When Forbes launched our first ever list of America’s richest self-made women in 2015, it was a deliberate move to spotlight more female entrepreneurs, executives and entertainers. It was in part a reaction to what we weren’t seeing in our other lists: There were —and still are — so few women founders on the lists of the World’s Billionaires and The Forbes 400 richest Americans. In 2014, there were just 29 self-made women, compared to 1,043 self-made men, on the World’s Billionaires list. Forbes defines “self made” to mean a fortune that was built from someone’s own efforts (with help from other cofounders or employees, of course) as opposed to a fortune that was inherited from someone else.
This year we highlight 100 women, double the number on our inaugural 2015 list and up from 80 a year ago, in recognition of the critical roles these leaders play as job creators, change-makers and influencers across many industries.
Number one for the third year in a row is roofing entrepreneur Diane Hendricks, worth $8 billion. With her husband, she founded ABC Supply, which has grown to become one of the largest U.S. wholesale distributors of roofing, siding and windows. She has run the company, which had $11 billion in 2019 revenues, since her husband’s death in 2007. Behind her at No. 2 is Judy Faulkner, who founded $3.2 billion (2019 sales) medical-records software firm Epic in 1979. The governor of Wisconsin called on Epic this spring for help coordinating pandemic-related communication and services and the company has been donating its telehealth and remote-monitoring software to the state.
List members this year range in age from 23 to 94, and are worth a combined $90 billion. The minimum net worth to make Forbes’ sixth annual ranking is $150 million. Twenty-one are billionaires, down from 25 last year. The fortunes of 37 members who were on last year’s list are up this year, eight are unchanged and 30 have fallen in value. Nearly half, or 45, live in California, followed by New York with 14. Twenty-three were born outside of the U.S., in countries ranging from Japan to Barbados.
Where The Women On The Self-Made List Live
Nearly half of those on the 2020 Forbes list of top Self-Made Women live in the Golden State.
Twenty-three on the 2020 list are newcomers. Of those, 10 founded or cofounded companies, including Donna Carpenter, who created snowboard gear and clothing company Burton with her late husband Jake Burton Carpenter (d. 2019). Eight newcomers are executives who’ve helped build late companies they didn’t found, including Gwynne Shotwell (No. 72), who was employee number 11 at SpaceX and now is president and chief operating officer of the space exploration company, and Kelly Steckelberg (No. 78), who joined Zoom Video Communications in 2017 as chief financial officer and helped take the now hugely-popular company public in April 2019. The richest newcomer, worth $1.1 billion is Robyn Jones, who cofounded Texas-based Goosehead Insurance with her husband Mark. Three of the newcomers are celebrities with an entrepreneurial side: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Kris Jenner, the mom and manager to list members and cosmetics entrepreneurs Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West. And there’s one new star athlete: tennis champ Maria Sharapova, who was the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years, joins the ranks at No. 87. Most of her fortune comes from her tennis earnings but she also owns all of Sugarpova, the premium candy company she founded.
Better With Age
The women on the list range from 23 to 94 years old, but the 50s and 60s is the sweet spot for these self-made stars.
The youngest list member is Kylie Jenner, who’s just 23 and built her Kylie Cosmetics company with savvy use of her 197 million Instagram followers; last year Coty bought 51% of Kylie Cosmetics for $600 million but sales wilted in the first half of 2020. The oldest member of the list, at 94, is Alice Schwartz, who cofounded life sciences company Bio-Rad Laboratories in 1952 with her husband and $700 in savings. Bio-Rad has created an FDA-approved test for Covid-19; shares of the company jumped 58% since mid-March. Youthful entrepreneurship gets plenty of press—and 13 on the ranking are under 40— but our list shows that launching a business in your 40s or later can lead to outsized success; 23 on the list have taken the latter route.
Increasingly women are finding a path to success, not by starting or even heading companies but through finance. There are five who are or were chief financial officers at some point in their careers including Ruth Porat, the finance chief at Google and Alphabet and Sarah Friar, who served as CFO of Square before joining social network Nextdoor as CEO.
The coronavirus pandemic has left a mark on many businesses run by these women. Among the 30 list members worth less than a year ago is Sara Blakely (No. 32), the indefatigable founder of Spanx, whose company is worth about $400 million less this year, Forbes estimates, as the pandemic shuttered social functions and the workplace, sapping the market for shapewear. Forbes calculates that Anastasia Soare’s (No. 41) net worth dropped by more than 50% in the past year as a result of the waning popularity of her makeup line, Anastasia Beverly Hills. Katie Rodan (No. 22) and Kathy Fields (No. 22), meanwhile, are no longer billionaires, Forbes figures, following a drop in revenue at their skin-care firm Rodan + Fields, which operates via multi-level marketing.
As with anyone in business, no matter their gender, there have been flameouts. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was number one on the inaugural 2015 list. The following year, as problems with Theranos’ blood tests came to light, Holmes was off the list (Forbes estimated that her net worth had plunged to zero.) In 2017, Forbes featured bangle billionaire Carolyn Rafaelian, the founder of jewelry firm Alex and Ani, on the cover and at No. 18 on that year’s Self-Made Women’s list. Now she’s fallen off the list.
This year we feature fashion designer Tory Burch on the cover of Forbes. As with other luxury brands, hers has struggled under the pandemic, temporarily shutting stores worldwide and furloughing much of the staff. Burch takes us inside the battle she and her husband, Tory Burch CEO Pierre-Yves Roussel, have been waging to keep the company going.
Forbes used stock prices from September 11, 2020 to calculate the net worths.To make the list, women have to be U.S. citizens or reside in the U.S. For the full list, plus other articles, the methodology and the full list of reporters who worked on this project, please go to forbes.com/self-made-women.