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The 10 richest self-made women in the world

Posted by mandyf on September 2, 2011

The ranking of the richest women in the world is often a surprise to many people – at least that Oprah is not the richest woman on the planet as so many think of her in that manner by default. While there are better than 1,000 women in the world that are known to be billionaires, only about 20 of those women are what can be considered self-made. The vast majority inherited their money from their family. Another thing that surprises many when viewing the richest women in the world is not only where they are from, but where their fortunes come from.

Figures for this ranking were supplied by Forbes and are considered by them to be accurate as of the last time any of these ladies disclosed their financial holdings. As these women hail from around the world, some figures are a bit fresher than others, but none are disputed as being true as to the best available knowledge. With that said, these are the ten richest self-made women in the world.

10. Yan Cheung

Yan Cheung is often called “the paper queen of China.” That is hardly a reference to weakness however, but rather her industry. Yan got her real start in the business world as a waste paper importer in Hong Kong back in 1985. She then headed to the U.S. where she ran a recycling plant for a number of years before heading back to China where she along with her brother and husband formed their company Nine Dragons of which Yan is the chairwoman. Her net worth is an estimated $1.7 billion.

9. Zhang Xin

Educated at Cambridge, she returned to China where she and her husband Pan Shiyi formed the real estate development company Soho China. Xin is credited with having made the largest purchase of land in Beijing history (12 acres) by any entity that was not state owned. The cost of those 12 acres was $586 million or about $48.833 million per acre. Xin had previously worked for Goldman Sachs and Travelers Group before striking out on her own. Her estimated net worth is now $2 billion.

8. Chu Lam Yiu

Yiu founded Huabao International in Hong Kong which makes tobacco flavoring products for cigarettes, food flavorings, and fragrances both to be worn by people and used in beverages, cleaning products, and an array of other products. Although she has slowly been selling of bits of her share of the company the last three years after taking the company public, she is still a major shareholder and has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

7. Giuliana Benetton

After forming Benetton Inc. with her siblings in 1965 and making a boatload of money selling clothes under the United Colors of Benetton name primarily, Giuliana spread out and formed Eldizone which serves as the family’s holding company. Through Eldizone, large stakes were then acquired in Autogrill Restaurants which are often found in airports and on highways as well as Atlantia which is among the largest toll-road companies in the world. Her estimated net worth currently sits at 2.1 billion.

Photo by Alan Light

6. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is a media magnate with a talk show, magazines, her own television network, book club, and the list goes on and on. Winfrey is currently estimated to have a net worth of $2.4 billion which may climb rapidly if her broadcast network takes off.

5. Xiu Li Hawken

Hawken is a bit of a mysterious woman with few known images of her publicly available. Hawken is a woman that values her privacy and the extent of what is verifiably known about her is that she graduated from Heilongjiang University in China with a degree in Chinese literature in 1986 and is now a citizen of the UK. It is also known she is the largest shareholder in Rehne Commercial Holdings and has an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion.

4. Doris Fisher

Not many people know her name, but the know her company – GAP. She and her husband Donald opened the first GAP in San Francisco in 1969 mostly selling jeans and music. Since then, GAP stores have spring up in over 3,000 locations and spawned the spin-offs Old navy, Banana Republic, and Gap for Kids to name a few. She ceded control of the company to her sons in 2004, but maintains a personal net worth of $2.4 billion.

3. Elena Baturina

Elena Baturina has at times been questioned on this list as her companies have at times been regarded by some analysts as questionable. She is married to Yuri Luzkhoz who serves as the mayor of Moscow. Her first company, Inteko, produced crockery, and construction materials as well as performing construction projects. In 2008, Inteko went under due to a financial crisis. She re-emerged in 2009 with a new Company, Patriot, which provides affordable housing. While it has been subtly questioned in the past how much of her business is the direct result of government money being funneled in by her husband’s political clout, nothing has ever been proved as being improper. Her net worth is currently estimated at $2.9 billion.

2. Rosalia Mera

Mera along with her husband made a fortune producing dressing gowns and lingerie in their home – actually they did well at that poimt and made their fortune when they used that money to begin opening Zara Stores. When the couple divorced, Rosalia received 7% of the company and a payout of $600 million. She wisely invested her money  and grew it to a nice little nest egg of $3.5 billion. She used some of that to form the Paideia Foundation to help people with physical and mental disabilities as well as to fund cancer research programs among her many charitable acts.

1. Wu Yajun

Yajun is the CEO of Longfor Properties. She rose from humble beginnings, worked in a factory on her way to the top, and is a true inspirational story. She hails from Chongping, China. Where she has vast holdings as well as in ten outlying areas. Yajun is an engineer as well, and although she maintains a high level of privacy, it is known that at $3.9 Billion, she is the richest self made woman in the world.

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