For many of the nation’s wealthiest women, it’s all in the family. Three are from the Cox family, which commands a vast media, telecom and automotive empire. Five owe their sweet fortunes to a candy company that humbly began in a Tacoma, Washington, kitchen in 1911. Another five hail from the Walton family and the Walmart mega-fortune built on the strategy of bringing discount shopping to small and rural communities.
However, not all of the women here were born with wealth. There’s a computer programmer who developed a leading health care software solution in her basement. Another led the internet’s best-known auction site to become a billion-dollar company. GOBankingRates took a look at the 2020 Forbes list of richest people to identify the 20 American women worth the most.
Last updated: Mar. 8, 2021
Judy Faulkner: $5.5 Billion
Judy Faulkner, a computer programmer who founded medical record software provider Epic, is also No. 2 on Forbes’ 2020 list of America’s self-made women. She started her company in her Wisconsin basement in 1979, and it now supports the medical records of more than half of all U.S. patients with the My Chart patient portal. The privately owned company has grown to $3.2 billion in sales without venture capital or acquisitions.
Faulkner signed the Giving Pledge in 2015, promising to give 99% of her stake in Epic to charities dedicated to causes like reducing disparities in healthcare and improving equal opportunity in education. She also announced last November that her company would launch an innovation hub to encourage the sharing of creative solutions that improve patient care.
Tamara Gustavson, $5.5 Billion
The richest person in Kentucky, Tamara Gustavson can claim a top spot in America as well, thanks to the self-storage company Public Storage co-founded by her father, B. Wayne Hughes.
Gustavson is the company’s largest shareholder, with an 11 percent stake. She previously served as its vice president and is now on the board. She lives in Lexington on a racehorse breeding farm, which also has another famous resident: 2017 Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing.
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Jane Lauder, $5.9 Billion
Jane Lauder’s grandmother, American businesswoman Estée Lauder, co-founded the legendary beauty and cosmetics empire with her husband in 1946. Jane, 48, has played important roles at the company for more than 20 years, including leading the Clinique brand, and Origins, the company’s natural makeup brand.
Last year, the Estée Lauder company named Jane to the new role of Executive Vice President, Enterprise Marketing and Chief Data Officer, charged with leading the beauty behemoth in its goals to optimize data analytics to drive marketing.
Ronda Stryker: $6.7 Billion
Ronda Stryker inherited 6% of medical equipment maker Stryker Corp. from her parents. Her grandfather, orthopedic surgeon Homer Stryker, founded the company in 1946. Today it is best known for its hospital beds. Ronda is a director of the company and serves on the board. She has a master’s degree in special needs education and previously taught in Kalamazoo, Michigan, public schools.
The Stryker Johnston Foundation, which Ronda runs with her husband, focuses on supporting social justice causes and the empowerment of disenfranchised communities.
Meg Whitman, $6.7 Billion
Business executive and philanthropist Meg Whitman has a powerful resume from America’s tech world. She served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 2011 to 1015, and sits on the boards of Dropbox and Procter & Gamble. Her most noted accomplishment was for her time as CEO of eBay, taking the company from $5.7 million to $8 billion in sales from 1998 to 2008.
Whitman lost a bid for California governor in 2010, running as a Republican. Last year she joined the short-form video platform Quibi as CEO, though it shut down just six months after launching in April 2020. Whitman is #3 on the Forbes list of America’s Self-Made Women 2020.
Victoria Mars, $7.2 Billion
One of four sisters who are heirs to the Mars candy and pet food company, Victoria Mars inherited an estimated 8% equal stake in the company when her father, Forrest Mars Jr., died in 2016. Frank Mars, her great-grandfather, founded the candy company in 1911.
Victoria, age 55, has been heavily involved in the family business, having worked her way up the ranks to eventually become chairman. She is an outspoken advocate for women in the workforce, from management level to the supply chain of her company. Mars Inc. recently expanded its partnership with CARE International to empower women’s socioeconomic development in cacao growing regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Valerie Mars: $7.2 Billion
Valerie Mars and her three sisters, Victoria, Pamela and Marijike, each inherited an estimated 8% stake in the Mars Inc. candy and food company that their great-grandfather began in 1911 from his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington. In addition to candy, the company’s other food brands include Uncle Ben’s and pet food makers Pedigree and Whiskas.
Valerie, 62, is currently the vice president of corporate development of Mars Inc., where she focuses on acquisitions, joint ventures and divestitures. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School, a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and serves on the boards of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Royal Canin, Rabobank North America, Conservation International and others.
Pamela Mars: $7.2 Billion
One of the four heiress-sisters to the Mars family candy fortune, Pamela, 61, has been involved in the company’s business operations since 1986. She has occupied various roles, including plant manager for pet food division Kal Kan Foods Inc. and board chairperson. She currently oversees the pet care division, which includes food brands Pedigree and Whiskas, as well as animal hospital chains in the U.S. and U.K. She also serves on the board of the Heineken company.
Marijke Mars: $7.2 Billion
The youngest of the Mars sisters, 56-year-old Marijke inherited an equal estimated 8% stake in the Mars Inc. candy and pet food empire. She serves on the board of directors along with her sister Valerie, but keeps a lower profile than her siblings. She previously served as regional manager for pet food company Kal Kan Foods in Los Angeles and graduated from Duke University.
She has been an advocate for brands practicing social responsibility, highlighting the Mars company’s cause marketing programs.
Christy Walton: $7.5 Billion
Christy Walton married John Walton, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and inherited a stake in the company when her husband died in a plane crash in 2005.
Christy lives in Jackson, Wyoming, and is known for her philanthropy. She established Cuna del Mar, an investment fund focusing on sustainable fishing practices, in 2010. She also founded iAlumbra, a business alliance organization promoting socially and environmentally conscious practices. During the 2020 election season, Walton made headlines for her financial backing of the Lincoln Project, a Republican-led super PAC aimed at fighting the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump.
Nancy Walton Laurie: $7.8 Billion
Nancy Walton Laurie is the daughter of Walmart co-founder Bud Walton and inherited a stake in the company, along with her sister, Ann Walton Kroenke. Nancy is married to billionaire real estate developer Bill Laurie. Together they own Missouri’s Providence Bank and previously owned the St. Louis Blues hockey team.
Nancy is active in the performing arts community, having founded the Columbia Performing Arts Centre, and she serves on the board of trustees at The Juilliard School. The Chi Omega sorority named its Nancy Walton Laurie Leadership Institute in honor of the Walmart heiress and member.
Diane Hendricks: $8 Billion
Diane Hendricks and her late husband, Ken Hendricks, co-founded ABC Supply, a wholesale distributor of roofing, siding and windows, in 1982. Diane grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm as one of nine sisters and is now the chairperson of ABC, which is based in Beloit, Wisconsin, and has 780 branch locations with more than $11 billion in sales. She currently holds the No. 1 spot on the Forbes list of America’s richest self-made women.
Diane is a well-known donor to the Republican party as well as an active supporter of economic development causes in Wisconsin.
Blair Parry-Okeden: $8.2 Billion
Blair Parry-Okeden is the granddaughter of James M. Cox, founder of Cox Enterprises, a private telecom company with communications and automotive divisions. Parry-Okeden inherited a 25% stake in the $21 billion company from her mother, Barbara Cox Anthony. Her brother, Jim Kennedy, is Cox’s chairperson, though she plays no role in the company.
Parry-Okeden lives in New South Wales, Australia, where she moved to live with her ex-husband, Simon Parry-Okeden, the son of a prominent Australian agriculturalist. She was ranked as Australia’s richest person on the 2016 Forbes Rich List. In 1989 she authored a children’s book called “Down By The Gate.”
Ann Walton Kroenke: $8.7 Billion
Ann Walton Kroenke and her sister, Nancy Walton Laurie, are both heiresses to the Walmart fortune via their father, Bud Walton, who co-founded the company with his brother.
Walton Kroenke has a nursing degree and is married to billionaire real estate developer Stan Kroenke, who owns five U.S. and U.K. sports teams, including the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets. Stan reportedly purchased the Nuggets with his wife’s backing. She is not involved with the Walmart company.
Abigail Johnson: $15 Billion
The CEO and chairperson of Fidelity Investments, Abigail Johnson took over the executive role from her father in 2014. Her grandfather founded the financial firm in Boston in 1946. She earned an MBA from Harvard, worked summers at the family company and became an analyst there in 1988.
Johnson has taken a nontraditional approach at the helm of Fidelity, launching new products targeting millennials and embracing socially responsible investing and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and blockchain. She is married to healthcare entrepreneur Christopher McKown.
Laurene Powell Jobs and Family: $22.5 Billion
The widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs inherited billions of dollars of stock in Apple and Disney when he died in 2011 of pancreatic cancer.
In 2004, she founded the Emerson Collective, an investment and philanthropic organization supporting social change in education, the environment, media and health. She also holds a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine.
Before meeting her husband, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a Bachelor of Science in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She also holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Jacqueline Mars: $28.9 Billion
Jacqueline Mars is the granddaughter of Frank Mars, founder of the Mars candy company. Jacqueline owns an estimated one-third of the company, along with her brother John and the four daughters of her late brother, Forrest Jr.
Jacqueline, 81, served on the board of Mars until 2016 and worked for the company for 20 years. She has focused much of her attention on the work of the Mars Foundation, the candy maker’s philanthropic arm. She also serves on the board of the Smithsonian and the National Archives, among others.
Julia Koch and Family: $44.9 Billion
The wife of billionaire industrialist David Koch, whose family made a fortune in petrochemicals, Julia Koch inherited a 42% stake in Koch Industries when David died in 2019.
Julia was born in Iowa and her parents later owned a women’s clothing boutique in the town of Conway, Arkansas. She moved to New York in the 1980s to model and became an assistant to the designer Adolfo, dressing the likes of Nancy Reagan.
She now leads the David H. Koch Foundation, which supports education, the arts and medical research, including a recent $10 million donation to allergy and asthma research at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
MacKenzie Scott: $58.7 Billion
After 25 years of marriage to the world’s richest man — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — MacKenzie Scott came into her own tens of billions of dollars as part of the couple’s divorce settlement in 2019.
Soon after, she famously vowed to give away the majority of her wealth as part of the Giving Pledge, a movement of philanthropists committing to giving back to charitable causes. As of July 2020, she says she has donated $1.7 billion thus far to 119 different nonprofit organizations, including historically Black colleges, LGBTQ+ groups and other environmental and women’s equality causes.
Scott met Bezos when they worked together at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Princeton University and has published two novels.
Alice Walton: $4.8 Billion
The only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, the richest woman in America did not follow the path into the family business of her brothers, Rob and Jim Walton. Alice Walton focused her early career on investing, working as an analyst and broker, then founded her own investment bank, Llama Company. It closed in the late 1990s.
She also pursued interests in art, founding the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. She opened a sliding-scale Christian summer camp called Camp War Eagle in 2006. Last year, Alice announced the launch of her Whole Health Institute in Bentonville, with a mission of changing the nation’s approach to healthcare to focus on goal-based wellness rather than sickness.
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Cody Bay contributed to the reporting for this article.
Net worths and ranking are accurate as of Mar. 8, 2020.
Photo Disclaimer: Some photos are for representational purposes only.