Wealth

In search of the world’s richest woman

L’Oreal heiress Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers and owner of Wal-Mart, Alice Walton, contest the crown

In the absence of royalty, the US has, over 200 years, forged an aristocracy of tycoons with surnames such as Koch, Rockefeller and Mars. And if you were to cast one as queen mother, it would have to be Alice Walton, the 67-year-old who inherited part of the vast Walmart empire, making her the richest woman in America with a net worth of $38 billion, according to Forbes.

But on an international level, the death last week of L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt at the age of 94, left the title of “world’s richest woman” up for grabs. Although Bloomberg was quick to name her only child Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, 64, as her successor, it all depends on how Liliane’s assets are divided up.

Of the world’s 2,043 billionaires, just 227 are women

The Bettencourt fortune consists of a 33.05% stake in the L’Oreal group, managed by the holding company Tethys, according to French daily Le Monde. The same paper claims that, in 1992, Liliane drew up a will, leaving two-thirds of her fortune to her daughter and a third to her two grandsons, but Bloomberg’s obituary credits Françoise as the sole recipient of her mother’s $42.5 billion estate.

If there were a division of the Bettencourt spoils, it would make Alice Walton the world’s richest woman. But, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, Walton is worth $37.8 billion and lags at 18th place behind Bettencourt-Meyers’ 15th place in the combined male and female rich list.

Of the worlds 2,043 billionaires, just 227 are women. Alice Walton may be America’s richest woman but her brothers Rob and Jim, who stand at 16 and 17 in the rankings respectively, beat her on the rich list. The offspring of Walmart founder Sam Walton are collectively managing a fortune worth $130 billion, 12 times more than the Rockefellers.

Alice Walton caused controversy by backing Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Despite her eye-watering wealth, Alice leads a relatively low-key life, though she is far from anonymous in the art world. In 2011, she plowed $50 million into the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, to house her private art collection worth $500 million, according to Business Insider. And during the last presidential elections, she caused controversy by backing Hillary Clinton’s campaign with a donation of $353,400.

Other contenders for the “world’s wealthiest woman” title are Mars heiress Jacqueline Mars, who is worth $32.4 billion and ranks 24th overall on Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, while BMW heiress Susanne Klatten ranks 37 with $22.1 billion. Meanwhile, Forbes includes the widow of Ferrero Roche founder Michele Ferrero, Maria Franca Fissolo, among its ranks of female moguls.

English version by Heather Galloway.

More information