With International Women's Day approaching, we shine the spotlight on ten of the most powerful women around the world and how they made their fortune


1. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, L’Oreal

Net worth: US$54.7 B

The richest woman in the world (at the time of writing), Françoise Bettencourt Meyers ranks 13 on Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list. The heiress, who is the granddaughter of L’Oreal’s founder Eugène Schueller, inherited the beauty empire when her mother Liliane Bettencourt passed on in 2017. She is the chairwoman of the family’s holding company Tethys SAS, which owns 33 per cent of L’Oreal’s stock. Bettencourt-Meyers is also passionate about philanthropy and is the president of the family’s Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, which funds and encourages scientific research, humanitarian causes and the arts in France. Together with L'Oreal, the foundation donated US$226 million to repair Notre Dame cathedral following the April 2019 fire.

2. Alice Walton, Walmart

Net worth: US$51.3B

Unlike her brothers, Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton doesn’t have an active role in running the world’s largest retailer. Instead, she is a dedicated patron of the arts and a philanthropist. She is also the founder and chairperson of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which she established in 2011. Crystal Bridges was the first major art museum since 1974 and has since amassed a notable collection, including works from Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Mark Rothko. In 2017, Walton founded non-profit foundation Art Bridges, which aims to provide greater access to American art throughout the country.

3. Julia Flesher Koch, Koch Industries

Net worth: US$41.2B

Julia Flesher Koch became one of the world’s richest women in 2019 when she inherited her late husband, David Koch’s stake in Koch Industries. Along with her three children—David Jnr, Mary Julia and John Mark—Julia owns a 42 per cent stake in the American multinational corporation, which ventures into asphalt, finance, natural gas, petroleum and more through its subsidiaries.

She is the president of the David H. Koch Foundation, which has contributed more than US$200 million towards science, medical research, education, and more. Julia herself is also passionate about the arts, previously serving on the board of directors for the School of American Ballet and chairing events for the American Ballet Theatre as well as the 1998 Met Gala.

4. MacKenzie Bezos, Amazon.com

Net worth: US$38.7B

Previously married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos’ net worth was significantly increased last year after Jeff transferred 25 per cent of his stakes in Amazon to her as part of the divorce settlement. The stakes, which amounted to 4 per cent of the company, was valued at US$36 billion at the time. She reportedly unloaded US$350 million worth of her shares in January. She also signed the Giving Pledge in May last year, promising to donate at least half of her wealth. Heavily involved with the operations of Amazon in the early days, MacKenzie pulled back from her role in 1997, when Amazon went public, to focus on fiction writing. She has published two novels—The Testing of Luther Albright (2005) and Traps (2013).

5. Jacqueline Mars, Mars, Inc.

Net worth: US$30.6B

Granddaughter to Frank C. Mars, the founder of the world’s largest candy maker, Jacqueline Mars is an heiress to Mars, Inc, and possesses an estimate of a third of its shares. The 79-year-old joined the company as Food Product Group President in 1982, retiring in 2001 and continuing to serve on the board until 2016. Her son, Stephen Badger is currently the chairman of Mars’ board of directors. Mars is also a well-known philanthropist, serving as president of the Mars Foundation, where she had made significant contributions to the National Symphony Orchestra and Australian Outback doctors. She also serves on six boards, including at the Smithsonian and the National Archives.

6. Yang Huiyan, Country Garden Holdings

Net worth: US$25.1B

Yang Huiyan is the daughter of Guangdong developer Yeung Kwok Keung, a self-made tycoon who founded Country Garden Holdings. At 25 years old, she became the richest person in China in 2007 when she received 70 per cent of her father’s holdings. Now 38, she is the richest woman in China, with 57 per cent shares of the real estate company. Yang also chairs the Bright Scholar Education Holdings, the largest operator of international and bilingual K-12 schools in China. 

7. Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple & Disney

Net worth: US$23.3B

The widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs inherited US$20 billion worth of stakes in Apple and Disney when her husband passed away in 2011. She has since been channelling her energy in her for-profit social firm Emerson Collective, as well as other philanthropic initiatives. Emerson Collective was founded by Powell Jobs in 2004, named after one of her favourite writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The social change organisation focuses on education, immigration reform, the environment, media, and health, using impact investing, advocacy and more to spur change. Besides her brainchild, Powell Jobs has also invested in Atlantic Magazine, other non-profit publications like Mother Jones and ProPublica, as well as film-making Concordia Studio to create documentaries alongside Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim.

8. Susanne Klatten, BMW & Altana

Net worth: US$20.3B

Susanne Klatten is the second richest in Germany, with 19.2 per cent shares in automaker BMW, sole ownership of chemical group Altana AG, and stakes in wind power outfit Nordex AG, soil additive company Geohumus and carbon and graphite producer SGL Group. But don’t just pass her off for another German heiress—Klatten was instrumental in transforming her grandfather’s Altana AG into a world-class pharmaceutical/speciality chemical corporation and was committed to the development of the company as an investor before fully acquiring it in 2008. The company is now a leader in true speciality chemicals like paint, coatings, adhesives and more.

9. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, Heineken

Net worth: US$16.6B

Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken wasn’t always groomed to take over Heineken, one of the world's largest brewers. The family business was founded by her great-grandfather Gerard Adriaan Heineken 150 years ago, and eventually passed to her father, longtime CEO Freddy Heineken. The heiress was a stay-at-home wife to her investment banker husband and five children—but that all changed when she inherited a 23 per cent controlling stake in Heineken, when her father passed away in 2002. An only child, Carvalho-Heineken was then forced by circumstances to step up to the role, which she has taken in stride. Since her ownership, she has shaken up declining stock at the brewery, hiring CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer and enabling acquisitions to boost Heineken’s position in the market. Carvalho-Heineken has shared that she views her leadership as more of a guardianship and is grooming her children to take over the family business.

10. Abigail Johnson, Fidelity Investments

Net worth: US$16.3B

The third generation heiress to Fidelity Investments—a privately held mutual fund giant founded by her grandfather Edward C. Johnson II—and the first woman to take over its reins, Abigail Johnson has proven herself to be one of the most powerful women in finance. Since becoming the CEO of Fidelity Investments in 2014 and its chairperson in 2016, Johnson has quickly shaken things up at the 72-year-old firm, steering away from its traditional, open-end mutual funds and introducing millennial-friendly zero-fee index funds. The firm embraced cryptocurrency by launching a platform for ether and bitcoin-trading in 2018. She is also known to be dedicated to creating a welcoming work environment for women at her company—financial services are notoriously biased against women—by promoting fair hiring practices and raising awareness on sexual harassment.

(Related: Aurum Group's Michelle Yong Talks About Beating The "Third-Generation Curse")


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