Forbes’ third annual tally of America’s 60 most successful self-made women has a new number one, two new billionaires, a transgender woman who climbed back into the ranks after a one year absence and five newcomers. It’s a diverse group of entrepreneurs, executives and entertainers who made their fortunes in everything from makeup and music to fashion, food and finance and range in age from 27 to 90. Many of these women started out trying to come up with better products to use themselves – including Spanx, Vera Bradley and IT Cosmetics, to name a few — and ended up building successful companies. All of them, who together are worth a record $61.5 billion, share a passion for their products and how they can help their customers.
Leading the way at no. 1 is the cofounder of Little Caesars Pizza, Marian Ilitch. Known as Mrs. I, Ilitch’s fortune grew by $3 billion since last year and she moves up five spots. That’s largely because her husband Mike, with whom she started and ran the business for decades, passed away in February. Forbes now credits her with his portion of Little Caesars, plus her own holdings in the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and MotorCity Casino Hotel. Not included in her fortune: the value of Mike’s Detroit Tigers, which is now in a family trust.
Among the list’s record 18 billionaires are two newly appointed ones including No. 18 Carolyn Rafaelian, the founder of popular bangle brand Alex and Ani, now America’s richest jeweler, and No. 16 Eren Ozmen, cofounder of aerospace and defense contractor Sierra Nevada, whose sales rose 15% in 2016; its Dream Chaser spacecraft now has a partnership with the United Nations and a contract with NASA.
They join better known billionaires in the ranks such as Oprah Winfrey (No. 3) and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg (No. 12), who are actively influencing politics and culture. While Oprah returns to her reporting roots this fall as a special contributor to 60 Minutes. Sandberg has been speaking out against gender pay gaps and criticize President Trump’s travel ban and anti-abortion measures. “Every woman deserves to be paid what she’s worth,” Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post in honor of April’s Equal Pay Day, “When women are paid less than men, it doesn’t just hurt women. It hurts our families, our businesses and our communities.”
The richest newcomer is Anne Dinning, whose net worth is an estimated $600 million. Trained as a computer scientist, she has helped run one of the most successful quantitative hedge fund firms on Wall Street, D. E. Shaw, for nearly two decades. She is one of five financiers in the ranks, including another newcomer, Victoria Zoellner, chairman of $1.7 billion (assets) hedge fund Alpine Associates Management.
Another new face is Kendra Scott, founder of her eponymous jewelry brand known for customizable earrings, bracelets and necklaces. She debuts following a private equity investment valuing the company at over $1 billion; she is worth $500 million. Makeup maven Jamie Kern Lima also makes the cut after selling her IT Cosmetics to L’Oreal for $1.2 billion in cash in August; she pocketed an estimated $410 million.
Newcomer Jessica Iclisoy literally grabs the last spot in the ranks, coming in tied with real estate maven Dottie Herman at No. 59 with a net worth of $260 million, the minimum needed to make the 2017 list. (That is $10 million more than the $250 million minimum in 2016). Iclisoy launched California Baby in 1995. Today it sells $80 million worth of 90 nontoxic, organic baby care products at stores like Whole Foods and Target. Iclisoy, who owns 100% of the company, never brought in outside investors, has her own manufacturing facility and grows some ingredients on her own farm.
Founder of Sirius Satellite Radio and biotech firm United Therapeutics, Martine Rothblatt rejoins the ranks after a one year absence, as stock rose and Forbes got new information on some stock sales. Rothblatt, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1994 but has remained married to the same woman, Bina, for more than three decades, started United after her daughter Jenesis developed pulmonary arterial hypertension; Rothblatt is the only transgender in the ranks.
The youngest person on the list is once again Taylor Swift, now 27, worth $280 million. The oldest is Alice Schwartz, 90. California is home to 23 self-made women, more than any other state by a wide margin. New York comes in second with nine, but New York City, where all of them live, has bragging rights as the top city.
Six women dropped out of the 2017 ranks including Sophia Amoruso, whose online fashion retailer NastyGal filed for bankruptcy protection in November, and Jessica Alba, whose Honest Co. was valued by 2016 potential suitor Unilever at a discount to its last venture capital fundraising round. The four others who fell off this year’s list are model-turned-merchandiser Kathy Ireland, Vera Bradley’s cofounder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, biotech Opko Health’s Jane Hsiao and financier Lynn Tilton.
To compile net worths, we valued individuals’ assets, including the value of stakes in public companies, using April 28, 2017 stock prices. We valued private companies by speaking with an array of outside experts and conservatively comparing the companies with publicly-traded competitors. To be eligible for this list, women had to have substantially made their own fortunes and be U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents. In cases where they started businesses with and still share with their husbands, we’ve assigned them half of that combined wealth. We attempted to vet these numbers with all list entrants. Some cooperated; others didn’t.
Acknowledgments: Euromonitor International; FactSet; LW Hospitality Advisors; Pitchbook; Privco; Simeon A. Siegel, Nomura Instinet; Timothy Landhuis, Staffing Industry Analysts; Lars Topholm, Carnegie Investment Bank.