Gina Rinehart Australian Tycoon

Article excerpt

The 'Iron Lady' from Down Under brooks no nonsense as she buys into a media empire and closes in on Gates and Buffett.

By David Leser

Gina Rinehart is unloved in her native Australia, possibly nowhere more so than within her own family. Her late father once threatened to disown her, her former stepmother loathes her, and her own children took her to court last fall. Rinehart, a cantankerous woman with robust right-wing political views, has spent nearly half her 57 years locked in a death match with those closest to her.

Why should we care? Because Rinehart could one day be the richest person on earth. Although current estimates put her personal wealth at $20 billion, it's expect-ed to balloon to $100 billion in a few years. Rinehart's fortune derives mostly from iron-ore mines in Western Australia, whose output is likely to soar with rocketing demand from China and India. That could catapult her past Carlos Slim and Bill Gates.

Rinehart is notoriously media-shy. But the twice-married mother of four has begun to flaunt her checkbook, launching a $167 million raid on the Fairfax Group, Australia's oldest (and most reputable) media conglomerate, where she now owns a 13 percent stake. In 2010 she bought a 10 percent stake in Network Ten, one of Australia's three major commercial networks.

In 1952, two years before Gina was born, her father, Lang Hancock, a bush pilot and prospector, entered Australian folklore while flying back to Perth from the Pilbara region. Attempting to beat the first storm of the monsoon, he diverted his plane through a gorge in the Hamersley Range and noticed 230-foot walls glistening red. It was a rock layer containing a billion tons of high-grade iron ore.

Hancock was crowned "King of the Pilbara" after persuading Rio Tinto to set up a local company that would produce millions of tons of ore a year. With a partner, he cut a deal that provided the two of them--in perpetuity--with royalties of 2.5 percent of the value of each ton exported. …