I have no idea! But according to Forbes magazine, the majority of self-made billionaires (as apposed to those who inherited their fortunes) who are women, got help from their husbands, fathers, brothers or other well-trusted males in their lives. There are of course notable exceptions, however. Oprah being one of them. The queen on talk, whose mogul-like millions just keep rolling in, because not only is she on top of her game, but her ideas seem exponential, which of course coincides with her earning potential! Meg Whitman springs to mind. The e-bay chief who made a really really good decision some years ago, to take stock in lieu of payments for her efforts at e-bay, when no-one could have predicted what a multimillion dollar business it would turn in to. Most of Whitman’s money is tied up in stock though; and there is a part of me that cannot help thinking she had a lucky break.

The majority of the worlds leading ladies (in the riches department) come from China. Of the 28 self-made billionaire women in the world, 18 in fact are from China; and out of the top five richest, four made their money out of China’s booming real estate business. What is interesting is that the number of billionaires generally in China (and women are no exception) is on the rise. Fascinating in such a turbulent economic time in the world’s history and proof that China is going to be a financial force to be reckoned with soon (well actually it already is).

But the person I am most interested in, in this context, is a lady by the name of Sara Blakely. Not only is she completely self-made, in America, but she is also the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. The best part about Sara’s story, is that she did not set out to become a billionaire. She simply set out to find a way to create a pair of stockings that she could wear with open-toed shoes that would not ride up her leg. And she ended up inventing what she and almost every other woman in the world wanted: underwear which makes you look slim, sexy and beautiful.  Can you believe she was just 27 years old whilst doing a full-time day job when she did this. Today, her company is worth US$150 milion. She employs just 55 people; and she manufactures her products in a multitude of different countries, but the most important part of the underwear is still all hand-sewn in North Carolina.

Sara has no business background but she does claim to be a saleswoman at heart. What then is her secret: she says common sense and a good product (and I would add hard work, self-discipline and tenacity to that).

She did have a lucky break in the very beginning. About four weeks after launching her product, Oprah wanted to know all about this magic underwear that makes your clothes fit better and look nicer; and we all know what happens to sales once almost all the females (and a lot of the males) across the globe have seen you on Oprah.

But the other extraordinary thing is that Spanx has been profitable from it’s first month and Sara never got in to debt starting the business. She confesses that she never had a board of directors, or a team of consultants (despite her lack of formal training and experience). As she says, all she had was her gut instinct, and wow did that pay off.She also completely believed in her product.

I think Sara’s story highlights some important things:

  • women can be extremely entrepreneurial and practical;
  • women have the potential to play a key role in future economies (and I am not saying you have to be a self-made billionaire to do that);
  • women’s spending patterns are different to men;
  • don’ let your gender, background, age or education levels stop you from fulfilling a dream, stay committed and work hard

I think Sara is fabulous. She is a role-model and inspiration to women. She is an important businesswoman but has learned her trade informally. A lovely new world of work story. Sara asks a simple question of business people: ‘If no one showed you how to do your job, how would you be doing it’? It’s a good question. What would your answer be?

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