Becoming successful in the world of business is no easy feat, especially for a woman. This is especially true in patriarchal societies where women are not schooled at the same level as men and are considered second-class citizens. That’s what makes this elite group of multimillionaire and billionaire women even more impressive.
These black women amassed their fortunes by building media empires; investing in oil blocks, telecommunication products and mining companies in Africa; and managing diverse portfolios chock-full of lucrative businesses. Have a look at their paths to fortune.
Alakija, 63, a Nigerian native, got her ba-ba-billions by starting a fashion empire in Nigeria in the 1980s called Supreme Stitches. According to Time magazine, she took a portion of her profits from that business and acquired an oil-exploration license that earned her and her family a 60 percent stake in a highly profitable oil block. Forbes recently placed her net worth at around $1.9 billion.
Oprah partly credits her $3 billion fortune to a conversation she had with film critic Roger Ebert in the 1980s while the two were out on a date. Ebert convinced Winfrey to take ownership of her talk show by producing the program herself and taking it into syndication. More than 20 years later, Winfrey, 61, has leveraged her media imprint into a solid acting career, a movie production company, healthy real estate acquisitions, a television network (OWN), a lucrative self-help tour and countless other endeavors that keep the big bucks coming in. And she’s not slowing down: She recently announced that her Chicago-based Harpo Studios will close by year’s end to merge with OWN headquarters in Los Angeles, where both production company and network can work together to expand Winfrey’s reach even further.
Shagaya is at the helm of a Nigerian conglomerate that has holdings in oil, real estate, banking, communications and photography companies. She began her finance career in the auditing department of one of Nigeria’s central banks and went on to manage her own business enterprises in 1983. Shagaya, 55, owns property in Europe and the United States. Her exact net worth is unknown, but a 2012 report found that tenants at one of her residential properties pay $180,000 every year to live there.
Dos Santos, 41, reportedly dislikes the rumors about how she amassed her fortune because her well-connected father—Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos—gifted her with a bunch of stakes in several Angolan companies. According to Forbes magazine, she has equity in a telecommunications company, a bank, oil and gas companies, and a cable-TV network. Dos Santos’ first business venture was a restaurant she opened up when she was 24 years old. Forbes puts her net worth at around $3.3 billion.
Johnson, 66, co-founded the Black Entertainment Television network with now-former husband Robert L. Johnson in 1980. They sold BET to Viacom for a cool $3 billion in 2001. Each took a share after divorcing, and Sheila Johnson began to manage her own investment portfolio, which consists of holdings in a national hockey team, an NBA team and a WNBA team, and real estate investments in luxury resorts. She consistently appears in top 10 lists of the nation’s wealthiest African Americans. Her net worth is estimated at $400 million.
Beyoncé is one of the most successful recording artists of our time. She began her career at age 9 with the girl group Destiny’s Child and went on to become an even more successful solo artist, putting out five studio albums and embarking on sold-out world tours. She inked a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Pepsi and has a line of fragrances with Tommy Hilfiger, as well as a women’s clothing line that she co-owns with her mother called House of Dereon. Beyoncé is also currently developing an athletic-wear clothing line with United Kingdom fashion house Top Shop.
The 33-year-old has said that her most impressive achievement is creating her own management and production company in 2008 called Parkwood Entertainment, which produces all of her videos, television specials and a few movies she’s starred in. It doesn’t hurt that when her reported net worth ($450 million) is combined with her husband Jay Z’s, they’re one smoking-hot billionaire couple.
Kenyatta, better known as Mama Ngina, is the widow of President Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first leader after the nation gained independence from Britain in 1963. Since her husband’s passing, Kenyatta, who turns 82 this year, has taken control of the family business, which has interests in banking, farming, insurance, hospitality, manufacturing and real estate. Kenyatta is a major shareholder of one of Kenya’s privately owned banks, as well as a slew of chain hotels. Those looking to purchase plots out of the 500,000 acres of Kenyan land that Kenyatta owns should know that it will run them $1,000 per acre.
Appelbaum was a director of her billionaire father’s insurance and real estate company, Liberty Investors, in South Africa. But Appelbaum did more than just sit back and inherit her riches. She sold her shares and invested in ventures that brought her even more millions. She became the deputy chairman of the Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings Limited, an investment company owned and operated by black women. She also purchased equity in a wine estate and does philanthropic work. A 2012 estimate put her net worth at around $260 million.
Radebe made her millions by digging for it. She’s the founder of a South African mining firm that specializes in coal, gold, uranium and platinum. Radebe, 55, learned the mining business by working in managerial positions at some of South Africa’s most successful mining companies. She is also co-founder of a private-equity firm that makes investments in sub-Saharan Africa’s mining companies.