3 Lessons To Learn From The Wealthiest Self-Made Women In America

Meg Whitman

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The future is feelin’ female with fortunes of the country’s wealthiest self-made women soaring 31 percent to $118 billion in Forbes’ annual ranking. A record 26 of these 100 women are now billionaires, two-thirds of whom founded or co-founded innovative companies and 26 of whom are at the helm of their companies as CEOs.

Here’s something you can learn from each of the top three wealthiest women—none of whom have had success handed to them on a silver platter. 

1. Diane Hendricks

Where you are isn’t necessarily where you’ll always be.

Diane Hendricks chairs ABC Supply, which is among the country’s biggest wholesale distributors of roofing, siding and windows—a company she founded with her late husband, Ken, in Wisconsin back in 1982 and has run since his passing.

Hendricks’ current net worth sits at $12.3 billion, and for good reason. She led ABC to its two biggest acquisitions, buying rival company Bradco in 2010 and building materials distributor L&W Supply in 2016. Today, ABC Supply boasts about 800 branches with over $12 billion in revenue, and it’s largely responsible for rebuilding entire blocks in Beloit, powering business growth across the state.

But Hendricks wasn’t handed a silver spoon. She hails from Wisconsin, where she was born to dairy farmers among eight sisters. She told Forbes that her “all-American upbringing”  was a “beautiful life,” but that she “always wanted to go to the city” and “wanted to wear a suit.” But it wasn’t necessarily an easy journey, especially as a self-proclaimed “average student” who became pregnant as a teenager and took her senior year at home.

After giving birth just before turning 18, Hendricks took on a gig as a waitress and then as a factory worker for pen manufacturer Parker Pen. She said that “motherhood got in the way real quick” but it never stopped her from wanting to achieve her dreams—and she credited her work ethic to watching her parents run the farm around the clock.

It wasn’t long after that she got into selling custom-made homes and met her husband, Ken, who’d dropped out of high school to explore the world of roofing with his dad. Together, they created an empire.

Though Ken tragically died after falling through a roof on a new home construction project in 2007—and the housing market was teetering on the brink of collapse just before the 2008 economic crash—Hendricks held on. She not only managed to stem the tides through both tragedy and recession, but she also managed to become the wealthiest self-made woman in the country.

2. Judy Faulkner

Start with what you have, where you are.

With a net worth of $6.5 billion, Judy Faulkner, sits second on Forbes’ wealthiest self-made women list. She founded America’s top-performing medical-record software company, Epic (formerly Human Services Computing), from her basement in Wisconsin in 1979. The computer programmer is still the CEO of the $3.3 billion company, which supports the medical records of over 250 million patients from a 1,100-acre campus in Verona, Wisconsin. Even more impressive, Epic develops all its software in-house, without ever having raised venture capital or making an acquisition.

In 2015, Faulkner signed the Giving Pledge to donate 99 percent of her assets to a private charity down the road. It’s a big commitment after all the work she’s put in, single-handedly starting the company with just $70,000 and two part-time assistants. She was rejected from funding time and time again, but it never stopped her.

It’s been quite the journey for Faulkner. As of 2007, the company had just $500 million in sales, but it hit $1 billion in revenue just a few years later and its growth has compounded at an annual rate of 15 percent each year since. She’s loved tackling tough problems since she was a kid in the New Jersey suburbs in the ’50s, she told Forbes—solving her math teacher’s riddles on the blackboard. She went on to major in math at Dickinson College, working in particle physics at the University of Rochester during the summer to learn about computer programming.

Faulkner was always a creator.

“I always liked making things out of clay,” Faulkner told Forbes. “And the computer was clay of the mind. Instead of physical, it was mental.”

3. Meg Whitman

There’s no one right path to success.

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s net worth sits at $5.1 billion, which comes as little surprise after she took the multinational e-commerce corporation from $5.7 million to $8 billion in sales during her tenure as CEO from 1998 to 2008. Whitman was also the CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 2011 to 2015. There, she oversaw the company’s split into HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise before stepping down as HPE\’s chief executive in February 2018.

Whitman also served as the CEO of the no-longer-existent video platform Quibi and has invested in LA esports company Immortals LLC. She also still sits on the boards of Procter & Gamble and Dropbox. 

With a Princeton undergraduate degree and a masters from Harvard, Whitman worked her way up, even running as Governor of California in 2010 as a Republican. The native New Yorker, born and raised on Long Island, has always had that world-renowned New York hustle in her—even though she eventually strayed from her roots.

From 1979 to 1981 she found herself in Cincinnati Ohio working for Procter & Gamble before moving to California with her husband to join the consulting firm Bain and Co. as a vice president. Then, from 1989 to 1992 she served as the senior vice president of marketing for the consumer products division at Walt Disney Co, just before moving to Boston to become president of the children’s shoe manufacturer, Stride Rite. She left in 1995, accepting an offer as CEO of Florists Transworld Delivery, resigning in 1997 and becoming general manager of the Playskool division of the toy manufacturer Hasbro. From there, she built her legacy at eBay when she prepared the company for its initial public offering in 1998.

While Whitman’s career path wasn’t necessarily a straightforward one, it led her to C-suite positions all across the country and, ultimately, to becoming the third wealthiest woman in the country.

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