The exclusive “Billionaires Club”

TORONTO – The “Billionaires Club” is an exclusive group to say the least. In 2020, the global billionaires’ net worth, totalled eight trillion (USD). Canada’s GDP is barely one quarter of that.

The annual World’s Billionaires List, according to Forbes, a global media company which focuses on business, technology and economic wealth, publishes the names of the wealthiest individuals worldwide. In 2020, the list included 2,095 names of the wealthiest people in the world.

Although the exclusive group is largely male dominated, with names like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates at the top, women too enter the mix (graph 1). Although a modest fraction, 11.9%, women hold immense amounts of wealth.

Just who are these women? Gracing the number one spot on the world’s wealthiest women list is Françoise Bettencourt Meyers and family. Together, they are worth over $71 billion and own 33% of L’Oréal S.A. stock. She is the granddaughter of the founder of L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, based in France (chart 1).

What does one do with that sort of wealth? Philanthropy is one of the leading interests of many billionaires. Bettencourt Meyers is the president of the family’s philanthropic foundation which supports progress in the sciences and arts. After the 2019 fire that devasted the Notre Dame cathedral, her family together with L’Oréal contributed $226 million towards repairs and restoration efforts.

The world’s second wealthiest woman is Alice Walton. An American heiress to the Walmart empire, her net worth is $68 billion. Only daughter to Walmart founder, Sam Walton, together with her brothers, they own over 50% of the company’s shares.

American novelist and philanthropist, Mackenzie Scott is the third wealthiest woman in the world, with a net worth of $55 billion. Ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in the early stages of their 25-year marriage she was highly involved in the creation of the company. Scott was one of the first employees of the now e-commerce giant.

After their divorce in 2019, Bezos transferred a portion of Amazon stake to Scott, in which she gained 4% of the company, a value worth $35.6 billion. In her philanthropic spirit of giving, she has donated billions to causes like climate change and to various non-profit organizations with focus on marginalized communities. In 2020, her charitable donations totalled $5.8 billion.

Some other notable women on the list like, Zhong Huijuan, are “self-made” billionaires. With a net worth of $23.5 Billion, she is the founder and majority stake holder in Hansoh Pharmaceuticals based in China.

Although no Canadian women make the Forbes list, one worth mentioning is Heather Reisman. Founder and CEO of Indigo Books, she is one of the country’s top “self-made” billionaires with a net worth of $2.9 billion CAD (about $2.3 USD).

Other names among the richest women in the world include Massimiliana Landini Aleotti. Following the death of her husband in 2014, she and her children inherited the pharmaceutical giant Menarini, one of Italy’s leading drug companies.

Whether one’s source of wealth is self-made, inherited or a combination of both, the world’s wealthiest were not immune to the wide-reaching effects of the virus.

The Covid-19 outbreak accompanied by lockdown measures, decreased economic output and volatile shifts in financial markets had a significant impact on global economies and families.

Consequently, of those individuals included on the Forbes Richest People in 2020, while not exactly broke, 51% are less wealthy than just one year ago. That is a cumulative drop of $700 billion from 2019. Still, an impressive club that many hard-working individuals can only dream of earning entry to one day.

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