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The Richest Woman In The World

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Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s L’Oréal? In Francoise Bettencourt Meyers case, it’s both. The L’Oréal heiress, who is also the chairwoman of her family’s holding company, is the world’s richest woman, with a fortune of $49.3 billion.


Bettencourt Meyers, who is the 15th-richest person in the world, leads the women on the 2019 Forbes World’s Billionaires list.

The granddaughter of L’Oréal’s founder Eugène Schueller (an inventor of hair dyes), and a member of the company’s board since 1997, Bettencourt Meyers debuted on the billionaires list last year following the death of her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, in September 2017. Liliane had been on the list every year since Forbes published its first World’s Billionaires List in 1987.

Bettencourt Meyers’ fortune increased by $7.1 billion, or 17%, since last year thanks to stellar results at the makeup giant, of which she and her immediate family own a 33% stake.

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An estimated 90% of her wealth is tied to shares of the company, which recorded its best sales growth in more than a decade last year with total revenue coming in at $30.6 billion. Revenue in Asia Pacific jumped 20%, driven by China; the region has now overtaken North America in terms of sales.

Bettencourt Meyers, who lives in Paris, is the president of her family’s Bettencourt Schueller Foundation. The philanthropic foundation encourages French progress in science and the arts, giving money and support to projects in life sciences, social progress and traditional crafts.

The foundation has donated to projects including the research of neurons, support for families of autistic children and French choirs. She is also a writer and has authored a book on the Greek gods and another with commentary on the Bible.

While it’s Bettencourt Meyers’ first official year as richest woman, her name is no stranger to the spot. For the past decade, the world’s richest woman has either been a Bettencourt or Walton. In fact Bettencourt Meyers first overtook Alice Walton, last year’s richest woman, in March 2018, just days after we finalized our annual list.

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Bettencourt Meyers’ mother Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of L’Oréal founder Scheuller, spent most of her life working at L’Oréal; late in life she suffered from dementia. She and Walmart heiresses have taken turns holding the title of richest women for most of the past three-plus decades that Forbes has been tracking the wealthy.

Liliane Bettencourt was the richest woman for most of the first 14 years Forbes published the billionaires’ list. In the years following 2001, she was overtaken some years by Walmart founder Sam Walton’s daughter Alice Walton and other years by Sam’s widow Helen Walton. Bettencourt took back the number one spot in 2006. She and Alice Walton’s sister-in-law Christy Walton took turns holding the title for the remainder of the past decade.

In 2010, buoyed by strong Walmart stock, Christy Walton, Sam Walton’s daughter-in-law, became the richest woman. Forbes understood at the time that she received the bulk of her husband John’s fortune when he died in a plane crash in 2005.

She continued as the world’s richest woman for the next four years, but in 2015, previously sealed documents revealed that she had inherited just one-sixth of his fortune. Christy and John’s son, Lukas, received one-third of John Walton’s estate, while the rest went to charity.

The Forbes World’s Billionaires list is a snapshot of wealth using stock prices and exchange rates from February 8, 2019. Some people will become richer or poorer between then and the publication of the rankings, or within days of publication.

-Madeline Berg; Forbes Staff

Billionaires

MacKenzie Bezos And Melinda Gates Team Up On $30 Million Gender Equity Contest

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One of the most powerful women in the world is teaming up with one of the richest women in the world—Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, respectively—to host a competition with one goal in mind: gender equality.

Gates and Bezos announced the competition, called the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, through Pivotal Ventures, Gates’ investment and incubation company. The challenge will be managed by Lever For Change, a MacArthur Foundation affiliate, and will grant $30 million to the organizations (or the coalitions of organizations) with the best ideas for helping to expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.

“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all,” MacKenzie Bezos said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.” 

“The entrenched inequalities that divide America—race, gender, class—will not go away without systems-wide change,” added Melinda Gates in a statement of her own. “This challenge is seeking bold ideas to dismantle the status quo and expand power and influence for women of all backgrounds.” 

While Melinda Gates has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s health and gender equality, Bezos has been quieter with her philanthropy and influence. Since finalizing her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, Bezos has indicated her philanthropic intentions by signing the Giving Pledge (thereby committing at least half of her now-$51 billion fortune to charity) and joining the board of Blue Meridian, an organization dedicated to helping children and families in poverty. Her contribution to the Equality Can’t Wait initiative marks her biggest public gift to date.

A spokesperson for Lever for Change said that the competition had been in the works for the past six months, and that the timing of its announcement—just weeks after massive protests against systemic racial inequities started spreading across the nation—is not meant to be a reaction to the current reality, but a continuation of serious conversations.

Broadly, the challenge will look for ideas that help dismantle barriers that hold women back (including but not limited to sexual harassment and discrimination, racial inequity, and inadequate federal policies around caregiving); fast-track female participation in sectors like technology, government and entrepreneurship; and change outdated systems and beliefs around gender. Specifically, according to the challenge’s website, successful proposals should create real, measurable change for women in at least one of the following areas: wages and wealth, unpaid care, share of leadership roles, content creation (in other words, increasing the percentage of cultural and intellectual content created by women), and public perception.

“When I taught my first course on women in the U.S. economy back in 1985, a female full-time, year-round worker made 65 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2018, she earned 82 cents. That’s a raise of less than a penny a year,” noted Cecilia Conrad, the CEO of Lever for Change. She’s hopeful that the Equality Can’t Wait competition will accelerate parity in wages and societal treatment.

To participate in the challenge, organizations must register online by September 1, 2020; fuller applications are due by September 22. Finalists will be announced in early 2021, and winners will be chosen next summer. The $30 million in prize money will be divided among the two most compelling ideas (each will receive a minimum of $10 million) and the remaining finalists.

Maggie McGrath, Forbes Staff, ForbesWomen

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Chinese Billionaire Held Hostage With Explosives As Son Swims Across Lake To Raise The Alarm

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Chinese billionaire He Xiangjian survived an abduction plot this weekend after kidnappers carrying explosives forced entry into his home at Guangdong province.

He Xiangjian, one of the richest men in China with an estimated net worth of $24.8 billion, was rescued on Sunday after his son, 55-year-old He Jianfeng, sneaked out of the family home and swum across a river to raise the alarm, according to local news.

According to a statement posted on Weibo, a Chinese equivalent to Twitter, police responded on Sunday night to a break-in at an 18-hole golf course and sports center owned by He Xiangjian’s Midea Group.

Although police have not named He Xiangjian in their statement, a spokesperson for the local Foshan Public Security Bureau wrote on Weibo, “The victim is safe!” with the police statement attached. Midea Group confirmed the incident on Weibo, and thanked the “media and all sectors of society for their concern.” 

Who is He Xiangjian?

Entrepreneur He Xiangjian is the founder of home appliance giant Midea Group, which took shape in 1968 after He led a group of 23  residents from Guangdong Province to form a lid production workshop.

Today Midea Group trades on the Shenzhen stock exchange and has more than 200 subsidiaries, including Germany-based robotics firm Kuka. Xiangjian stepped down from its operations in 2012. His son He Jianfeng is now a director of Midea Group and Midea Real Estate Holding.

In January, Midea Group donated products like air conditioners, water heaters and washers and dryers to Wuhan hospitals battling coronavirus.

He Xiangjian is currently the 7th richest billionaire in China, according to Forbes’ Real Time Rankings.

David Dawkins, Forbes Staff, Billionaires

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Billionaire Bill Ackman Plots His Next Deal

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It’s been a busy year for Bill Ackman of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management. Ackman spotted the risks from the coronavirus pandemic early, building a massive credit hedge in January and February that protected his hedge fund from the market plunge. Then, he doubled down near the market lows and is up 30%-plus for the year, compounding Pershing Square’s 58% gain in 2019. Now, the hedge fund billionaire is looking for his next signature deal.

Ackman is planning to raise up to $1 billion using a publicly traded blank-check company, which will then be used to buy a stake in a business and bring it to public stock markets. The brewing deal, first reported by Reuters, would give Ackman the opportunity to make a major new investment. (Pershing Square declined to comment.)

This year, Pershing Square used the March market plunge to rebuild a position in Starbucks and add significantly to holdings like Lowe’s, Howard Hughes and Restaurant Brands. Pershing Square also build a stake in private equity giant Blackstone Group, first reported by Forbes, but then sold quickly, he recently told investors. Typically, when Pershing Square scales a new investment it commits between $500 million and $1 billion to the idea, or about a 5%-to-10% weight.

Blank check companies have become popular in recent years as a way to take private equity and venture capital backed companies public. Notable recent deals include the listings of DraftKings, Virgin Galactic and most recently, hydrogen truck unicorn Nikola Motor Company. These vehicles have attracted big names on Wall Street, from Goldman Sachs to Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital and Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital and Ackman is no stranger to these deals.

Pershing Square notably formed a blank check company called Justice Holdings and in 2012 bought a large stake in Burger King, taking the restaurant public. The deal, in partnership with private equity giant 3G capital, turned into a massive windfall for Ackman and Pershing Square. Ackman personally owns about $250 million in shares of Burger King’s parent company and it’s been one of Pershing Square’s more successful investments. Pershing Square also invested in Nomad Foods and Platform Specialty Products, which were blank check companies, but didn’t turn out as successful.

The prospective new deal is one to watch.

Private equity firms are sitting on massive portfolios of businesses that may need new capital to manage through the pandemic, and may find appeal in quickly tapping public stock markets. Moreover, Pershing Square’s current portfolio is indexed heavily to restaurants, retailers and hoteliers, but Ackman’s done much less investing in some of the hotter corners of the stock market, like information technology and software. Pershing Square recently built a large position in healthcare software provider Agilent, and Ackman’s long been a fan of Ceridian, a maker of software for payroll.

Ackman’s Pershing Square is enjoying a renaissance after the firm battled through a $4 billion-plus loss on controversial Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The firm refocused on its areas of specialty, succeeding on investments like Nike, Starbucks, Hilton and Chipotle and has seen a major payoff. Last year was the best on record for Pershing Square and his fund is significantly outperforming peers and broader stock markets in 2020. Assets firmwide recently eclipsed $10 billion, about half of their peak, with most housed in a publicly traded permanent capital vehicle called Pershing Square Holdings.

Now, Ackman is raising new capital to hunt for new deals in markets ripe with opportunity.

Antoine Gara, Forbes Staff, Banking & Insurance

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