leadership

Women business builders: The top 30 in 2013

Jaclyn Densley /

Meet Australia’s top female businesspeople. They are smart, focused and risk-takers. Many have built their businesses from scratch and together they generated $6.452 billion in revenue last year.

Some are names you will recognise – Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman?– ?but others you may not, such as Vicky Teoh, the co-founder of technology company TPG, and Vanessa Garrard, owner and founder of product development company E3.

Compared with our 2012 list, the combined revenue of the group is slightly down from the record $5.89 billion recorded last year, partly due to a fall in the fortunes of Rinehart and Retail Adventures owner Jan Cameron. But there’s still plenty of inspiration to be had on International Women’s Day from these 30 top female entrepreneurs who have each done their part to shake things up in Australia’s business community.

1. Gina Rinehart (Hancock Prospecting, $2.37b revenue)

Gina Rinehart was briefly anointed as the richest woman in the world last year by BRW. However, analysts have questioned the methodology used and the latest Forbes’ billionaire list has pegged the mining magnate back a notch to fifth-richest woman in the world with an estimated wealth of $29.17 billion, thanks to falling iron ore prices. It’s quibbling over small change though as records filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission show Rinehart is by far Australia’s wealthiest female entrepreneur with annual turnover at Hancock Prospecting of $2.37 billion.

Rinehart has taken a more prominent role in public discourse in the last year, weighing in with her opinions on how Australians need to stay out of the pub and how she is really a small businesswoman. She’s been in and out of the courts too, but has also managed to continue to build her empire with the establishment of her flagship project, the Roy Hill Mine, set to open in 2014.

2. Vicky Teoh (TPG, $663m)

Malaysian-born Vicky Teoh and husband David moved to Australia in 1986 and set up TPG. Initially it was a computer equipment business, selling hardware such as PCs and printers, as well as network services and internet services. But by 2005, the equipment sales had ceased and TPG was a rapidly growing internet service provider. Three years later, TPG listed on the ASX through a reverse takeover of SP Telemedia, which saw the Teohs emerge with $150 million and a majority stake in the business. TPG has continued to go from strength to strength with revenue up 15% on last year thanks to TPG growing its broadband and mobile subscriber bases.

3. Lesley Gillespie (Bakers Delight, $564m)

Lesley Gillespie has built one of Australia’s most successful franchises along with her husband and joint chief executive Roger Gillespie. Their first bakery was in Hawthorn, Victoria and in 1988 the Gillespies owned 15 bakeries which they then began to franchise. By 1991 Bakers Delight had grown to 43 bakeries and it now operates over 700 bakeries and employs about 15,000 people.

4. Naomi Milgrom (Sussan Group, $493m)

A tough retail environment has caused Naomi Milgrom’s wealth to take another hit this year. As the owner of fashion retailers Sussan, Sportsgirl and Suzanne Grae, she is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of fashion. The daughter of retail king Marc Besen, Milgrom bought out the family business in 2003 and has set about putting her own stamp on the company including making sure it has a culture that supports women.

Of the group’s 4500 staff, 95% are women. But unlike other fashion companies, the chief executives of all three retail brands are women, and women make up the majority of the senior management level. “A culture that supports women doesn’t come about spontaneously; it only happens when the leaders of companies create policies and initiatives to stimulate such a culture,” Milgrom said. “In my experience, mentoring women into leadership is fundamental.”

5. Jan Cameron (Retail Adventures, $336m)

Jan Cameron has suffered a fast fall from grace after establishing her name as an entrepreneur by founding outdoor retailer Kathmandu and then taking on her former business by heading up competitor MacPac. However, Cameron appears to have lost her Midas touch with her newest business, Retail Adventures, which operates discount retailers Sam’s Warehouse, Chickenfeed, Crazy Clarks and GO-LO. The business went into administration in October last year with Cameron controversially buying it back from administrators for $58.9 million. The failure has significantly dented Cameron’s personal wealth and she told The Australian: “This will keep me off the Rich List, let’s put it that way … I have often referred to this company as retail nightmares or retail misadventures.”

6. Charloette Vidor (Toga Group, $285m)

The Toga Group was founded by Charlotte Vidor with her husband Ervin after they migrated to Australia from Poland and Hungary. The group owns and manages four hospitality brands?—?Medina Apartment Hotels, Adina Apartment Hotels, Vibe Hotels and Travelodge Hotels?—?and has 1800 employees.

7. Maxine Horne (Vita Group, $222m)

Maxine Horne co-founded the Vita Group starting with one store back in 1995. Now the joint chief executive runs a multi-brand and multi-channel publicly listed company with its two key partners Telstra and Apple. Revenue is up 9% on last year and Horne likes to take to Twitter to reveal her mantras like “well behaved women seldom make history”.

8. Janine Allis (Retail Zoo, $214m)

Janine Allis describes herself as “a girl from the ‘burbs who had no idea about business”. She started her first Boost Juice bar in Adelaide and 11 years later there are now 250 stores in 14 countries. The company’s revenue has soared since last year thanks to the addition of the new Mexican chain Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill to Allis’ business empire.

Allis credits the amazing people along her journey with having helped shape her success. “Probably the main woman who helped me was my mum, as she helped me with my children,” she said. “I would not have been able to do what we did without her selfless support.”

9. Therese Rein (Ingeus, $210m)

Therese Rein may have been better known at one stage as the prime minister’s wife, but when it comes to business acumen Kevin Rudd is left firmly in Rein’s shadow. Ingeus helps job-seekers find work through government contracts and has achieved remarkable success both in Australia and overseas. Ingeus now employs more than 2000 people in around 150 offices internationally and Rein, the company’s managing director, holds about 97% of its shares.

10. Iris Lustig-Moar (Lustig & Moar, $171m)

Iris Lustig-Moar heads up property development business Lustig & Moar Group along with her ex-husband Max Moar. The business was started by Lustig-Moar’s late father and projects undertaken by the Lustig & Moar team include the Park Hyatt Hotel and Treasury Gardens Apartments in Melbourne, the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne, Chatswood Chase in Sydney and the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong.

*Read the full list?—?including 11-30?—?at SmartCompany.

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