How The Self Made Women On The Forbes 400 Earned Their Fortunes

Self Made Women Earned Their Fortunes In the new Forbes 400 richest Americans list released this week, only 45 women made the cut. Wit...

Self Made Women Earned Their Fortunes
In the new Forbes 400 richest Americans list released this week, only 45 women made the cut. Within that small group is an even more elite subset: women who built their fortunes rather than inherited them. Only 7 women can claim that status; another four women have partnered with their husbands to build multi-billion-dollar businesses and made the list as part of a couple.

The wealthiest of the self-made set is Gayle Cook, worth an estimated $3.7 billion. Cook and her late husband, Bill, founded medical device company Cook Group in a spare bedroom in their Bloomington, Indiana apartment in 1963; it now pulls in $2 billion in revenues and has offices around the world. Gayle Cook, 78, still serves on the company’s board. Bill Cook died in April 2011.
The most recognizable name among self made women is Oprah Winfrey, who is also the only African American on this list of richest Americans. Winfrey clocks in at $2.7 billion, unchanged from a year ago. Her cable network, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), has struggled but Winfrey says it has turned the corner. She’s currently in New Orleans to shoot a film called The Butler; she plays a role opposite Forrest Whitaker. Winfrey has worked hard to right the path at a girls’ school she started in South Africa; read my colleague Clare O’Connor’s riveting article about that here.

New to The Forbes 400 this year is Judy Faulkner, who founded and owns an estimated one-third of electronic health records company Epic Systems. She debuts on the list with a net worth of $1.7 billion. Faulkner founded Epic Systems in 1979; by next year more than 40% of the U.S. population will have its medical information stored in an Epic digital medical record.

Also new to The Forbes 400 as part of a couple is Peggy Cherng. She and her husband Andrew Cherng are co-CEOs of private restaurant group Panda Express; Peggy was the sole CEO from 1998 to 2004. Panda Express has 1,500 locations, nearly all of which are company owned. Revenues in 2011 were $1.6 billion. Their combined net worth is $2 billion.

Doris Fisher cofounded clothing retailer Gap with her late husband Don (d. 2011) in 1969. It started as a jeans and record store in San Francisco and now has 3,200 stores and five brands, including Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta and Piperlime. She is no longer active in the business; two of her three sons serve on Gap’s board. Doris and Don Fisher were avid contemporary art collectors; a new wing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to be completed in 2016, will house their collection. Doris’ stake in Gap plus the value of her art collection and other investments is worth $2.9 billion and she is ranked No. 142.

Other self-made women on the Forbes 400:
Diane Hendricks. She took over roofing supply ABC Supply after her husband and business partner, Kenneth Hendricks, died in 2007. Her net worth: $2.9 billion.
Elaine Wynn. The longtime board member of casino group Wynn Resorts was married and divorced to Steve Wynn two times (yes, that’s right). Her net worth: $1.4 billion.
Meg Whitman. Now the chief executive officer of HP, Whitman earned most of her fortune over the decade she spent as CEO of eBay, transforming it from a tiny company to one with $7.7 billion in revenues. Ebay shares have surged 50% in the past year, boosting her net worth to $1.7 billion.

Two other women who built notable businesses with their husbands:

Jin Sook Chang, who immigrated from Korea and with her husband Do Won launched clothing retailer Forever 21, now with nearly 500 stores. Together they are worth $4.5 billion and rank No. 79 on the list.

Lynda Resnick and her husband Stewart own a number of businesses including POM Wonderful and Fiji Water plus they own some of the largest pistachio, almond, citrus fruit and pomegranate farms in the U.S. Together they are worth $2.2 billion and rank No. 218 on the Forbes list.

America's Richest Women
Culled from the 2012 list of the FORBES 400 richest Americans, these 20 women together hold $160 billion of the nation's wealth.

One notable self-made woman billionaire who did not make The Forbes 400: Spanx founder Sara Blakely. To get on the Forbes 400 this year, you had to have a net worth of $1.1 billion. At $1 billion, Blakely, whose line of sleek “shapewear” (girdles for modern women –and men) has a loyal following, just misses the cut. There’s always next year.


Disclaimer: The Content Or Opinions Expressed On This Web Site Are Not To Be Interpreted As Medical Advice. Please Consult With Your Doctor Or Medical Practitioner Before Utilizing Any Suggestions On This Web Site.

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