By MeghChristy Waltonan Casserly
This year the 20 richest women in the world have a combined net worth of $232 billion derived from a diverse string of industries including mining, banking, real estate and automobies. In fact, nearly every woman in this elite ladies' club has seen her wealth increase since the Forbes 2010 World's Billionaires List.
Wu Yajun is a former journalist and editor who worked for half a decade at the China Shirong News Agency. These days, her byline reads Chairman and CEO of Hong Kong based Longfor Properties, a growing real estate concern that boasts rising stock prices and soaring sales since being listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2009. What's newsworthy about Wu, despite her amassed $5.5 billion in personal fortune?
Of the 20 richest women in the world in 2011 as determined by the Forbes 2011 list of The World's Billionaires, she's the only one who's self-made.
The rest of this rarified group is staffed by widows and heiresses, whose family ties have left them the wealthiest women on the planet.
Christy Walton tops the list for the third time. Walton is worth $26.5 billion. Walton is the widow of Walmart scion John Walton, who died in a plane crash near the couple's Wyoming home in 2005, and hold the most wealth of the seven Walton relatives in this year's rankings.
Right behind her is L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who moved up one spot to No. 2 and is whose wealth is calculated at $23.5 billion. L'Oreal, founded by father Eugene Schueller in 1909 boasts 23 global brands including Maybelline, the Body Shop and Lancôme, and employs more than 64,000 people.
Bettencourt has been troubled by scandal. In July she was suspected of making illegal donations to the 2007 Presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy. In December she and only daughter and heir, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyer, reconciled and dropped all court cases against each other. Her daughter had petitioned courts in 2008 to investigate reported $1 billion worth of cash and gifts that Bettencourt allegedly gave to Francois-Marie Banier, 62, a well-known photographer, writer and painter whom she befriended. Daughter claimed, and Liliane denied, that Banier took advantage of her mother, who became a widow in 2007.But despite taking a financial hit in the wake of the Madoff investment fraud of 2008, the family fortune has risen since 2010.
Following Bettencourt is another wealthy Walton at $21.2 billion. Alice is the daughter of Sam Walton, who with his brother James, started a general store chain in Bentonville, Ark., in 1962. Today Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer, controlling more than $405 billion in annual sales. Walton collected roughly $420 million in dividends in 2010 and will rake in even more next year after the retailer raised its annual payouts by 20% starting this March.
The fourth richest woman in the world, Iris Fontbona of Chile, leads as quiet a life as Bettencourt's is gripping. The second wife and now widow of Andronico Luksic, her family controls Antof-- asta, one of the world's largest and most producing copper miners. Son Jean Paul serves as chairman of Antof-- asta, whose shares have doubled in the past 12 months, largely accounting for the Fontbona family's fortune increasing by $8 billion since 2010.The World's Richest Women
Christy Walton, 56, & family
The widow of John Walton inherited her wealth after he died in an airplane accident in 2005. Repeating her 2010 title as world's richest woman, she got an extra bump in her fortune because of her late husband's early investment in First Solar; shares up nearly 500% since 2006 initial public offering. But the bulk still comes from her holdings in Wal-Mart, the retailer founded by her father-in-law Sam Walton and his brother James in 1962. The philanthropist supports museums, education and organic gardening.Liliane Bettencourt, 88
France's richest woman is heir to French cosmetic giant, L'Oreal, founded by her late father. She became the focus of a sensational family scandal; in December mother and only daughter and heir, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyer, reconciled and dropped all court cases against each other. Daughter had petitioned courts in 2008 to investigate reported $1 billion worth of cash and gifts her mother allegedly gave to Francois-Marie Banier, 62, a well-known photographer, writer and painter whom she befriended. Daughter claimed, and Bettencourt hotly denied, that Banier took advantage of her mother, who became a widow in 2007.
Alice Walton, 61
The Wal-Mart heiress's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art set to open in Bentonville, Ark., this November. While Wal-Mart's shares are up just 5% over the past year, she collected roughly $420 million in dividends in 2010 and will rake in even more next year after the retailer raised its annual payouts by 20% starting this March. Her father, Sam Walton (d. 1922), a former clerk, founded original Bentonville store with brother James 1962. Today Wal-Mart has sales of $405 billion, employs more than 2.1 million people.
Iris Fontbona & family
Second wife, and now widow, of billionaire Andronico Luksic, who died of cancer in 2005. Family controls Antof-- asta, one of the world's largest copper miners. Also holds shares in Quinenco, a consumer packaging and beverage maker, and Plava Laguna, a chain of Croatian beach resorts. Son Jean Paul serves as chairman of Antof-- asta. Antof-- asta shares have more than doubled in the past 12 months, largely accounting for the Fontbona family's fortune increasing by $8 billion since 2010's ranking.
Susanne Klatten, 48
BMW, pharmaceuticals, Germany
Inherited stake in automaker BMW from late father Herbert Quandt, who rescued it from bankruptcy in the early 1960s. A trained economist with an M.B.A., Klatten also inherited a 50% stake in chemical manufacturer Altana and has since increased her control of the company to 100% and delisted the firm. Also holds stakes in wind power outfit Nordex AG, carbon and graphite producer SGL, and Geohumus, a company that is developing a water storing granulate to be used in agriculture. In 2009 Klatten won a civil case against ex-lover Helg Sgarbi, who tried to blackmail her for millions in a salacious scandal. Sgarbi is currently in jail. Klatten's personal fortune rose $3.5 billion in the past year.
Birgit Rausing, 87, & family
After death of her husband Gad Rausing in 2000, inherited packaging giant Tetra Laval along with her three children. In 1944 her father-in-law founded the company, which revolutionized the packaging of liquids such as juices and milk. Today the company employs 31,000 people in 165 countries. All of her children sit on Tetra Laval's board. Son Jorn is head of mergers and acquisitions. Son Finn is chairman of the board of the Swedish R.R. Institute of Applied Economics, and daughter Kirsten is a horse breeder in the U.K. Birgit lives quietly in Switzerland.
Anne Cox Chambers, 91
Cox Enterprises, U.S.
Daughter of Cox Enterprises founder James M. Cox (d. 1957), who finished high school at 17 and worked as a schoolteacher and newspaper reporter before shelling out $26,000 for the Dayton Evening News in 1898. James Sr. later moved into politics. Today Cox Enterprises includes Cox Communications cable company, 17 daily newspapers, 15 TV stations, 86 radio stations, Manheim Auctions (cars) and AutoTrader.com. Fortune up $3 billion in past year.
Click here to see the full list of the world's 20 richest women.
Bios of all 1,210 of The World's Billionaires
20 Jobs Women Are Taking Over
The World's Youngest Billionaires 2011
Notable Newcomer Billionaires 2011
Social Networking Billionaires 2011
Biggest Billionaire Gains 2011