These female billionaires didn’t just inherit their wealth, they increased it

richest women in the world
MacKenzie Scott is not only one of the richest women in the world, but is also a very generous one. Source: AFP

The richest women in the world came into their wealth in many ways. 

Some married into wealthy families, some inherited businesses from their parents, and some built their multi-billion dollar companies from the ground up.

But the question remains: why aren’t there more women billionaires in the world today?

Data from research firm Wealth-X showed that the number of female billionaires was only growing half as fast as their male counterparts.  

Worse, experts have predicted that it would take nearly 100 years for women to make up half the population of the top 1%, according to a paper by Gabriel Zucman and two other economists.

Zucman worked with the well-known Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Emmanuel Saez from the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

“We are still a long, long way from gender equality at the top,” shares the economics professor from UC Berkeley. 

And this doesn’t include those who did reach the top and dropped off, like Elizabeth Holmes.

The Theranos CEO went from being worth US$4.5 billion to nothing after a jury found her guilty of four counts of fraud and conspiracy against Theranos investors who believed in her promises to revolutionise the healthcare industry, according to AFP. 

In that same study, however, experts anticipate that the number of women billionaires will rise, especially as wealth becomes more globally widespread and countries like China flourish.

Only 13% of billionaires are women

Out of all the 2,640 billionaires in the world, there are only 337 women on that list.

They have commanded a slightly larger portion of the billionaire population, with 13% this year compared to 12% in 2022.

Why is this so?

Ironically, even in this century, the gender pay gap is still a factor that affects women around the globe.

In 2022, research showed that women earned an average of 82% compared to their male counterparts.

These results appeared to be the same back in 2002 when women earned 80% as much as men, so it’s safe to say the gender pay gap has not moved much at all in years.

Some crucial facts to remember about the gender gap include:

  • Progress for women billionaires has stagnated over the years
  • Women have always taken on more caregiving roles
  • Women have less political power
  • Until a few years ago, fewer women chose STEM fields

It’s why Oprah Winfrey‘s story inspires those who come across her tale. 

richest women in the world

Oprah Winfrey is the first Black American female billionaire. Source: AFP

And she certainly didn’t inherit anything from anyone.

Through her talk show, she turned her company, Harpo Productions, into a media mogul brand that shot her further into the limelight and catapulted her fame.

Last year, Winfrey ranked in the top 10 on Forbes America’s Richest Self-Made Women List, with a net worth of US$2.6 billion.

That said, our list below is different.

While it might showcase women who inherited their wealth, most of them helmed their companies through trying times.

They were responsible for the vast expansion of many elements within those companies, including clearing debts and acquiring strategic assets.

richest women in the world

Gianluigi Aponte, CEO of MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) and his wife Rafaela Aponte built their fortunes from a small cargo ship. Source: AFP

Education of the richest women in the world who expanded their wealth

The wealth of these women are calculated at the time of writing according to Forbes.

1. Rafaela Aponte-Diamant

  • Net worth: US$29 billion

Rafaela Diamant Pinas Aponte is the daughter of a wealthy Israeli banker living in Switzerland at the time.

Strangely, we couldn’t find any information about her education, but we know how she became one of the richest women in the world.

Aponte-Diamant met her soon-to-be husband, Gianluigi Aponte, on a trip to the Italian island of Capri in the 1960s.

He was the ship’s captain. 

It wasn’t long before they married and founded the MSC Group in 1970 with just one small cargo ship — the MV Patricia.

Soon, they began acquiring larger vessels and ships, diverging into the cruise line and passenger ferry ships.

Today, MSC Group operates cruises, inland logistics, and port operations.

richest women in the world

The BMW brand has become a sign of luxury all over the world. Source: AFP

2. Susanne Klatten

  • Net worth: US$23.4 billion

Have you come across a flashy 3 Series BMW Sedan and wondered who are the names behind the brand?

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, commonly known as BMW, is tied to the Quant family, one of the wealthiest families in Germany. 

Together, they are worth US$42.7 billion

Today, however, BMW is run by Stefan Quant and Susanne Klatten, Quant’s sister, who own a 19.1% stake in the company — making Klatten one of the wealthiest women in Germany. 

Klatten grew up as a happy child alongside her brother.

After high school, she moved to Frankfurt and completed a degree in business finance.

Looking for some work experience, the business finance graduate opted to take on a role at the advertising firm Young & Rubicam, now known as VMLY&R.

After two years of working here, she left for England, where she attended the University of Buckingham in England to complete a degree in marketing and business.

Her final stop was at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, where she did her MBA

Hungry for more experience, Klatten chose to look for work elsewhere instead of returning to the family business. 

She developed her business acumen by working at Dresdner Bankthe Munich branch of management consultants McKinsey, and the Bank Bankhaus Reuschel & Co. 

While Klatten has ties to an influential family, she often refers to herself as “Susanne Kant” when applying for jobs.

She has been credited with helping transform BMW into a top-notch brand and putting it on the German DAX list of the top 30 companies.

richest women in the world

Gina Rinehart is one of the richest women in the world because of her position in the mining industry. Source: AFP

3. Gina Rinehart

  • Net worth: US$26 billion

This Aussie business executive and political activist became rich when she inherited and revamped Hancock Prospecting.

The company derives revenue from iron ore exploration and mining.

Born in Perth, Western Australia, Rinehart was the only child of Hope Margaret Nicholas and Lang Hancock.

She began her early school life at St Hilda’s Anglican School and obtained a Bachelor of Economics at the University of Sydney.

After graduating, she worked as an assistant to her father and learned the ropes and tricks of the trade.

When her father passed in 1992, Rinehart took over as chief executive.

At the time, the company struggled as her father had personal debts amounting to US$72.8 million — but she took them in stride. 

Rinehart turned the company back into good shape by maintaining tight control over operations and building a new iron mine in Pilbara, Australia.

Her biggest asset was the Roy Hill mining project, which started shipments to Asia in 2015. 

Today, the Executive Chairman of Hancock Prospecting remains wealthy due to her strong work ethic that seeped into all areas of management — just ask Acting Hancock Agriculture chief executive Adam Giles.

“Wherever she is and whatever is going on, she’s always working,” says the former Northern Territory chief minister.

Rinehart is also known for her charitable acts, particularly through the Hancock Group, which supports:

  • medical organisations
  • sporting organisations
  • educational organisations
  • health organisations
  • community-based organisations
richest women in the world

Mackenzie Scott, one of the richest women in the world, is the former wife of Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. Source: AFP

4. Mackenzie Scott

  • Net worth: US$35.8 billion

The name Mackenzie Scott is synonymous with giving; she is known for her charitable and generous philanthropic work all across the globe.

Or you may know her as the ex-wife of billionaire Jeff Bezos.

But before she had all that money, MacKenzie Scott Tuttle was just another girl born on April 7, 1970, in California.

From the time she was a young girl, she loved literature and enjoyed writing.

She even wrote a 142-page book called “The Book Worm” when she was only six.

Scott attended Hotchkiss School and then went to Princeton University, where she graduated with honours in English.

While she was at Princeton, she had the opportunity to learn from Nobel Laureate in Literature, Toni Morrison.

Morrison once described Scott as “one of the best students” she has ever had in her creative writing classes.”

After graduation, Scott worked as a research assistant for a hedge fund while embarking on freelance writing work, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Observer.

In 1993, the literature graduate moved to New York and took on a role at the New York City hedge fund company DE Shaw.

Here, she met Bezos; they were married for 25 years and had four children together.

Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, but Scott played a large role in the company’s development. 

She was one of the company’s first employees and helped develop a business plan.

In 2019, the two announced they would be filing for a divorce.

As a result, Scott was given a 4% stake in Amazon, which explains why she is so rich.

richest women in the world

Chile is the top copper producer in the world, which is what Iris Fontbona, one of the richest women in the world,  ventured into. Source: AFP

5. Iris Fontbona

  • Net worth: US$22.2 billion

Another mining magnate on our list is Iris Balbina Fontbona González.

The 80-year-old Chilean made her fortune building and expanding Antofagasta PLC with her late husband, Andrónico Luksic.

The company is one of the most important conglomerates in Chile, which engages in copper mining, transport, and water distribution businesses.

Since she was young, González had a comfortable childhood.

She attended a prestigious Catholic school during her primary and secondary years, where she enjoyed mathematics and science.

After graduating from high school, González went to the University of Chile, where she completed a programme in commercial engineering.

She also minored in accounting and finance, which would later prove very useful for the company she would one day run.

In the early 1960s, the Chilean native took on a role with a small business her father owned, managing the accounts and finances.

She met Luksic when she was only 17; he was 15 years older than her at the time.

They eventually married and began building the Luksic Group (it would later diverge into Antofagasta PLC).

Starting with administrative tasks, González took on more complex roles as the company expanded.

After her husband passed in 2005, Bontfona took charge and is credited with acquiring the largest copper mine in Chile, Escondida.

Today, Antofagasta Plc’s success has reached many people in the country, provided jobs for them and enriched the economy.