Surprising Lessons from Forbes Billionaires 2014: The World’s Richest Women
…in which I dig beneath the veneer to find anecdotes that surprise and inspire.
I had to travel half a globe to relearn this lesson…had to look with fresh eyes on a stranger, and read her story with curiosity…
Her story of being an only child, growing up in the 1960s in northwestern Australia with her father and mother—adventurers who discovered, in the remote Pilbara region, the vast reserves of high-grade iron ore that became the bedrock of her family’s business and ultimate staggering wealth.
She grew up in the family mining business as Daddy’s darling, still remembered by his colleagues as sitting in on his business meetings from the age of eight or nine. Later, however, Daddy worried that her only companions at their outback station were kangaroos and lizards (The Monthly), and sent her to boarding school in faraway Perth, where she was terribly unhappy, feeling like an outsider. Later she dropped out of university in Sydney, another unhappy place for her, and went home to work for her father in the family mining business.
Over the years, the father mismanaged the business so badly that at the time of his death in 1992, when the daughter was thirty-eight, his estate was in extreme debt and the company was close to bankruptcy. The daughter immediately initiated new projects in Australia and expanded into Southeast Asia, transforming the company at a phenomenal rate of growth and stability without ever taking major risks.
Today she is a billionaire and the fifth-richest woman in the world.
Gina Rinehart would like respect as a transformative leader and self-made success; she would like gratitude for her family’s contributions to Australia’s prosperity; but she gets neither.
In fact, in her own country, she is mocked and reviled for every facet of her life—her weight, her two divorces, an ongoing legal battle with her children, her bombast, her poems, her personality shortcomings, her ultra-conservative politics and economics, her efforts to maintain absolute control of Hancock Prospecting and the Australian media—in an endless litany of contempt.
The vitriol may hurt Gina Rinehart’s feelings, but it definitely doesn’t derail her. No matter what insults are swirling around, she simply keeps doing what she loves to do. Renowned as a 24/7 workaholic (The Monthly), she devotes herself to what she’s been doing for years: developing new projects and profitably running her company according to her personal vision.
Clearly I had a lot to ponder about Gina Rinehart’s life and what I might learn from her. I felt in awe of her strength and success; struggled with certain of her extremist statements; wondered how she had become so estranged from three of her four children…
At some random point during my mulling, the chorus of a very old song popped unbidden into my head.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, you can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.*
Thus I, a chronic and recovering people-pleaser, was reminded of that long-forgotten but utterly crucial mantra for living well.
People can say whatever they want about billionaire Gina Hancock Rinehart. She’s still one of the few billionaires on the planet—wealth she’s earned through her own entrepreneurial and mining genius. And to me, she’s a role model for the ineffable power of doing what you love.
*Lyrics from Garden Party by Ricky Nelson
Nicole Eva Fraser is the author of The Hardest Thing in This World, released by Second Wind Publishing in October 2013, and I Don’t Think It’s That Simple, forthcoming in Fall 2014. She is developing two new nonfiction projects.