Monday, June 06, 2016

The sisterhood is powerful (and some of them are rich)

As they did last year, Forbes has once again gifted us with a list of the wealthiest self-made women in the US. Self-made, of course, leaves out the wealthiest person in Massachusetts, Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson, who made her money the old-fashioned way. She was clever enough to be the daughter of Ned Johnson, CEO of Fidelity. (And Ned was clever enough to be the son of Fidelity’s founder, so cleverness obviously runs in the family.)

Giving the list a bit of a browse was interesting. Number one of the list was Diane Hendricks who, with her late husband, started ABC Supply (“the largest wholesale distributor of roofing and siding in the country”). Not only had I never heard of Diane Hendricks, I’ve never heard of ABC Supply, either. This is no doubt because I’ve never been in the market for roofing or siding. I did check, and there’s plenty of them around here.

The second name on the list was more familiar: Oprah Winfrey, who built her fortune solely on her own – no hubby on the scene for Oprah. But that’s entertainment, which just doesn’t seem as solid, as robust a way to get rich as roofing and siding, or technology. Which is how number three, Judith Faulkner founder Epic Systems (healthcare IT) made the cut. And it looks like she made it on her own. Tying for third-place is another co-founder-with-husband, Doris Fisher of the Gap. She came up with the name, by the way. Her husband was leaning towards “Pants and Discs.” So while Doris was “just” the co-founder, I think it’s safe to say that her naming acumen saved the company from being a one-storefront venture that went out of business in a year or so. (“Pants and Discs.” Oy! Definitely one of the worst company names ever. Right up there with comedian Peter Cook’s fictional Frog and Peach restaurant, which served two items: Frog a la Pêche and Pêche à la Frog. My husband and I had a couple of restaurants that we referred to as Pêche. And, yes, the old dining room at the Ritz, you were one of them…)

Rounding out the top five on the wealthy women list is Johnelle Hunt, another widder lady who, with her late husband, built J.B. Hunt trucking.

The list is full of women you’ve probably heard of – Sheryl Sandberg, Meg Whitman, Madonna; women whose products/companies you’ve –probably heard of – Sara Blakely of Spanx, come forth and be counted!; and some who, to me, were neither. (C.f., Judy Love, who had a truck stop/gas station company.)

Lots of fashion names on the list: Tory Burch, Donna Karan, Vera Wang. (Let me note here my one degree of separation from Vera: I once worked for a company run by her ex-husband.) And lots of entertainment names: Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, and – wow, just wow – Judge Judy. (Let me note here my close encounter with Her Honor. My husband and I once saw her dining out a Shun Lee East in NYC. Jim had a just incredible ability to spot “celebrities”, even somewhat obscure ones like Judge Judy. At the same restaurant, we also once saw talk-show host Virginia Graham, and some members of the cast of All My Children.)

Writer Nora Roberts is on the list. She’s worth $340M, and has churned out over 200 books. I’ve read nary a one of them, but maybe I should, in hopes of finding out – even at this late stage in the game o’ life – how to make writing about something other than technology pay. (Danielle Steele – another writer I’ve never read – is also among the wealthiest women in the country.)

New to the list this year are Patricia Mill and Barbara Bradley Baekgaard.

The pair, who were neighbors and friends, got the idea to make colorful bags while at an airport in Atlanta. They each borrowed $250 from their husbands and got to work in Baekgaard’s basement. Today Vera Bradley sells half a billion dollars worth of bags and other accessories a year. (Source: Forbes.)

Okay, is it just me, or is it pretty pathetic that they had to “borrow” $250 a piece from their husbands. They founded the company in 1982 and they had to ask their husbands for $250??? At least they turned it into something, thanks to women who like colorful, quilted bags. (Nothing wrong with liking colorful quilted bags. I’m the proud owner of a VB duffle, a tote, a wallet, and an eyeglass case.)

The youngest person on the list, and the woman who comes in 60th, is Taylor Swift. I am a fan. You go, girl!

Anyway, it’s an interesting read. Here’s the full list if you’re up for it.

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