Forbes Billionaires 2021: The Richest People in the World
April 9, 2021
April 9, 2021
From the U.S. to China, 328 women made the Forbes billionaires list, up from 241 last year. As a group, the women on the list are worth $1.53 trillion, a nearly 60% increase over the past year. They collectively added $570.7 billion to their wealth, largely due to rebounding stock markets across the globe. Twelve of these women share their fortunes with either their husband, child or sibling, up from seven women who shared their fortunes last year, including Germany’s Beate Heister, an heir to the Aldi supermarket fortune, which she shares with her brother Karl Albrecht, Jr. One newcomer this year who shares her fortune: Keiko Erikawa of Japan. She and her husband Yoichi founded videogame developer Koei Tecmo four decades ago.
Erikawa is also one of 108 self-made women on our list, up from 67 women last year, attesting to the rise of women entrepreneurs who join the billionaire ranks. There were 66 women who despite inheriting their wealth, continued to grow it. Miuccia Prada, for example, has grown the family’s luxury fashion company Prada into a $2.9 billion (2020 sales) brand with her co-CEO husband, Patrizio Bertelli. Additionally, there were 154 women who inherited their fortune but are not actively involved in expanding it; such as Dagmar Dolby who owns about 36% of publicly-traded audio technology firm Dolby Laboratories, founded by her late husband, Ray Dolby (d. 2013).
The world’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, scored the biggest dollar gain among women whose fortune is tied to public stocks. The share price of L’Oreal, in which she and her family own a 33% stake, rose nearly 40% since last March, helping add $24.7 billion to Bettencourt’s net worth. MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, also got richer this year—despite her extensive philanthropic efforts during the pandemic. Scott, who has committed to giving her wealth away “until the safe is empty,” donated nearly $6 billion to charities across America in 2020. Yet, thanks to the skyrocketing Amazon stock she got in the divorce, she’s worth more now ($53 billion on this year’s list) than when she began ($36 billion on our 2020 ranking)
Not everybody won in 2021, however. The fortunes of 24 women decreased in the past year due to stock drops, declines in the value of private holdings, Forbes uncovering more information about their assets—or a very generous gift. In October, German billionaire Friede Springer gave 15% of the company (worth about $1.2 billion) to the chief executive of Axel Springer, the German publishing company founded by her late husband. In an effort to encourage a smooth transition, she also sold him an additional 4.1% of the company and now holds just 22%.
Bettencourt Meyers inherited her fortune from her mother, Liliane Bettencourt (d. 2017), whose father, Eugene Schueller, founded cosmetics giant L’Oréal. The $33.6 billion (2020 sales) company’s profits fell 6% in 2020, in part due to consumers losing their appetite for makeup during quarantine measures. Yet the stock still rose 38% thanks to recovering cosmetics demand, especially for skincare products. Bettencourt Meyers has served on the board of L’Oreal since 1997.
The daughter of Sam Walton lost her spot as the world’s richest woman to Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, but still gained $7.4 billion in the past year, thanks to Walmart stock rising more than 5% since mid March 2020. The retailing giant introduced free delivery as part of an Amazon Prime-like membership program, helping boost online sales 69% in the year through January.
Scott, whose marriage to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ended in 2019, became the biggest philanthropist of the pandemic, giving away $5.8 billion in grants to 500 nonprofit organizations across the U.S., supporting causes including racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights and public health. She recently remarried, and her husband, science teacher Dan Jewett, joined her 2019 pledge to give away much of her fortune.
The widow of David Koch (d. 2019), Julia Koch and her children have a 42% stake in the family business, Koch Industries, which became America’s largest private company per revenue last year. She sits on the board of directors of the $115 billion (2019 sales) conglomerate; David’s older brother Charles is chairman and also owns a 42% stake.
Adelson now controls the 56% stake in casino operator Las Vegas Sands that was formerly owned by her husband, Sheldon Adelson, who died at age 87 in January. The company lost $985 million in the second quarter of 2020 as its two Vegas casinos and resorts were shuttered due to statewide lockdowns. The casinos reopened in June 2020, but the business ended the year with $1.69 billion in net loss, compared to $2.7 billion in profits in the previous year. Las Vegas Sands announced in March that it is selling its Vegas properties for $6.25 billion to focus instead on Asia; its business is much bigger in Macao.
Jacqueline Mars and her brother John each own an estimated one-third of Mars Incorporated, the $40 billion (sales) candy, pet care and food company that’s known for M&M’s and Skittles. The company was founded by Jacqueline and John’s grandfather, Frank C. Mars, in 1911. In November 2020, Mars Incorporated acquired snack bar maker, KIND North America, for an undisclosed sum, three years after it took a minority stake.
Yang Huiyan owns about 58% of China-based real estate developer Country Garden Holdings. Her father, its founder, has been transferring her equity in the business since 2007. Shares fell by almost 14% due to the pandemic. Yang also chairs U.S.-listed education firm Bright Scholar Education Holdings.
Car sales recovered from a slump earlier in the pandemic, leading to a $10.9 billion rise in the BMW heir’s fortune. The German carmaker reported nearly $119 billion in revenues in 2020 and its stock price increased more than 93% since mid-March 2020. She inherited her 19.1% stake in BMW from her late mother, Johanna Quandt, who was married to Herbert Quandt, who steered BMW into success in the luxury vehicle market. An investor with an M.B.A., Klatten helped transform her grandfather's Altana AG, which she owns all of, into a world-class specialty chemicals company.
Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, is chair of mining and agriculture company Hancock Prospecting Group, which was founded by her father, iron-ore explorer Lang Hancock (d. 1992). The iron ore industry was affected by the pandemic in early 2020 but the market has been recovering since, helping boost the value of her estimated 77% stake in the group.
Fontbona rejoins the list of top 10 richest women in the world after her net worth fell in early 2020. She is the widow of Andrónico Luksic (d. 2005), who built a mining and beverages fortune. She and her children control Chilean mining company Antofagasta, which recorded $5.1 billion in sales in 2020. Fontbana also owns a majority stake in Quiñenco, a publicly-traded Chilean conglomerate active in banking, beer and manufacturing.
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