Australia’s top 30 female entrepreneurs 2012

feature-iwd-2012-200First she took on Australia, then she took on the world.

Mining and media magnate Gina Rinehart is already Australia’s richest person, and word is spreading that she will become the world’s wealthiest individual within years.

So it’s no surprise that Rinehart tops SmartCompany’s third annual top female entrepreneur list and drags its collective revenue to almost $5.9 billion.

But the list remains extremely diverse. We have women who’ve made their fortune in human resources, retail, food and beverages, and franchising.

There are successful entrepreneurs who happen to have a high-profile (hello, Therese Rein) and then there’s low-profile women doing big business with their husbands (Betty Fong and Vicky Teoh).

Combined, the 30 women control companies with annual revenue of $5.898 billion, compared with $4.1 billion last year. What’s more, last year’s $4.1 billion covered 40 women – not 30.

There have been some changes in the top 10 from last year. There are now two entrepreneurs with billion-dollar revenues (Rinehart and retail supremo Jan Cameron) and a new entrant in Vicky Teoh, pushing out Sarina Russo.

Here’s the top 10 for 2012:


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, information firms such as IBISWorld or internal estimates.

An asterisk (*) denotes where revenue has been estimated.

Let’s hear their stories. 

1. Gina Rinehart

Company: Hancock Prospecting
Established: 1955
Revenue: $1.472 billion

It’s extraordinary to consider that last year Rinehart was only fourth on our list. This time around, she’s not only Australia’s richest person but there are estimates that her enormous mining assets will make her the world’s richest person within a short few years. (Forbes’ World Billionaires’ list has ranked her the 29th richest person in the world, with $US18 billion.)

But beyond her dizzying wealth, Rinehart’s attracted attention for other reasons lately: her poorly performing investments in Fairfax Media and Ten, and being sued by her children for control of the family trust.

It’s been quite a year for the woman formerly known as a mining heiress.

2. Jan Cameron

Company: Retail Adventures
Established: 2006
Revenue: $1 billion

Retail mogul, animal lover, greenie, philanthropist – there are many labels for Jan Cameron but publicity seeker is not one of them.

Valued at around $300 million when she joined forces with Wotif founder Graeme Wood to buy a Tasmanian woodchip export mill last year, Cameron has raised eyebrows by taking on her former business Kathmandu with New Zealand outdoor equipment retailer Macpac.

But it’s her Retail Adventures business – which houses the discount chains Sam’s Warehouse, Chickenfeed, Crazy Clarks and GO-LO – that is the big money spinner, bringing in about $1 billion in annual revenue (Cameron last year rejected suggestions the business was for sale).

Not bad for a self-described frugal woman who chooses to wear her own clothes into the ground.

3. Vicky Teoh

Company: TPG Telecom Limited
Established: 1992
Revenue: $574.5 million

TPG lifted revenue by 13% last year to $574.5 million and has tipped earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation to lift by 11% to up to $260 million in the next full-year.

Vicky and her husband David are major shareholders in the acquisitive company and were estimated to be worth $480 million in last year’s BRW Rich List.

The pair reportedly bought Sydney heritage building Mission to Seafarers for $4.75 million last year.

4. Lesley Gillespie

Company: Baker’s Delight
Established: 1980
Revenue: $571.3 million

With more than 700 bakeries in Australia, Lesley Gillespie’s Bakers Delight franchise is not showing signs of slowing down, with bullish expectations for 2012.

The company recently exceeded its acquisition target, with 35 new franchises in the last financial year, and growth is set to continue with 100 new franchises planned for Australia and New Zealand, plus 50 for Canada in 2012.

Gillespie said the strong financial results can be put down to bread being a staple product that “continues to stack up despite retail pressures.”

But with a 13.8% share of the Australia bread market, this 32-year-old business has a well-worn business model.

5. Naomi Milgrom

Company: Sussan Group
Established: 1939
Revenue: $519 million

Sussan Group, her wholly owned fashion chain encompassing Sussan, Suzanne Grae and Sportsgirl, defied the retail blues by reporting $519 million in revenue for the year to July-end 2011, up 18%.

Not bad for a sector that’s grappled with fragile consumer confidence, a strong rise in online sales and the entrance of impressive new brands Zara and Topshop.

Profit reportedly edged up to $29.8 million, with Milgrom awarded a $31 million dividend out of the company’s $58 million cash reserves.

In 2003, Milgrom took over the business started by her grandmother, Fay Gandel, buying out her parents and siblings. Her personal wealth has been estimated at $414 million.

6. Charlotte Vidor

Company: Toga Group
Established: 1963
Revenue: $285 million*

Vidor’s LinkedIn profile describes her simply as the Sydney-based owner of the Toga group of companies.

Toga is in fact a hospitality empire; after founding the business with husband Ervin in the 1960s, the group’s revenue was put at $285 million in the last BRW rich list. (Charlotte and Ervin’s combined wealth was estimated to be $513 million.)

The property development and design firm now employs more than 1800 people across Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

7. Maxine Horne

Company: Vita Group
Established: 1995
Revenue: $203 million

In Maxine Horne’s words, the “growth just keeps on coming.”

This month the Vita Group joint-CEO praised her workers on Twitter, celebrating the opening of the 71st Vita-run Telstra store in just over two years.

She tweeted, “Well done Vita Peeps, you’re my kind of team” and “How good is my Vita team? I’m lucky to be amongst them.”

The entrepreneur has also revealed herself to be a fan of philosophy, repeating quotes from Arthur Calwell – “It it better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies” – and another from an unknown source: “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”

Our favourite? “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Vita Group, the independent retailer of mobile handsets and Apple products, last month described its 2% lift in revenue to $203 million as “solid” despite a “subdued retail environment.”

It expects to deliver earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation of $17 million for the 2012 fiscal year.

8. Therese Rein

Company: Ingeus
Established: 1989
Revenue: $180.5 million*

Therese Rein may not be moving back to the Lodge with her husband Kevin Rudd, but the Brisbane-based entrepreneur has plenty of other things on her plate.

Ingeus, which helps job-seekers find work through Government contracts, has a bumper overseas network across the UK, Asia and the Middle East and New Zealand.

In October last year, it acquired Assure Programs in Australia and New Zealand, a business psychology company, and only this week flagged an aggressive expansion plan for Ingeus. She also called on women to continue agitating for better opportunities in Australia and abroad.

Rein has a remarkable history: she founded a rehabilitation company in 1989, inspired by her father who suffered from a crippling injury and was predicted to have a short and difficult life, but instead worked until retirement at age 65.

In December 2010, she was awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal for her work improving the lives of people with a disability and their carers.

9. Janine Allis

Company: Retail Zoo
Established: 2000
Revenue: $164 million

Janine and her husband Jeff have come a long way since their first Boost Juice bar in South Australia, with 249 Boost outlets in 15 countries and plans for another 100 stores across India over the next five years.

Retail Zoo – which is the Boost domestic and international business, as well as the new 28-outlet Mexican chain Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill – now turns over $164 million.

The couple sold a majority stake in the business to US private equity firm Riversdale in 2010.

10. Iris Lustig-Moar

Company: Lustig & Moar
Established: 1971
Revenue: $157 million

Iris serves as director of property developer Lustig & Moar, alongside ex-husband Max Moar, who founded the business with Iris’s father, the late Ted Lustig.

The company’s projects include Melbourne’s Hyatt Hotels and Chatswood Chase in Sydney.


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