Over the last few weeks there has been a raging debate over who exactly is the richest woman in the world. American WalMart heiress Christy Walton has held the title for over a decade, but now there are reports that Australian Gina Rinehart may have passed her, or will do so soon. Then there's the aging French heiress Liliane Bettencourt whose 31% stake in cosmetics company L'Oreal has pushed her net worth to the stratosphere. Today we take a look at all the arguments and settle the debate over who is the richest woman in the world once and for all.
Who is the Richest Woman in the World? As of today, March 24th, 2013, Christy Walton is the richest woman in the world with a net worth of $34 billion, followed by her sister-in-law Alice Walton with a net worth of $32 billion and Liliane Bettencourt with a net worth of $28 billion. The most accurate estimate of Gina Rinehart's current net worth is $18.9 billion which makes her the fourth richest woman in the world. Click the following image to view the top six richest women in the world today and read below to find out how three of the top women made their money:
Richest Woman in the World – Contender #1: Christy Walton
Let's start with the reigning queen of cash, Christy Walton. Christy Walton is the 56 year old widow of WalMart heir John Walton. John Walton was the second child of Sam and Helen Walton. Sam Walton was, of course, the founder of WalMart. When Sam died in 1992, he left each of his children 330 million shares of WalMart, the equivalent of 10% of the company per child. As of today those shares are worth close to $32 billion! Before his death from a plane crash in 2005, John Walton led a very interesting life for a billionaire rich kid. During his lifetime John Walton was a war veteran, successful venture capitalist, and philanthropist. He was a Green Beret during the Vietnam war and was awarded the Silver Star. As a venture capitalist he invested in many companies including the publicly traded First Solar, Inc, a manufacturer of solar panels and other related products. This investment proved very successful for Walton and today, Christy still owns 30% of the company which pushes her total net worth to $34 billion.
Contender #2: Gina Rinehart
Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart has made a lot of headlines lately after several magazines declared her the richest woman in the world. The 58 year old Gina Rinehart earned her net worth through inheritance after her father, Lang Hancock, died in 1992. Lang Hancock was the founder of Hancock Prospecting Pty Limited which was responsible for the largest discovery of iron ore in world history. At the time of his death, his net worth was estimated at $125 million and he left the entire privately held company to his daughter Gina. So how do you go from a net worth of $125 million to billions upon billion? Enough to possibly the richest woman in the world in 20 years? Gina Rinehart has spent the last 20 years expanding, exploring and exploding her business empire and her personal net worth. For one, the price of iron ore has not only recovered from decade lows, it has gained in value considerably. Secondly, Gina has invested in a wide variety of mines located all over the world and many of them have turned into billion dollar producers. Finally, Ms. Rinehart has made investments in non-mining industries such as mass media. In June, 2012, Gina increased her investment in the Australian media firm Fairfax, to over 15%. Fairfax owns The Sydney Morning herald, radio stations and digital properties.
What is Gina Rinehart's net worth?
The challenge with estimating Gina Rinehart's net worth is that her holdings are entirely private and fluctuate dramatically depending on the price of precious metals, the world economy and the output of her mines. In 2011, her net worth was generally accepted to be around $10.3 billion, which easily made her the richest person in Australia. In 2012, Gina Rinehart's net worth has skyrocketed. As of March, 2013, Forbes conservatively estimates her net worth to be $18 billion and Bloomberg pegs the number at $18.8 billion. In May 2012, the Australian magazine BRW set off a flurry of news when they laid out a case that claimed Gina Rinhart was worth $29.2 billion! Both Forbes and Bloomberg have disputed BRW's estimate and re-confirmed their own valuations. One issue affecting Gina's net worth is a family battle over her assets. Three out of her four children are currently suing Gina for 25% of the Hancock mining assets. If the children win, Gina's net worth will decrease by $7 billion.
On the other hand, we have seen her net worth increase by a minimum of $8 billion in the last year, and it's very possible that her wealth will continue to grow at an equally dramatic rate in the future. At the moment, Gina Rinehart makes $75 million every 1.5 days! Many media outlets are predicting that Rinehart will not only be the definitive richest woman in the world very soon, she might also be the richer PERSON in the world. Depending on the economic factors mentioned above, it is possible that given enough time, Rinehart will pass Carlos Slim Helu as the richest person in the world in the next decade. Her net worth would pass his $70 billion and could reach as much as $100 billion!
Contender #3: Liliane Bettencourt
Liliane Bettencourt's net worth is currently estimated at $28 billion. Liliane Bettencourt inherited the L'Oreal cosmetic company when her father, the founder, died in 1957. L'Oreal became a publicly traded company in 1963 with Liliane holding onto roughly 60% of the outstanding shares. In 1974, Ms. Bettencourt traded half of her shares in L'Oreal for a 3% stake in the Swiss chocolate company Nestle. Both companies have thrived over the last 40 years and have made Liliane Bettencourt one the wealthiest people alive. Unfortunately, Liliane began suffering from Alzheimer's since 2011 and her wealth was therefore placed into guardianship with her daughter and grandsons.
The Bottom Line:
The bottom line is that as of March 2013, Christy Walton is the richest woman in the world with a net worth of $34 billion.