Maria Franca Fissolo is the richest person in Italy with a net worth of $22.1 billion, surpassing eyewear tycoon Leonardo Del Vecchio and drugstore behemoth Stefano Pessina, according to Forbes’ 2016 ranking of the richest people on the planet. Little is known about the personal life of Fissolo, the fourth-richest woman on the planet and the widow of Michele Ferrero, the Italian chocolate manufacturer whose empire includes household brands Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, Kinder, and Tic Tac.
The ranking comes one year after Ferrero’s death in February 2015 — he was previously listed on Forbes’ billionaires list as the 30th richest person in the world. Ferrero left his fortune to his wife and family, and he left control of the Ferrero Group, his $9.1 billion revenue company, in the hands of his son, Giovanni, who now serves as CEO.
The 70-year history of the company began when Ferrero’s father, Pietro, set up a confectionary lab in northern Italy to supply his wife’s pastry shop in 1946. Pietro used hazelnuts in his recipes to make up for a shortage of cocoa caused by World War II. After his death in 1949, the Ferrero Group fell into the hands of his young son Michele, who introduced new brands and developed a global expansion plan.
Ferrero reportedly added vegetable oil to his father’s chocolate-hazelnut recipe to make it spreadable. In 1964, he put the spread into glass jars and coined Nutella. Within the decade, Ferrero added Kinder, Tic Tac, and the family’s namesake chocolate, Ferrero Rocher, to its cache of household brands.
Nutella is famous for being a truly global product. According to a 2013 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the company outsources all of Nutella’s ingredients: “hazelnuts are from Turkey; the palm oil is from Malaysia; the cocoa is from Nigeria; the sugar is from either Brazil or Europe; and the vanilla flavoring is from France.”
Ferrero products are sold today in more than 160 countries.
While the family is native of Italy, they live primarily in Monaco. When he ran the company, Michele Ferrero reportedly flew via helicopter to the company’s headquarters in Alba every day.
Pietro, Ferrero’s eldest son and co-CEO, was set to inherit control of the company with his brother Giovanni before he died of a suspected heart attack in 2011. Giovanni is now the sole leader of the Ferrero Group.
NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.