Retail queen Jan Cameron reveals she has given $35 million to charity in past four years
Cameron, who appeared last night on ABC Television's ABC Story program, also revealed she never uses a computer, almost failed in her first business venture and is planning to spend $5 million over the next five years to establish the Animal Justice Fund, which will be based in Tasmania.
Cameron is best known as the founder of retail chain Kathmandu, which she sold in 2006 for a personal profit of about $236 million.
She has since re-emerged as the owner of a range of retail businesses under the Retail Adventures banner. She owns the Crazy Clarke's Go-Lo, Chickenfeed and Sam's Warehouse chains, and is also an investor in several New Zealand businesses, including children's retailer Pumpkin Patch.
In a revealing interview, Cameron described her mantle as Australia's fourth richest woman as a "fairly meaningless description".
"The real satisfaction I've had is in building a good business. Kathmandu became the most successful outdoor adventure business in Australasia and I think I've had the business urge in my blood from a very early age."
Cameron said much of her business knowledge was learnt from her father's grocery business and says that "at a very young age I understood the principle of profit and loss".
After leaving Australia for New Zealand at the age of 20, she started making sleeping bags from her bedroom and eventually started her first outdoor equipment business called Alp Sports.
While she says she almost went bankrupt several times during the early days of this business, she survived and sold this first company in 1987, just before the sharemarket crash. Using the proceeds of this business, she would later go on to build Kathmandu.
"It really wasn't until the late 90's that the business really, really took off and part of the success of that was developing manufacturing in China," she told the program.
Cameron, who now lives in Tasmania, says she does a lot of work from a local cafe "mostly by telephone, I don't use computers."
Cameron also revealed that one of the secrets to her success – frugality.
"The only time I fly business class is when I use frequent flyer upgrades. It's a state of mind, you get on a plane and turn off and go into your own little world. To this day I try and extract the value out of everything that I do. Clothes, I wear into the ground. The ironic thing is I've made a fortune selling clothes and spend so little buying clothes for myself."
"Personally I give away my income for the year. For the past four years I think I've donated about $35 million into a charitable fund."
While the program mainly focused on Cameron's philanthropic support for an animal rescue sanctuary and various animal rights causes, she clearly remains a very focused entrepreneur.
"I think I have a reputation for being very hard-nosed in business and I think that's probably quite correct. I take competition extremely seriously and I like to win."