The powerful businesswomen on the list below are collectively worth $15.4 billion. They dominate a wide variety of industries — technology, entertainment, apparel — but despite different backgrounds and achievements, they all have one thing in common: they’ve each helped shape the world of entrepreneurship. However, it’s been far from easy.
Though more and more women are starting and running businesses, in 2018 only 20% of all employer businesses nationwide were women-owned. Women continue to face issues like discrimination in the workplace and bias from venture capitalists who invest in businesswomen at much lower rates.
Nonetheless, women play a vital role in entrepreneurship — starting 849 new businesses per day in the U.S. and creating some of the most influential products of our time. It’s because of the ongoing challenges faced by female entrepreneurs that it’s vital to highlight those who've succeeded and analyze how they overcame the many obstacles.
The following women in business have done just that, and are considered some of the most successful female entrepreneurs of our time.
The Most Successful and Powerful Businesswomen
Cher Wang, HTC
As the founder and CEO of consumer electronics company HTC, Cher Wang isn’t just one of the most powerful women in tech — she’s one of the most powerful people in the entire industry.
Wang built HTC in 1997 after realizing that PCs were impractical to carry, thus deciding to create a new handheld device that could fit easily in a bag or a pocket. As well as starting HTC, she co-founded VIA Technologies in 1987 and has since become a renowned philanthropist.
Unlike many of the other successful women in business on this list, Wang had the luxury of hailing from an entrepreneurial family — her father was the founder of Formosa Plastics Group and one of the wealthiest men in Taiwan. However, his legacy posed its own problems as Wang didn’t want to live in his shadow.
Coupled with the challenge of breaking into technology, a notoriously male-dominated industry, Wang had to prove herself with intelligence and persistence. She’s stayed true to HTC’s slogan, carving out her $8.8 billion legacy by being “quietly brilliant.”
Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show
While best known for hosting the highest-rated daytime talk show in American television history, Oprah Winfrey’s portfolio extends far beyond just the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Four years before Oprah’s conception, the female entrepreneur founded her own production facility, Harpo Studios. Additionally, she co-founded Oxygen Network, a female-focused cable network which reaches over 54 million viewers.
Her greatest strength has been her ability to cultivate a strong personal brand, which she’s secured with platforms like Oprah Magazine and Oprah.com.
Winfrey’s triumph over suffering and willingness to discuss sensitive, personal issues have also played key roles in her explosive success. Her childhood was marked by parental neglect, poverty, and sexual abuse. After moving to an urban ghetto in Wisconsin at age 6, Winfrey was left to fend for herself by her mother and was sexually abused for many years by several men.
Despite the odds, Winfrey went on to thrive in school and quickly made a name for herself in the entertainment industry. She attributes much of her success to her father: “My father turned my life around by insisting that I be more than I was and by believing I could be more.”
By sharing her story and empathizing with her audiences and guests, Winfrey has created a genuine, meaningful entrepreneurial legacy.
Judy Faulkner, Epic Systems
Another tech disruptor, Judy Faulkner is the founder of Epic Systems, America’s leading medical-record software provider. She built the company as a computer programmer out of a Wisconsin basement in 1979 and still holds the position of CEO to this day.
In many ways, Faulkner represents the gold standard of entrepreneurship. Her company develops all of its software in-house and has never made an acquisition or raised venture capital.
Also, despite being the richest female tech billionaire, Faulkner has pledged to eventually donate 99% of her share of the company to a private charitable foundation.
While most people have heard of Oprah Winfrey or Arianna Huffington, Judy Faulkner is far from a household name outside of the healthcare world. But that’s part of what makes her so special. She avoids answering questions about herself so that if she was ever treated unfairly for being a woman in tech, you’d never know.
In many ways, that’s the best advice for young female entrepreneurs and businesswomen: don’t ask for people to take you seriously, let your work give people no other option.
Sara Blakely, SPANX
In 2012, Sara Blakely graced the cover of Forbes magazine as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. The shapewear company, SPANX, that she founded two years prior at the age of 27 has since made her a female entrepreneurial icon.
In addition to being the sole owner of SPANX, an apparel company with a net worth of $1 billion, Blakely serves as a guest judge on Shark Tank and has previously appeared in the drama series Billions.
Though it looks glamorous now, Blakely is the first to explain that her path to success as a businesswoman was lined with failure. As she tried to enter the job market, it felt as though every door was slammed in her face. After attempting to become a stand-up comedian, a lawyer, and even the Goofy character at Disney World, she spent seven years selling fax machines.
She eventually learned to become a saleswoman, a skill that would propel her to success when she by chance snipped the feet off her pantyhose and accidentally made the first SPANX prototype. With newfound self-belief, she invested her $5,000 of savings — and the rest is history.
The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation has established the Red Backpack Fund, a grant program designed to support female entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post Media Group
In the 14 years since starting independent online news magazine The Huffington Post, which sold to AOL for $315 million, Arianna Huffington has established herself as an author, philanthropist, television personality and, according to Forbes magazine, one of the most Powerful Women in the World. Her most recent entrepreneurial pursuit is Thrive Global, a startup focused on spreading information about health and wellness.
Promoting feminism and empowerment have been central themes throughout Huffington’s successful career. The motivation can be traced back to a pivotal struggle from her childhood in Greece: witnessing her parents’ heartbreaking divorce at age 11, after which she was raised by her single mother.
Though made difficult by being a non-English speaker from a relatively poor single-parent household, Huffington made her way to Cambridge University. She caught the world’s attention with her incredible work ethic after graduation, quickly publishing multiple books and growing what would become a long-lasting and far-reaching reputation as a powerful female entrepreneur and businesswoman.
Huffington has never let failure or setbacks define her. Through tough times, such as her divorce from Republican congressman Michael Huffington and her unsuccessful attempt at entering politics, she’s maintained self-belief and as a result, serves as an entrepreneurial role model to many.