Nassim Khadem Reporter

Nassim covers the accounting and tax rounds for BRW, as well as general business news. She previously worked for The Age newspaper covering general news, state politics and economics.

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Why only 14 women make the BRW Rich 200

Published 23 May 2013 12:00, Updated 24 May 2013 12:08

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Why only 14 women make the BRW Rich 200

Nicole Kidman is part of only a small group of women on the Rich 200 - and the future doesn’t look good for more female entrants.

There are just 14 women in this year’s BRW Rich 200, down from 16 last year. It shows we still have a long way to go in helping encourage female entrepreneurs to get rich and rise to the top.

This year’s reduced female presence follows the departure of work services entrepreneur Thérèse Rein. The wife of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, Rein had just scraped in last year (at $210 million) as managing director of international employment firm Ingeus, which started life in 1989 as Work Directions.

Also leaving the list this year is rural queen Susan Merchant. Merchant’s wealth from Carrington Farms, a business she inherited from her father in the late 1990s, has taken a hit. She runs a portfolio of cattle, sheep, grain and cotton properties on the Queensland-NSW border.

Who are Australia’s 14 richest women?

Despite a fall of more than $7 billion in her wealth from last year, mining magnate Gina Rinehart retains the top spot on the BRW Rich 200 with the still substantial fortune of $22.02 billion.

New women joining the list include Yanda Lee, from the Bing Lee retail empire who takes the spot as Australia’s fifth richest woman with $455 million in wealth, and Nepal-born Jamuna Gurung who joins with her husband Shesh Ghale ($265 million). Gurung is managing director of their jointly-owned Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Australia’s second richest woman is Angela Bennett, who has seen a decrease in wealth from $2.03 billion last year, to $1.54 billion this year.

This is Bennett’s second appearance on the list as an individual, following the death of her brother Michael Wright in April last year. Like Rinehart, Bennett has made her wealth in Western Australia’s Pilbara.

Bennett’s father Peter Wright and his mate Lang Hancock (Rinehart’s father) had made an agreement with Rio Tinto under which the global mining giant pays out a 2.5 per cent royalty from its Hamersley Iron business. Thanks to lower iron ore prices, gross revenue from Hamersley fell by 17.5 per cent in the past financial year.

The third richest woman is Vicky Teoh, who makes the list with her husband David Teoh. The pair, who first appeared on the Rich 200 in 2010, have had one of the biggest rises in wealth on this year’s list. Their fortunes leaped from $525 million last year to $1.06 billion this year. The Teohs own about 37 per cent of broadband provider TBG Telecom, which has seen consistent share price growth to become a $3 billion business.

The fourth richest woman is Charlotte Vidor, who also makes the list with her husband Ervin. The couple’s wealth has jumped from $485 million last year to $700 million this year. The pair made their fortunes in property, with the Toga Group which was originally set up in the early ‘60s and now owns and manages a raft of hotel brands including Medina Apartment Hotels, Vibe Hotels and Travelodge. In April, Toga entered into a joint venture with Singapore-listed Far East Orchard which generated $225 million of new investment money. The pair also own Australia’s biggest prawn producers, Seafarm.

Newcomer, Yanda Lee comes into the list at number five and Australia’s sixth richest woman is Mary Fairfax. The matriarch of one of Australia’s most prominent families and one-time owners of Fairfax Media (publisher of BRW), Fairfax is the widow of Sir Warwick Fairfax, and her wealth, estimated at $435 million, is mainly derived from her extensive property interests.

Australia’s seventh richest woman is owner and chief executive of fashion retailer Sussan, Naomi Milgrom whose wealth is valued at $430 million, up from $375 million last year.

Imelda Roche drops to eighth place. She is another Rich 200 member who shares wealth with her partner, Bill Roche. The couple, who started skincare company Nutrimetics in the late ‘60s, before selling it to Sara Lee Corporation in 1997, now concentrate on property development. They come in this year at $425 million, slightly less than last year.

Number nine on the rich women list is Diana Grollo, who is listed with husband Rino Grollo. The couple‘s wealth increased to $380 million. She is the sister-in-law of Bruno Grollo and her branch of the family owns construction company Equiset, as well as interests in Victoria’s Mount Buller ski resort and a half-stake in Melbourne’s landmark Rialto tower.

Christina Quinn is the tenth richest woman in Australia. She and husband Tony have made their fortunes from VIP Pet Foods, now the world’s biggest manufacturer of chilled pet foods. The pair, who recently spent $25 million on reviving the iconic Australian confectionary company Darrell Lea after it went into voluntary administration, have seen their wealth hit $370 million this year.

The remaining four women on the Rich 200 include Iris Lustig-Moar, who makes the list with the man she divorced Max Moar with a combined wealth of $350 milllion. Despite their parting, both are involved with their property development business Lustig & Moar Group which continues to make them money.

Property is also now a focus for Patricia Ilhan, the widow of “Crazy John” mobile phone entrepreneur, the late John Ilhan. A year after John’s death in 2007, she sold the family business to Vodafone and has since diversified into property and other investments and with $320 million to her name is number 151 on the list.

Next, at number 152 is one of Australia’s greatest exports, Hollywood star Nicole Kidman – also valued at $320 million. She is now married to Aussie country music star Keith Urban and remains busy making movies, as well as being an ambassador for both Swisse vitamin company and watchmaker, Omega.

As mentioned above, Jamuna Gurung joins with her husband Shesh Ghale ($265 million).

Why few women make the Rich 200

Look at the list and you’ll notice two things. Firstly, most of the women on it are there with their husbands. Secondly, most of the woman on it have inherited their fortunes, rather than built them from scratch.

Look at most other BRW lists – BRW Rich Bosses, and BRW Young Rich – and you’ll notice the same thing, a lack of women.

In this year’s Rich Bosses list, the only three women to make it, out of a list of 100 chief executives, were Westpac’s Gail Kelly ($49.3 million), Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman and Claire Gray, executive director of Corporate Travel .Management.

The number of women on the BRW Young Rich list has sadly more than halved since its inception almost a decade ago, with just eight women making the list last year.

The reasons for the lack of representation remain the same – women either can’t or don’t want to get rich. If they want to have a family, they are not going to put their assets on the line to get rich. And if they want to build up a business, they might have to do that.

Gaining access to finance, therefore, remains an obstacle. Yolanda Vega, chief executive of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry has previously told BRW it has run surveys which show women can’t get as easy access to capital as men.

Their research also reveals the majority of women business owners start within the service industry, which again exacerbates the funding problem.

Finally, while our politicians are starting to introduce such policies as paid maternity leave and promoting women on boards – in the May budget Labor set aside $4.3 over five years to help fund a program aimed at increasing board representation – we still have a long way to go.

Female entrepreneurs, and women generally, will only be able to get to the same levels as men – whether that be in terms of pay, senior management status or on boards – if there are flexible and family-friendly policies encouraging them to do so.

Until such time as policy-makers and business leaders recognise this, the number of women on rich lists will remain dismally low.

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