Women Billionaires Rock All The Way To The Bank

meg-whitman.jpgWhen Meg Whitman won the Republican nomination for California governor on June 8 it was a first for a Republican woman in the state. It was also the first time a female candidate ever contributed so much of her own money to a political campaign.

Whitman, 54, worth an estimated US$1.3 billion ($1.5 billion) when we last totaled her wealth back in March, has spent more than US$70 million on her campaign so far and has reportedly said she's willing to double that number to get elected.

It is an audacious sum, but even more notable is the fact that Whitman has so much cash to spend in the first place. Twelve years ago Whitman was just another rising female executive with an admirable track record at such firms as Procter & Gamble, Disney and Hasbro. Then in 1998 she took a leap of faith and accepted a job as chief executive of eBay, then a small tech firm with 30 employees. The payoff was equity in the burgeoning company.

Thanks to that decision, Whitman soon joined the ranks of the 1011 billionaires in the world. Rarer still, she's one of just 14 female billionaires in the world right now who earned their fortunes, rather than inherited them. The richest of them is China's Wu Yajun, worth $3.9 billion and ranked 232nd in the world in March when we published our 2010 Billionaires list. By contrast, 665 men are self-made billionaires including the three richest people in the world, Carlos Slim Helú , Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Among the 14 women, who represent just two per cent of all self-made billionaires, at least five of them started their business with their husbands, brothers or sometimes both. Giuliana Benetton, 72, originally knitted sweaters that her brother Luciano would then peddle by bicycle. Rosalia Mera, 66, helped then husband Amancio Ortega make dressing gowns and lingerie in their home; they eventually divorced but she kept a stake in the now multibillion-dollar apparel maker Inditex, best known for its Zara stores. Doris Fisher, 79, and her late husband Donald started the Gap in 1969.

Some of the others who got wealthy on their own include Oprah Winfrey, 56, and J.K. Rowling, 44, both of whom overcame tough personal odds to strike it rich in media and entertainment.

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By Luisa Kroll (Forbes.com)
The Sydney Morning Herald
Photo Credit:
Robyn Beck

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