Will Gina Rinehart Be the World's Richest Person? Female Billionaire on the Rise

Billionaire Gina Rinehart may be richer than Bill Gates in a few years. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Billionaire Gina Rinehart may be richer than Bill Gates in a few years. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim is the world's richest person. But that could change in day, according to Bloomberg's new Billionaires Index. On Monday, the business news outlet launched a daily site that tracks the fortunes of the world's wealthiest. According to their analysts, Gina Rinehart, a 58-year-old Australian mining heiress worth $20.4 billion, is "on the rise". With the daily fluctuations of wealth now traceable, the mother of four could break into the top 20 ranked billionaires any day now, and even one day top the list.

Already the richest person in Australia, Rinehart's wealth stems from her dad's discovery of the world's largest iron ore deposit in 1952. An only child, Rinehart studied economics and worked with her late father, Lang Hancock, before his death in 1992.

When he died, she inherited the royalty rights to a portion of thermal and iron-ore deposits throughout the country. More recently, the "soaring demand" for coal and iron ore from China has turned Rinehart's holdings into a goldmine and earned her about $2.9 billion in the past year alone, according to Bloomberg's report. In addition, she holds a significant stake in two of Australia's major media outlets.

Much of her philanthropic work appears influenced by her gender: She's funded a girl's orphanage in Cambodia and supports a human rights organization dedicated to combating sex trafficking.

But Rinehart's wealth hasn't come without its problems. The twice-married widow was engaged in an epic 14-year legal battle with her dad's last wife, who also happened to be his maid. Three of her own children are now fighting to have her removed from presiding over her family's trust fund. More recently, Rinehart claimed to be concerned over her personal safety, as her very public battle over the family trust wages on in court. These days she lives with the only child with whom she's not locked in a legal battle, daughter Ginia.

"I don't think you understand what it means now the whole world thinks you're going to be wealthier than Bill Gates," Hope Welker, one of Rinehart's four children, wrote in an email to her mother.

As of the March 5 launch of Bloomberg's Index, she hasn't surpassed Gates or even made it into the top 20 yet.

Today's list of billionaires is dominated by men, with the top slot held by Slim. His fortune is valued at $68.5 billion, about $6 billion ahead of Gates. Only two of the 20 richest people are women.

Christy Walton, heir to her late husband's Walmart fortune, clocks in at 14 with a $24.9 billion fortune. Liliane Bettencourt, the 89-year-old principal shareholder of L'Oreal, is number 20 with a $22.4 billion  fortune. But that could all change in the next few years.

In a recent profile, The Daily Beast's David Leser projected the very real possibility of Rinehart's fortune ballooning to $100 billion, given the right global industrial climate. That would make her not only the richest woman on earth, but the richest person. Imagine that.

Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc

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