Image: Oprah Winfrey
Laura Rauch  /  AP
Born in rural Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey became a television newscaster; her emotional ad-lib delivery launched her career as a host of her own daytime TV show. She's working on her third decade of ruling daytime TV.
updated 3/6/2007 9:20:55 PM ET 2007-03-07T02:20:55

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be a billionaire. No more picking up after the kids, doing dishes, worrying about how much a dress costs or pinching pennies to save for an amazing vacation. For the women on Forbes' new list of the world's billionaires, that dream is a reality. But it's not just their 10-figure fortunes that make us envious. Some of these women are famous; some wield enormous power; some have fascinating careers. Some have all three.

Take Oprah Winfrey. Born in rural Mississippi, Winfrey became a television newscaster; her emotional ad-lib delivery launched her career as a host of her own daytime TV show. As she embarks on her third decade ruling daytime television, Oprah is still finding other worlds to conquer: on Broadway ("The Color Purple") and on radio (her new weekly program, "Oprah & Friends," debuted last month). Plus, she gets to do good with her money. In January, she realized her dream of opening the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. Nelson Mandela celebrated the opening with her.

Then there is J.K. Rowling, once a single mother living on welfare in a coldwater flat in Edinburgh, Scotland. She penned a magical story about a wizard named Harry Potter, which turned into a media empire with six books (a seventh, the final installment, is due in July), four movies and countless other items. To date, worldwide book sales have surpassed 325 million copies. Rowling is now the only novelist among the world's wealthiest.

Like many women in the corporate world, Margaret Whitman got her M.B.A. from Harvard and then worked her way up the corporate ladder at companies like Hasbro, Keds, the Walt Disney Co. and Procter & Gamble before landing the chief auctioneer spot at eBay in 1998. Nine years later, she has become one of just a handful of women executives who are also billionaires.

Inheriting a fortune is an easier route to billionaire status, whether by adding to that wealth or just enjoying the fruits of Dad's labor. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken inherited the Heineken beer fortune five years ago when her father Freddy died. She and her investment banker husband Michel de Carvalho sit on Heineken's supervisory board; she also spends her time schussing down the slopes as a member of St. Moritz's elite Corviglia Ski Club.

Stylish Spanish sisters Alicia and Esther Koplowitz have shown they have minds of their own. They took over the family's construction company in 1989 and ran it together for eight years. Then Esther, who is still a director, bought Alicia out for $800 million. Meanwhile, Alicia has used the proceeds to become a savvy investor, and with her financial adviser is setting up one of Spain's first hedge funds. Both are also members of the Spanish nobility.

Of course, one can always marry into wealth. Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten met her husband, department store mogul Helmut Horten, at a hotel bar at the age of 19. When Helmut died in 1987, he bequeathed her a $1 billion fortune. Dubbed the "Merry Widow" in the European press, she seems merry indeed, splitting her time between her four homes and her 315-foot yacht, Carinthia VII, one of the world's largest. Who wouldn't want to trade places with her or any of these women, even if only for a day?

© 2012


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