Another record year for the three comma club has boosted the wealth of female billionaires around the world. An all-time high of 256 women made the 2018 Forbes World’s Billionaires rankings; their collective net worth topped $1 trillion, up 20% since last year, outpacing the total gains overall. Though most of the women at the top of the list inherited their fortunes, more than a quarter of the female moguls were self-starters who blazed their own trails. The number of self-made women reached 72 for the first time, up from 56 a year ago.
Alice Walton reclaims the crown as the richest woman in the world, as her fortune leapt from $33.8 billion to $46 billion over the past year. The only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, Alice moves up one spot to number 16, thanks largely to a 43% uptick in the value of Walmart’s shares. The massive retailer has been making an aggressive push into e-commerce in a head-to-head contest against Amazon, and recently announced a new line of kitchen products in partnership with Buzzfeed’s online food network, Tasty. The Bentonville, Arkansas, firm also plans to roll out meal kits to 2,000 stores in 2018 and is creating four new private label brands for clothing.
Walton takes the title of richest woman from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who died in September 2017 at the age of 94. The only child of Bettencourt, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, is the runner up with a net worth of $42.2 billion. That’s higher than what her mother was worth a year ago but shy of Walton’s gain. Meyers derives her fortune from a 33% stake in the cosmetics giant. Her grandfather Eugene Schueller founded the predecessor to L’Oreal in 1909, two years after the young chemist started creating hair dyes under the name Oréal. Under him, the business grew from selling dyes to Parisian hairdressers to a household name, and Schueller passed on his stake to daughter Liliane, who joined the company as an apprentice when she was 15 years old.
Sitting at third is Susanne Klatten, who has a $25 billion fortune primarily thanks to her inherited stake in automaker BMW. In fact, of the top 10 wealthiest women, eight inherited all their riches while two — Australia’s Gina Rinehart, who sources her fortune from iron ore, and U.S.’s Abigail Johnson, who heads Fidelity Investments — received a family business but played a hand in substantially growing it.
For women who aspire to create 10-figure fortunes from scratch, the United States and China are the places to be. Two-thirds of self-made female billionaires hail from these two countries alone, including Wisconsin native Diane Hendricks, who built roofing giant ABC Supply with her late husband, Kenneth. The wealthiest woman entrepreneur in America, Hendricks traces her humble beginnings back to her parents’ dairy farm. She worked a series of odd jobs after high school, and she had her first child as a teenager. She met her roofer husband while selling custom-built houses, and the couple later started the nation’s largest roofing distributor. She has presided over their empire since his death in December 2007; annual sales have more than tripled in the past decade to over $8 billion.
Other rags-to-riches stories include that of the reigning richest self-made woman, Hong Kong’s Zhou Qunfei, who made her $7.8 billion fortune after reportedly losing her mother as a child and quitting school at age 16 to work. She founded her own watch lenses manufacturing business after years of experience in factories, and eventually got into making glass covers for cell phones; her Lens Technology now trades on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and counts Apple and Samsung as customers. Similarly, Chinese newcomer Zhou Xiaoguang reportedly left high school at 16 years old due to lack of funds and sold trinkets across the country, traveling by night trains to hop from city to city. She started Zhejiang-based jewelry maker Neoglory with her husband, Yu Yunxin, in 1995; the couple has since expanded into finance and property, including a publicly traded real estate arm. She debuts on the list at $1.9 billion.
In all, 42 women made the rankings for the first time, including two American immigrants, Jayshree Ullal and Eren Ozmen. Ullal, who lands on the list at $1.3 billion, was born in London and raised in India, then went on to study at San Francisco State University and Santa Clara University. She spent more than a decade at Cisco Systems before joining computer networking firm Arista Networks, where she took the helm as CEO in 2008. Turkey native Eren Ozmen also crossed the pond for an American education, getting her M.B.A. at the University of Nevada, Reno in 1985, then joining aerospace and defense firm Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) three years later. She and her husband, Fatih, bought SNC in 1994, and grew it from a team of 20 into a federal contractor with more than 3,000 employees in 33 locations. Ozmen, who has a net worth of $1.5 billion, remains the president and co-owner of the private business.
In-N-Out heiress Lynsi Snyder received a nice birthday gift in 2017, when she turned 35 years old and was given the final portion of her inheritance. She has been slowly receiving shares in the burger chain over the years and now owns an estimated 97% of the West Coast-based fast food company, giving her a fortune of $1.2 billion. Her grandparents Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first drive-thru burger stand in California in 1948, and Esther helmed the day-to-day operations at In-N-Out until her death in 2006. Lynsi, who reportedly began working at the firm’s human resources and merchandising department as a teenager, became president in 2010. She has since expanded its locations, venturing to new territories like Texas
The Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list is a snapshot of wealth using stock prices and exchange rates from February 9, 2018. Some people will become richer or poorer between then and the publication of the rankings, or within days of publication. For instance, Alice Walton was the richest woman in the world at $46 billion on February 9, but ceded that title to Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, at least temporarily. To see real time updates on billionaires’ net worths, please visit: forbes.com/real-time-billionaires