Written by Luisa Kroll, Forbes Staff. This story appears in the June 15, 2015 issue of Forbes. Read on Forbes.
Forbes has compiled its first ever list of the nation’s top 50 most successful, self-made women as measured by their net worths. The exclusive freshman class includes entrepreneurs, CEOs, entertainers, designers and even an author. Some of the list members are extremely well-known, starting with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Others like Kathy Fields and Katie Rodan, dermatologists who created acne treatment Proactiv and now have another skin care company, aren’t quite household names yet but may be on their way.
Elizabeth Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford to launch blood testing firm Theranos in 2003, tops the list with a net worth of $4.5 billion. At age 31, she is also the world’s youngest female billionaire. Other notables who made the cut include Eren Ozmen, who is chairman of Sierra Nevada, the biggest female-owned federal contractor in the U.S.; creator of American Girl dolls Pleasant Rowland; prolific novelist Nora Roberts and Martine Rothblatt, a transgender woman who founded and runs biotech firm United Therapeutics.
A remarkable 20 of the self-made women reside in the truly Golden state of California. Many of them are in technology including Weili Dai, cofounder of semiconductor firm Marvell Technology; Lynda Weinman, who sold her Lynda.com to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion in May; and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. But a number made their money in other ways. With her husband, Kit Crawford built Clif Bar into a successful maker of organic nutritional bars and drinks now sold in 14 countries. Former fashion model Kathy Ireland, who graced Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue for 13 years, is a licensing mogul who has lent her name to some 17,000 unglamorous products from socks to ceiling fans.
New York City, meanwhile, is home to 8 self-made female magnates including pop stars Madonna and Beyonce as well as designers Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenberg and Donna Karan. Perhaps not surprisingly, Technology and Fashion & Retail produced more fortunes than any other sectors, 11 apiece.
Fifteen of the list members were born outside of the U.S. such as new billionaire Thai Lee, whose IT provider SHI International is the biggest woman-owned company in the country. A minimum net worth of $250 million was needed to make the ranks. Beyonce and TV personality Judge Judy, tied at no. 49, each just made the cut. Celebrities who fell a little short include Jessica Alba, Sandra Bullock and Taylor Swift, all worth roughly $200 million apiece.
To compile net worths, we valued individuals’ assets, including the value of stakes in public companies, on May 15, when we locked in stock prices. We valued private companies by speaking with an array of outside experts and conservatively comparing them with public competitors. To be eligible for this list, women had to have substantially made their own fortunes and be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. In cases where they started businesses with, and still share with, their husbands, we’ve assigned them half of that combined wealth.
Additional editing by: Kerry Dolan
Reporting by: Katia Savchuk, Chloe Sorvino, Rebecca Spalding, Kerry Close, Clare O’Connor, Zina Moukheiber
Additional reporting by: Keren Blankfeld, Abram Brown, Agustino Fontevecchia, Zack Greenburg, Matthew Herper, Joann Muller, Maggie McGrath, Natalie Robehmed, Chase Peterson-Withorn, Kate Vinton
Special thanks to American Express, Orbis by Bureau van Dijk, Privco, Real Capital Analytics, Staffing Industry Analysts, Wealthengine, Women Presidents’ Organization