The 11 richest self-made women in America, ranked

The term "self-made" has caused public outcry before.

When Forbes proclaimed Kylie Jenner the youngest self-made billionaire in March, many took to Twitter to grumble that the term did not properly reflect that her moneyed upbringing provided her with the platform for success.

In response, Forbes rolled out a definition for "self-made": "Someone who built a company or established a fortune on her own, rather than inheriting some or all of it." 

Forbes even has a self-made score of 1-10 that showcases someone's role in their wealth creation. A score of one would belong to someone like Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress worth $51.4 billion, who "inherited her fortune but is not working to increase it." A score of 10 would belong to Oprah Winfrey, someone "self-made who not only grew up poor but also overcame significant obstacles."  

Read more: Income inequality in the US has hit a record high. Meet the 15 richest American family 'dynasties,' who have a combined net worth of $618 billion.

Even with the sliding scoring system, the broad definition only applied to 11 women on this year's Forbes 400 list. Jenner, with her estimated net worth of $1 billion, did not qualify for the list's $2.1 billion minimum. She has a self-made score of 7, meaning she "got a head start from wealthy parents and a moneyed background."

Most of the women on this list scored at an 8 ("self-made who came from a middle- or upper-middle-class background") or a 9 ("self-made who came from a largely working-class background; rose from little or nothing").

The members of the Forbes 400 are worth $2.96 trillion. The self-made women club, one of the smallest subsects of the overall list, is worth a collective $37.2 billion.

Here are the 11 richest self-made women in the US. They are ranked in ascending order of wealth and their net worths are estimates as of October 2, 2019.

Richest self-made women in America
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Richest self-made women in America

11. Elaine Wynn has a net worth of $2.4 billion.

Net worth: $2.4 billion

Source of wealth: Hotels and casinos

Self-made score: 8

Age: 77

Known as the "Queen of Las Vegas," Elaine Wynn is the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts. She cofounded the casino and hotel giant with her ex-husband, Steve Wynn.  

10. The universally recognizable Oprah Winfrey is worth $2.6 billion.

Net worth: $2.6 billion

Source of wealth: Television, media

Self-made score: 10

Age: 65

Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, embodies the purest definition of "self-made;" she overcame a difficult childhood to become an Academy Award-nominated actress and the host of a nationally syndicated television show by age 32. She has launched a production company, a magazine, and even a television network. She is the only woman on this list in media.


T9. Johnelle Hunt has a net worth of $2.7 billion thanks to a trucking company.

Net worth: $2.7 billion

Source of wealth: Trucking

Self-made score: 7

Age: 87

Johnelle Hunt cofounded the J.B. Hunt Company in the 1960s with her late husband. Since his death in 2006, she has further developed Hunt Ventures, looking beyond the trucking industry and exploring real-estate and development.


T9. Doris Fisher, the founder of Gap, has a net worth of $2.7 billion.

Net worth: $2.7 billion

Source of wealth: Clothing, retail

Self-made score: 7

Age: 88

Doris Fisher and her late husband founded clothing retailer Gap in San Francisco in 1969. She served as Gap's merchandiser from 1969 to 2003 and was an active board member until 2009. As The Wall Street Journal's Mary M. Lane reported in 2015, Fisher has amassed an impressive art collection featuring pieces from iconic artists like Roy Lichtenstein. 

7. Lynda Resnick, the woman behind Pom Wonderful and Fiji Water, is worth $2.8 billion.

Net worth: $2.8 billion

Source of wealth: Agriculture

Self-made score: 8

Age: 76

Lynda Resnick owns the Wonderful Company with her husband. She runs the global marketing and product development for the brands, which include Pom Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios, and Fiji Water. She has served on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and has donated millions to climate change research.


6. Judy Love, of Love's gas stations, has a net worth $2.9 billion.

Net worth: $2.9 billion

Source of wealth: Gas stations, retail

Self-made score: 9

Age: 82

Judy Love founded Love's Travel Stops and County Stores with her husband in Oklahoma in 1964 after leasing just one gas station. Now, the Loves have stores in 41 states. The couple has established an entrepreneurial center at Oklahoma City University as well as a cancer institute at St. Anthony Hospital.

Photo credit: YouTube

5. Thai Lee, who helms IT provider SHI International, is worth $3 billion.

Net worth: $3 billion

Source of wealth: IT

Self-made score: 9

Age: 60

IT provider SHI International's President and CEO, Thai Lee, was born in Bangkok but studied in the US. She and her then-husband bought the brand in 1989 for $1 million and flipped it into a $10 billion global provider. At 60, she is the youngest woman on this list.

Photo credit: SHI International

4. Judy Faulkner digitized medical records and is now worth $3.6 billion.

Net worth: $3.6 billion

Source of wealth: Medical software

Self-made score: 8

Age: 76

Judy Faulkner, the CEO of Epic, started the medical-record software provider in 1979 in a basement in Wisconsin. Now, the software is so prevalent that more than 250 million patients have an electronic medical record in the system. Faulkner has signed the Giving Pledge, meaning that she intends to donate the majority of her wealth to charity during her lifetime or in her will. 

Photo credit: Forbes

3. The Little Caesars Pizza cofounder, Marian Ilitch, has a net worth of $3.7 billion.

Net worth: $3.7 billion

Source of wealth: Food, entertainment

Self-made score: 9

Age: 86

Marian Ilitch, a first-generation American, founded Little Caesars with her late husband in 1959. The pizza chain giant has restaurants in 50 states and its success allowed Ilitch to try her entrepreneurial hand in other industries; she owns the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and Detroit's MotorCity Hotel and Casino

2. Meg Whitman is worth $3.8 billion.

Net worth: $3.8 billion

Source of wealth: Technology

Self-made score: 6

Age: 63

Meg Whitman got her start at P&G before moving on to Hasbro and then becoming the CEO of eBay. When she joined in 1998, eBay had 30 employees and $4 million in revenue. When she left in 2008, it had about 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue. Whitman then became the CEO of Hewlett Packard and oversaw its 2015 split into two companies. Now, she is the CEO of Quibi, a streaming video startup created by DreamWorks' cofounder.

Whitman's self-made score of 6 highlights that she is the only woman on this list who is a "hired or hands-off investor who didn't create the business" from which she profits.

1. Diane Hendricks is worth $7 billion.

Net worth: $7 billion

Source of wealth: Roofing

Self-made score: 9

Age: 72

Diane Hendricks made her fortune by founding wholesale roofing distributor ABC Supply in 1982 with her husband. She has been at the helm of the company since his death in 2007 and used her wealth to revitalize Beloit, Wisconsin, where the company is based.

While she might be the richest self-made woman by a margin of $3.2 billion, she is only the 14th-richest woman in America. The women she trails all inherited their fortunes, showcasing the trend of "dynastic wealth."

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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