Australia’s top 30 female entrepreneurs 2015

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Trailblazers in their industries, determined, hardworking and inspiring: these are Australia’s top 30 female entrepreneurs for 2015.

Each year SmartCompany publishes its list of the top female entrepreneurs ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8.

This year the list generated a combined revenue of $10.656 billion. 

That compares to last year’s list which generated revenue of $6.127 billion.

The list is topped again this year by Australia’s richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart.

But the list honours women from a range of industries, from fashion to finance.

Each woman has earned her place on this list as the owner of a business which has revenue of more than $25 million a year. 

Here are the top ten:

 

Name

Business

Revenue

1

Gina Rinehart

Hancock Prospecting

$2.63 billion

2

Katie Page

Harvey Norman

$2.547 billion

3

Vicky Teoh

TPG

$970 million

4

Lesley Gillespie

Bakers Delight

$585 million

5

Naomi Milgrom

ARJ Group

$490 million

6

Maxine Horne

Vita Group

$450 million

7

Janine Allis

Retail Zoo

$350 million

8

Yenda Lee

Bing Lee

$320 million

9

Christina Quinn

VIP Petfoods

$300 Million

10

Charlotte Vidor

Toga Group

$285 million

                                                           

The list of Australia’s top female entrepreneurs is ranked according to revenue.

Where possible, revenue has been provided by the entrepreneurs; if not, SmartCompany has sourced the revenue from publicly available sources, industry contacts or internal estimates. An asterisk (*) denotes where revenue has been estimated.

Be prepared to be inspired by their stories:

1. Gina Rinehart

Company: Hancock Prospecting

Established: 1955

Revenue: $2.63 billion

As the county’s richest person, Gina Rinehart is a fixture at the top of Australian business leader lists. While her wealth has slipped in recent years due to falling commodity prices, she still sits on a majority stake (76.6%) of Hancock Prospecting, the mining company her father Lang Hancock established in 1955. Rinehart assumed the chairmanship of Hancock Prospecting upon the death of her father in 1992 and has subsequently built it into one of Australia’s largest and most successful private company groups.

Her iron ore joint venture with Rio Tinto remains Hancock Prospecting’s most profitable project, helping the company turn over $2.63 billion in the 2014 financial year, according to a filing with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. But the company also expects its Roy Hill mine in the Pilbara to turn into a money-spinner if commodity prices steady.

Although she has maintained her mantle as Australia’s top female entrepreneur this year, the last 12 months have been rocky for the mining heiress. Rinehart faced fresh legal battles with her children who are battling their mother for a 23.5% stake in the business. Rinehart also launched legal action against the Nine Entertainment Network over a biopic of her family’s dynasty.

Forbes’ annual Rich List estimated Rinehart’s personal wealth at around $US11.7 billion ($A15 billion), despite a $US6 billion hit to her hip pocket thanks to the downturn in iron ore prices, making the 61-year-old the world’s 90th richest person.

 

2. Katie Page

Company: Harvey Norman

Established: 1982

Revenue: $2.547 billion (with Gerry Harvey)

Chief executive of Harvey Norman, Katie Page is one of only a handful (3.5%) of women to have the top job at an ASX200 company.

Alongside her husband and Harvey Norman founder, Gerry Harvey, Page controls the ASX-listed global homewares and electronics retail empire that turned over $2.547 billion in company revenue in the last financial year. And despite the retail downtown, the company’s latest financial results released last Friday show a 27% jump in global profits.

The retailer revealed company retail operations of $842.87 million for the first half of the 2014-15 financial year, meaning if the second half of the year remains consistent, Harvey Norman is on track to turn over $5 billion in company revenue for the full year. A booming Australian property market has seen Aussies turn to the retailer in droves, but questions remain as to whether Harvey Norman can fight off cheaper international players continuing to flood into the Australian market.

Page, who started her career with Harvey Norman in 1983 as an assistant, is a big supporter of women in business. She has previously said women need to push themselves to shrug off the fear of making a mistake in order to match their male counterparts in the business world.

3. Vicky Teoh

Company: TPG

Established: 1992

Revenue: $970 million (with David Teoh)

 

Vicky Teoh founded a computer hardware retail business Total Peripherals with husband David in 1992, and has since grown the business into one of Australia’s largest telecommunications providers, TPG.

Taking on telco rivals Telstra and Optus for a share of Australia’s internet provider market, the ASX-listed company turned over $970 million in the 2014 financial year. Teoh and her husband own 36.74%, or more than 291 million shares, in TPG’s capital.

The Teohs, who immigrated to Australia from Malaysia in 1986, are an intensely private couple that have largely stayed out of the media’s eye, but they have previously flagged an intention to take on the Abbott government’s NBN Co. TPG is now ramping up its stake in the market with it fiber-to-the-basement (FTTB) product.

4. Lesley Gillespie

Company: Bakers Delight

Established: 1980 (becoming a franchise in 1988)

Revenue: $585 million (with Roger Gillespie)

Despite Lesley Gillespie saying “there wasn’t a grand plan to have a Bakers Delight in every shopping centre in Australia” the bakery franchise edges closer to achieving retail ubiquity each year, boasting more than 700 bakeries across Australia, New Zealand and Canada. And the couple has flagged plans to open “a lot more stores” in coming years, not ruling out making a further expansion into the US.

The Bakers Delight network turned over more than $585 million in 2013-14 – a long way from the single bakery the Gillespies opened in 1980 in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn. The couple still owns and manages about 30 bakeries within the company.

Co-founder, executive director and joint CEO of the business, Gillespie was last year honoured alongside her husband as a “champion of entrepreneurship” at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Southern Region awards last year. She has also previously been singled out for her philanthropy work, which has seen Bakers Delight raise more than $7.7 million for Breast Cancer Network Australia through the sale of its pink iced buns.

5. Naomi Milgrom

Company: ARJ Group

Established: 1939

Revenue: $490 million

Chief executive officer of the ARJ Group – the parent company of Sussan, Sportsgirl and Suzanne Grae chains – Naomi Milgrom has a retail presence in almost every major Australian shopping hub, making her one of Australian high street fashion’s most powerful names.

In 2014, the company generated total revenue of $490 million and employed more than 3900 staff across its 500-store network. But ARJ faces continued strain from a fashion retail downturn and competition from international fashion players such as Zara and H&M.

The entrepreneur last month told the Retail Futures Forum in Melbourne she recognised an increasing pressure on ARJ to focus on its digital channels over its bricks-and-mortar stores and flagged the potential to expand into international markets through its online presence, according to Fairfax.

“From my point of view, I love that idea [of selling to big markets overseas] because I actually don’t want any more bricks-and-mortar stores. I don’t want to open a store in Singapore, but I do have the opportunity to market my online stores in those territories,” Milgrom said.

6. Maxine Horne

Company: Vita Group

Established: 1995

Revenue: $450 million

Joint chief executive of telecommunications company Vita Group, Maxine Horne has surfed the mobile phone boom in Australia since the start. Horne set up Fone Zone in 1995, which was among the first mobile phone retailers in Australia.

The ASX-listed Vita Group now turns over more than $450 million in the 2014 financial year, and recently released half yearly results show 2015 will be another strong year for the company. The group increased revenue by 36% to $292.7 million for July to December, meaning Vita is on track to turn over more than $585 million for the full year, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone 6.

Horne signed a strategic partnership with Telstra in 2013 and now runs 100 of Vita’s 126-store network as Telstra retail outlets. In her recent announcement to shareholders, Horne said the alignment was paying off.

“Vita’s retail channel is delivering on its promise – indeed, it is exceeding expectations – in a dynamic and competitive marketplace,” said Horne, pointing to an intention to be on the hunt for further strategic partners in the years ahead.

 

7. Janine Allis

Company: Retail Zoo

Established: 2000

Revenue: More than $350 million*

Founder of Boost Juice parent company Retail Zoo, Janine Allis has had a big 12 months. In May, Allis completed a deal with private equity firm Bain Capital in a deal estimated to be worth more than $185 million for an undisclosed stake in the business.

Allis has stayed on board as executive director of Retail Zoo, which also owns Salsa’s Fresh Mex, Cibo Espresso and Hatch Chicken Shop brands, and helped grow company revenue to more than an estimated $350 million.

The entrepreneur has also taken up the role as a judge on reality program Shark Tank, where she has so far invested in an electronic skateboard and edible bugs pitched by New South Wales mother-of-two, Skye Blackburn.

Allis said in statement she has never found being a woman in business a negative.

“I get asked all the time ‘What are the challenges for women in business?’ I always find this a difficult question to address as I don’t believe there is a difference; men and women have the same challenges in business,” said Allis.

“In fact, sometimes it’s more of a positive as often the men across the table are not too sure what to do with you!”

Allis says women offer an enormous amount to the business world, including great attention to detail, multi-skilling, emotional intelligence and an ability to disarm confrontation quicker.

“My experiences have taught me over the years to be tougher. Women have more natural empathy and this can be an obstacle in business,” she said.

“I am not saying you need to be a hard-nosed business woman, but you need to consider the business needs first. I do think only a fool would underestimate a woman in business just because she is a woman – we have many more tricks in our bag!”

8. Yenda Lee

Company: Bing Lee

Established: 1957

Revenue: $320 million

Yenda Lee was married to Chinese-Australian businessman and Bing Lee founder Ken Lee until his death in 2007, and has since replaced her late husband as the public face of the electronics retailer. She has lent her image to Bing Lee’s ads, which feature the company slogan “Come and meet our team”.

She also serves as a chairman for the company, which was estimated to have turnover of $320 million in 2013. It was reported by BRW that Bing Lee’s revenues have been declining in recent years with a decreasing share of the highly competitive electronics, computer and telecommunications markets.

The Lees migrated to Australia from China after World War Two, with Lee opening a fruit shop with her husband before changing tack to focus on electrical goods. Both her sons also have stakes in Bing Lee, with BRW estimating the family’s personal wealth to be at $450 million last year.

9. Christina Quinn

Company: VIP Petfoods

Established: 1994

Turnover: $300 million* (with Tony Quinn)

Christina Quinn founded VIP Petfoods with husband Tony in 1994, manufacturing a high-end range of chow for cats and dogs. The business now turns over more than an estimated $300 million with a customer base not only in Australia, but also in the US, Canada, Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

The intensely private couple made headlines in 2012 when they purchased the collapsed confectionery maker Darrell Lea for a reported $25 million. While the acquisition diversified the Quinn’s portfolio, the husband and wife duo made the decision to significantly scale back operations to make the business profitable again, closing more than 500 stores to focus on selling products through supermarkets and other retail outlets.

BRW last year estimated thecouple, who immigrated to Australia from Scotland in the 1980s, has a personal wealth of around $405 million.

10. Charlotte Vidor

Company: Toga Group

Established: 1963

Revenue: $285 million last year (With Ervin Vidor)

Charlotte Vidor founded Toga Group as a hotel business with her husband Ervin in 1963, after they migrated to Australia from Poland and Hungary. The company has since transformed into a property development and construction empire that owns and manages four hospitality brands – Medina, Adina, Vibe and Travelodge Hotel.

The company is estimated to have turned over around $285 million in 2013, and has since signed a $450 million deal with Singaporean property group Far East Orchard.

BRW estimated the Vidor’s personal wealth to sit at around $745 million, making them the 61st richest people in Australia.

11. Sue Hollis

Company: TravelEdge

Established: 2000

Revenue: $250 million*

Corporate travel provider TravelEdge is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. Sue Hollis founded the business in 2000 with Grant Wilson with the aim of being “the most dynamic and respected deliverer of travel related services to corporate Australia”.

Hollis previously told SmartCompany business owners shouldn’t underestimate the value of networks.

“Networks create a warmer lead and a warmer opportunity for you,” Hollis said.

“It is incredibly important but just as important is word of mouth.”

 

12. Lorna Jane Clarkson

Company: Lorna Jane

Established: 1990

Revenue: $200 million (with Bill Clarkson)

When it comes to the Australian active wear retail sector, Lorna Jane Clarkson is undoubtedly leading the way with her Lorna Jane brand.

Clarkson founded the company with husband Bill Clarkson in 1990, leaving her jobs as a dental therapist and part-time aerobics instructor.

Lorna Jane continues to enjoy rapid growth, adding 40 new international outlets to its network in the past 12 months. Online sales grew by more than 30% in the same period and the Lorna Jane Facebook page reached one million likes in July 2014. It’s likely this continuing growth is one of the reasons the Clarksons decided not to sell a full stake in the company last year.

There are 146 Lorna Jane stores in Australia, 42 in the US and 54 other international stockists.

13. Iris Lustig-Moar

Company: Lustig & Moar

Established: 1971

Revenue: $171 million*

Lustig-Moar is the construction business behind a number of luxury property developments in Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong, including the Grand Hyatt Hotels in the three cities.

The company was founded in 1971 by Iris Lustig-Moar’s father Ted Lustig and her former husband Max Moar, who remains involved as a director of the company.

14. Gillian Franklin

Company: The Heat Group

Established: 2000

Revenue: $130 million

Gillian Franklin established The Heat Group in a coffee shop in 2000. Fifteen years later, the consumer products wholesaler sells 11 million pieces of stock each year, employs 170 employees and has annual turnover of $130 million. One Heat product is sold in Australia every 2.8 seconds.

The Heat Group distributes cosmetics and beauty brands Max Factor, COVERGIRL, Bourjois, essence and Elite, as well as selling its own brands Ulta3 and Billie Goat Soap. In 2012, the group secured the licence to develop a range of personal care products using three of Warner Bros Consumer Products’ leading brands: Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes and DC Comics.

Last year was another bumper year for the group, which acquired pharmacy eyewear brand OZK.O. The Heat Group also began exporting Billie Goat Soap to Russia, having taken the brand to China the year before, and started selling ulta3 into Kuwait.

15. Diana Williams

Company: Fernwood

Established: 1989

Revenue: $106 million

Diana Williams has come a long way since founding women-only gym chain Fernwood in central Victoria in 1989 after recognising a desire for women to have access to their own workout spaces.

Fernwood has grown consistently since those early days, reaching $25 million in turnover in 2002, $50 million in turnover in 2004 and $75 million in 2006. Fernwood hit the $100 million turnover mark in 2007 and today the chain’s annual revenue sits at $106 million.

There are now 69 Fernwood gyms across the country, employing more than 2200 employees and counting more than 68,000 members.

16. Sarina Russo

Company: Sarina Russo Group

Established: 1979

Revenue: $106 million

Sarina Russo founded her own typing school in 1979 with just nine students, who she promised a job after they finished their training.

More than 35 years later, the Sarina Russo Group is now a dominant player in the recruitment and education space, employing more than 1000 people in 40 sites in Australia and the UK.

Sarina Russo Job Access has placed more than 64,000 people in jobs with more than 32,700 employers since 2009, while the apprenticeship arm of the group has supported 132,000 new apprentices and trainees with more than 42,000 employers since 2006.

17. Jo Horgan

Company: Mecca Cosmetica

Established: 1997

Revenue: over $100 million

Jo Horgan hatched the idea for Mecca Cosmetica in the front room of her small terrace in the Melbourne suburb of Albert Park in the early 90s. The former L’Oreal employee then travelled the world to discover the best makeup and perfume brands in her quest to create a business that would offer shoppers a mecca of cosmetics.

The first Mecca Cosmetica store opened in South Yarra in 1997. Today, Horgan leads a 61-store network of three brands: Mecca Cosmetica, Mecca Maxima and Kit Cosmetics. The company is estimated to hold 10% of the prestige cosmetic market in Australia.

18. Jennifer Lechte

Company: Lechte Corporation

Established: 1991

Revenue: over $100 million (with Peter Lechte)

Co-founder of Melbourne property developer Lechte Corporation, Jennifer Lechte started her career as a school teacher and sports administrator before securing marketing roles with top AFL teams. She later started her own business with husband Peter Lechte in 1991.

Lechte’s son Christopher Paul joined the Lechte Corporation around 10 years ago and helped the family business manage projects with apartment sales of more than $100 million in 2014.

Lechte previously told SmartCompany she will never retire.

“What would I do if I didn’t go into work every day? Play golf? I would end up having to take a babysitting job!” she said.

For Lechte, her experience in the football industry has held her in good stead as an entrepreneur. She says she would not be able to do what she does today without all those meetings in rooms full of powerful men.

“I spent years and years training myself,” she says.

“You have to develop inner confidence and believe in your own self-worth. Whatever task you face, you have to understand it fully and be able to do it with excellence.”

19. Barb de Corti

Company: ENJO

Established: 1994

Revenue: over $100 million

More than 1000 consultants sell ENJO cleaning products around Australia. They are called ENJOpreneurs and together they contribute to the company’s annual revenues of more than $100 million.

Barb de Corti started selling the environmentally friendly cleaning ENJO cleaning products in 1994, after her Austrian mother-in-law introduced her to the products, which helped her asthmatic son. The entrepreneur previously told SmartCompany she purchased $40,000 worth of ENJO products from the Austrian manufacturer and “went out selling them”.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for de Corti, who says her “hard yakka” eventually paid off.

“Every little cent needed to go back into the business,” de Corti said about managing cash flow in the early years.

“We believed so much in the product. We sold our house to get some cash flow because we owned the place.”

20. Carolyn Creswell

Company: Carman’s Fine Foods

Established: 1992

Revenue: $83 million

It has been another bumper year for Carolyn Creswell, founder of Carman’s Fine Foods and a former Telstra Business Woman of the Year. The business she founded as a $2000 venture in 1992 is now turning over $83 million annually.

Carman’s muesli products are sold in all major Australian supermarkets, as well as local delis and cafes and stockists in 32 countries around the world.

Creswell previously told SmartCompany her success comes down to staying focused on the big picture.

“I think you need to be organised, get the clutter out of your life so you can focus on strategy and risk,” she said.

 “I would try and get out of some of the operational detail so you can protect your business to a certain extent and push it forward as aggressively as you can to the next level if that’s what you want to do.”

21. Naomi Simson

Company: Red Balloon

Established: 2001

Revenue: $60 million*

Naomi Simson has become a familiar face on Australian television this year with her starring role as a “shark” on the new reality entrepreneur show Shark Tank.

Simson clearly has the goods to act as a mentor and investor for entrepreneurs on the show after founding experience and rewards company Red Balloon in 2001.

Red Balloon has grown to become a true Australian success story, selling over two-and-a-half million experiences. This year Simson has also written a book, Live What You Love

22. Penny Spencer

Company: Spencer Group

Established:

Revenue: $54 million

Penny Spencer started in the travel industry at the age of 19 and worked her way up from there.

She started Spencer Group after cashing in some Telstra shares and hasn’t looked back since, even when the travel agents were threatened by competition from internet booking engines.

“I think the travel market has come back from the internet,” Spencer says.

“We are all so time poor now that to go online to book corporate travel is just too hard.”

In the meantime, Spencer is focused on keeping grounded about the business.

“As you get bigger, sometimes you lose having your finger on the pulse. Sometimes it’s about coming back to basics.”

23. Lilly Haikin

Company: Max Brenner Australian franchise

Established: 2000

Revenue: $50 million* (with Tom Haikin)

Lily Haikin and her husband Tom are Australia’s answer to Willy Wonka. They hold the Australian franchise rights to the chocolate café chain Max Brenner.

The famous “bald man” chocolate brand was created in 1996 by two chocolatiers, Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner, who built a chain of chocolate shops in Israel. At a chance meeting with Brenner in 1999, Tom Haikin suggested broadening the Max Brenner branding into “chocolate bar” cafes, and secured the Australian rights for the concept.

Max Brenner has achieved great success in Australia due to growing demand for premium chocolate products. 

24. Jo Burston

Company: Job Capital

Established: 2006

Revenue: $37 million

Jo Burston founded recruitment company provider Job Capital back in 2006 after pitching the idea to entrepreneur and investor Philip Weinman. Her latest accomplishment is Big Data, which Burston describes as “an entire contingent workforce platform that plugs into Job Capital”.

Burston told SmartCompany Big Data has allowed her to automate more of Job Capital, which has given her the freedom to pursue Rare Birds, a project which   aims to be the channel between women entrepreneurs and the world. Rare Birds showcases “open, honest and awe-inspiring stories” from women at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey.

“My tip is follow your gut instinct because it is always right, never challenge it,” Burston says.   

“Secondly, carve your own pathway with whatever path you have in whatever business field.”

25. Kristina Karlsson

Company: Kikki K

Established: 2001

Revenue: $37 million*

Kristina Karlsson founded Kikki K back in 2001 and the business has made a name for itself for its unique stationery and gifts, characterised by distinct Swedish designs.

Now, Kikki K has dozens of franchised and company-owned stores in locations across Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asia. Most recently, Kikki K opened its first store in Hong Kong.

26. Tammy May

Company: MyBudget

Established: 1999

Revenue: $34 million

You probably recognise Tammy May from MyBudget’s regular television commercials. May is the face and founder of the business which employs more than 270 people across Australia.

She started MyBudget at the age of 22 and now the business manages more than $750 million in salaries and processes just over four million transactions on behalf of its clients

In the past year May has welcomed a new child into the world, while leading MyBudget.

 

27. Carla Zampatti

Company: Carla Zampatti

Established: 1965

Revenue: $30 million*

The fashion industry is known for being fickle but Carla Zampatti is a stalwart, celebrating 50 years in business this year.

The designer and entrepreneur has managed to ensure her business stays current and on trend, leading to a distribution deal with David Jones and over 30 retail outlets.

Zampatti is a success outside the business as well, having been made a member of the Order of Australia in 1987. She was also awarded Australian Fashion Laureate in 2008, and has served on the boards of Westfield and McDonald’s Australia.

28. Grace Chu

Company: First Click Consulting

Revenue: $30 million

Founded: 2005

Grace Chu launched First Click Consulting at the same time as having her first child.

She jokes that her business was her first baby and her son ran second for a while.

“Since then, I’ve watched both my babies grow at rapid rates,” she says.

Chu has big ambitions for First Click Consulting which she continues to grow as she raises her family.

“We want to help our clients make money, because if they’re successful, we’re successful,” she says.

“In the next five years we want to grow at 20-25% per year and achieve revenue of over $100 million.”

29. Jenny Paradiso

Company: SunTrix

Established: 2009

Revenue: $26 million (with David Hille)

The solar energy industry has been going through a tough period with many providers going broke. SunTrix has not only survived, but thrived.

The business, which Paradiso began with her husband David Hille, was one of SmartCompany’s Smart50 finalists last year, recognising its phenomenal growth of 65.5%.

SunTrix survived the “solar coaster” by working hard and never giving up. 

“We developed a weekly, sometimes daily, cash flow budget to track when cash was going in and out, and ensure we could pay suppliers on time,” Paradiso says.

Suntrix also diversified its offering, selling its products in residential, commercial and wholesale markets.

“When there’s a dip in one market, the other helps with cash flow,” she says.

30. Sylvia Wilson

Company: Bark Busters

Established: 1989

Revenue: $25 million* (with Danny Wilson)

Sylvia Wilson founded Bark Busters with her husband Danny and the pair have expanded their dog obedience business into seven countries with 37 franchises in Australia.

Wilson is currently based in the United States as she drives Bark Buster’s expansion there.

She says running her franchise business has taught her that being an all-rounder is important, as well as being able to juggle all the other things in an entrepreneur’s life.

“You also have family to look after; for married entrepreneurs, a husband to think about as well,” she says.

“I feel women work a lot harder because we are focusing on so many things, but women can do a lot of things at once and be quite good at all of them. You have to be a mother, a wife, an accountant and a secretary, you have to be everything.”

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Kye began his career at a Fairfax daily on the North-West Coast of Tasmania. He has since taken his belongings, and keen interest in technology, to Melbourne. He has a bachelor of Arts majoring in Political Science from the University of Tasmania and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism from RMIT University.

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