The second wealthiest woman in the world has an estimated fortune totaling more than $33 billion, but where she puts that money may, in fact, surprise you.
According to the latest estimates, Alice Walton is the 13th wealthiest person in the world, and the second richest woman -- trailing only her sister-in-law, Christy Walton. The Walton family is synonymous with wealth in the United States through America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which was founded by Alice's father, Sam Walton.
A true family fortune
According to the latest estimates, Walton Enterprises, the holding company of the Walton family, has a staggering 1.6 billion shares of the retailer (almost 50% of the company), worth roughly $120 billion. That explains why the ninth, 11th, 12th, and 13th wealthiest individuals in the world all share the same last name.
The acclaimed daughter
Alice Walton began her career after Trinity College in San Antonio, working for Wal-Mart briefly, but she then left and ventured to New Orleans, where she worked as a broker with E.F. Hutton, (which eventually merged into Lehman Brothers in 1987). However, Alice had left much before then, as, when she was only 25 in 1979, she and 11 other employees were accused by the SEC of making options trades for customers that were "unsuitable."
By the middle of the 1980s, she was back in Arkansas and helped start the investment banking operations at Arvest Bank -- Arkansas' largest bank, which is also owned by the Waltons -- before she moved on to create her own firm, called simply Llama, of which she said, "we formed Llama mostly to help companies get capital in our part of the world, which had been shut out from getting funding."
However, following the upheaval of the bond markets in 1998 -- which was after Llama sold nearly $80 million of bonds for the creation of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, where a terminal is named after her -- Llama shuttered its doors and Alice moved on.
What she buys now
While Alice's days running an investment firm are behind her, she remains a very active investor, but not in things the typical investor can buy. Alice was instrumental in the creation of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which is located in Wal-Mart's hometown of Bentonville, Ark.
Crystal Bridges opened its doors on Nov. 11, 2011, and the $1.2 billion museum was funded almost entirely by the Walton Family Foundation. Alice herself donated her a vast amount to the collection of artwork it holds. In August of last year, Crystal Bridges welcomed its 1 millionth visitor.
"For years I've been thinking about what we could do as a family that could really make a difference in this part of the world," Alice said in June 2011. "I thought this is something we desperately need, and what a difference it would have made were it here when I was growing up."
Crystal Bridges has a distinct desire for American art, and like stocks, prices in the art world are always dictated by supply and demand. One thing everyone can take to heart and learn from Walton is her anecdote to trusted Crystal Bridges board member and Princeton professor John Wilmerding; "Often when something would come up privately she'd say, 'Wait; it will come to auction where we can get it at a better price.' And she'd be right."
So often investing is thought of as something individuals must do behind closed doors and in secrecy, but as Walton so clearly puts it, only when items are made public can their true value be assessed.