1.6 billion fortune, and her first ever appearance on the list.
Others on the self-made billionaire list include Jayshree Ullal, the London-born, India-raised president and CEO of Arista Networks, a computer networking firm and Yoshiko Shinohara, who became Japan's first self-made billionaire in 2017. The richest woman overall in the world right now is Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, who has been bumped up the list thanks to a huge increase in Walmart's share values. The youngest female billionaires are Norwegian heiresses Alexandra and Katharina Andresen, who are 21 and 22 years old and each have a $1.4 billion fortune - which is ridiculous when you consider what your own ramen-fuelled early 20s were like.
Of course, the rags to riches tale won’t happen to all of us - and as much as we may not like it, a college education and a supportive circle are probably always going to help. But it's nice to see that hard work, determination and a little bit of grit really does pay off. It’s also a good move if you have the good fortune of being born in the USA or China - two thirds of the world’s female self-made billionaires are from these two countries alone. But until we make it, we'll have to just keep on dreaming.