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Forbes billionaires list 2019: The five wealthiest self-made females

Written by Louisa Cook on Friday, 08 March 2019. Posted in Insight, Analysis

From a software engineer to a pizza restaurant chain owner, we take a look at the world’s richest female entrepreneurs that have made it on their own steam

Forbes billionaires list 2019: The five wealthiest self-made females

Forbes has released its 2019 list of global billionaires – all 2,153 of them. While it’s full of successful women, some have really kicked arse and shown what they’re made of by climbing the ladder themselves. So what better time to show off the richest self-made women in the world than on International Women’s Day?

(1) Wu Yajun – Worth: $9.4bn

Wu Yajun is number 149 on the list and is the leading woman on it in the female self-made billionaire stakes. She is the co-founder of Longfor Properties, the real estate development firm. Yajun graduated from the Northwestern Polytechnical University with a degree in Navigational Engineering and has worked in a factory and as a journalist. Since founding Longfor Properties, she has become the third richest woman in China – she once held the top spot but she fell to number three after her divorce from Cai Kui. They founded Longfor Properties together and after the divorce, Yajun’s stake in the business fell to 45% while Cai Kui held a 30% stake in the business. 

Longfor Properties was founded in 1993 and currently operates in 48 cities in China, with the business focusing on development, commercial property and rental accommodation, while it’s also entered elderly-care and urbanisation projects. 

(2) Denise Coates – Worth: $6.5bn

Denise Coates founded bet365, the online gambling company, in 2001. She is number 244 on the Forbes 2019 list of billionaires but second to Yajun in the self-made female stakes. During school, she worked in her family’s betting firm, Provincial Racing, marking up bets. Then after graduating from the University of Sheffield with a degree in econometrics, she trained as an accountant within the family business. Eventually, she took over the small chain of betting shops, and after securing a loan from Barclays to acquire a neighbouring chain, became managing director of the estate. 

Coates bought the bet365.com domain name in 2000 and worked for a year on the site before launching it in 2001. It offers betting in sports such as football and cricket, as well as more obscure ones like trotting and bandy. The site also offers bingo, poker and casino games. In 2016, bet365 made $2bn in revenue and currently has over 35 million users worldwide and facilitates more than $65bn in bets a year.

(3) Diane Hendricks – Worth: $6.3bn

Diane Hendricks is at number 257. She founded ABC Supply, a roofing company, along with her husband Ken Hendricks in 1982 when they opened their first store.

She came from humble beginnings in Wisconsin, having been born to two dairy farmers. She graduated from high school in 1965 when she met Ken in 1975, he was working as roofing contractor and she was selling custom-built homes, which led them to combine their expertise. 

As of 2017, the business had reached over 700 locations and generated over $9bn in sales. It has become the largest wholesale distributor of roofing products in the US but also sells windows, gutters and sliding, which only adds to the impressive turnover.

(4) Chan Laiwa – Worth: $5.8bn

At number 298, we have Chen Lihua, known as Chan Laiwa in Cantonese. In Hong Kong, Laiwa founded the Fu Wah International Group, the commercial property developers.

Born in 1941 in Beijing, Laiwa is a descendant of the Manchu imperial family, who founded the Quing Dynasty, so she grew up in the Summer Palace in Beijing. After the collapse of the Quing Dynasty, her family become poor and was forced to leave education to start a furniture repair business. But the venture was so successful that she started a property enterprise, founding the Fu Wah International Group in 1988. It specialises in the development of property and management, arts and culture and medical research.

Laiwa also founded the China Red Sandalwood Museum which she invested £22,858m (200m RMB) into. It’s dedicated to preserving the ancient Chinese art that she grew up with. According to China Daily, Laiwa stated: "While wealth does come through our hard work and efforts, it is not the ultimate goal and is not above everything."

(5) Marion Ilitch – Worth: $4.1bn

At number 478 sits Marion Ilitch, who co-founded American pizza chain Little Caesar’s with her husband Mike in 1959. Since his death in 2017, Ilitch has run the business herself, which earns more than $4bn in annual sales.

Ilitch had her first taste of the food industry, refilling napkin containers and salt and pepper shakers in her father’s restaurant when she was young. After completing an accounting course at Dearborn Community College, she worked at SS Kresge and Delta Airlines as a reservation clerk before marrying Mike Ilitch. They subsequently used their savings to open the first Little Caesar’s in Michigan.

Little Caesar’s has become the third largest pizza chain in the US, behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s, and operates in more than 20 countries and territories globally. Having sold their first franchise in 1962, Little Caesar’s was operating in all US states by 1987. The dedication Mike and Marion have given to their business is clear – Marion stated that she sees Little Caesar’s as her eighth child.

But proving that giving back is of true importance, the couple has donated millions of dollars to serve the community through initiatives like Little Caesar’s Amateur Hockey Programme and Little Caesar’s Kitchen Programme, while they’ve donated almost $50m to Wayne State University in Detroit.

About the Author

Louisa Cook

Louisa Cook

As editorial intern, Louisa has joined the Elite team looking to progress her career in publishing and journalism. Apart from being passionate about writing, she is a feminist and a cat lover. 

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