Mining tycoon beats Wal-Mart heiress to title of richest woman

Industrialist Gina Rinehart earns £32m a day from her Australian iron-ore concerns

Sydney

In the half-hour it took you to get ready for work this morning, Gina Rinehart earned more than $1m. Her gross pay today will be nearly US$50m (£32m). The Australian mining tycoon is not just seriously rich – she has been crowned the world's wealthiest woman.

According to BRW magazine, which publishes an annual list of the 200 most-moneyed Australians, Mrs Rinehart's fortune has nearly tripled in the past year, to $28.5bn. That means she has leapfrogged Christy Walton, the American Wal-Mart heiress, who is worth $25.3bn. Some predict Mrs Rinehart could be worth $100bn within years, eclipsing even Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms tycoon, as the richest person.

The key to her mind-boggling wealth lies in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia, home to vast reserves of high-quality iron ore. Mrs Rinehart's father, Lang Hancock, was the first to recognise the area's potential, and she inherited A$75m (£46.5m at today's rates) from him in 1992. Now, she is worth 386 times as much.

This time last year, the 58-year-old's wealth was estimated by BRW to be A$10.3bn. In March, Forbes put it at US$18bn. So rapidly have the zeros multiplied on Mrs Rinehart's bank statements that, despite global economic uncertainty, the combined wealth of the 200 richest Australians has risen by 8.4 per cent in the past year. Without her, it would have fallen by 3.1 per cent.

Whether Mrs Rinehart is happy is another matter. As dollars poured in last year, with demand for iron fuelled by China's rapid industrialisation, three of her children – John, Hope and Bianca – filed a lawsuit to oust her as head of the multibillion-dollar family trust.

In March, Mrs Rinehart lost a battle to have details of the dispute kept secret. In emails released by the court, her children complained of being starved of funds and implored her to buy them chefs and bodyguards. Hope lamented that she was "down to my last $60,000".

The tycoon's youngest daughter, Ginia, the only one to have sided with her, has reportedly been anointed to take over her minerals empire. Like her siblings, she enjoyed a childhood few could imagine and was presented with a A$1.2m Rolls-Royce at the age of 25.

But Mrs Rinehart also tried to teach her children the importance of earning money, according to a recent book about the family, The House of Hancock. She paid them $6 an hour to pick weeds at their Perth mansion, instructing them to "make sure you get the roots and all". And when John, then a student, told her he was broke, she replied: "Have you got any tomato sauce in the cupboard? Then make soup!"

In the book, her first husband Greg Milton, whom she whom she divorced when John and Bianca were little, recalls being forced to sit on a blanket in the garage during access visits. He had moved into a small flat and got a job as a truck driver. He soon cut all ties with his children, explaining: "I thought it would be too confusing for them to see the way I lived."

Andrew Heathcote, editor of the BRW Rich List, attributed the rise in Mrs Rinehart's wealth to rising commodity prices, increased production and investment in new ventures. If the mining boom continued, he said, her wealth could top US$100bn.

Quids in: The world's other wealthiest women

Christy Walton $25.3bn

Ranked the richest by Forbes for seven years, the BRW poll puts Rinehart $3bn ahead of Walton, who inherited her late husband John's stake in the US retail giant Wal-Mart, founded by his father.

Liliane Bettencourt $24bn

After court battles, the French heiress's fortune was handed to her daughter and grandsons last year. The 89-year-old, who has dementia, is the only child of the L'Oréal founder, Eugène Schueller.

Susanne Klatten $13bn

Germany's richest woman inherited a stake in BMW and other assets from her father, Herbert Quandt. In 2009, she won a case against Helg Sgarbi, a gigolo who was jailed for trying to blackmail her.

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