The Stylish Job Saver: Lynn Tilton Owns More Companies Than Any U.S. Woman

Turning around industrial firms made her rich, can save jobs, she says.

ByABC News
October 27, 2011, 5:18 PM

Oct. 29, 2011— -- With her designer tight jeans and perfectly-styled platinum blonde hair, Lynn Tilton would have fit right in at a swank New York nightclub or an exclusive runway show.

Instead, a recent day found her at a pulp and paper factory in Gorham, N.H., with a paintbrush in hand, helping workers with a little bit of maintenance.

"A woman's work is never done," she said.

Tilton knows a little something about work. Through her private equity firm, Patriarch Partners, Tilton specializes in buying struggling companies -- including the New Hampshire paper factory -- and then breathing new life into them and reaping the profit on her investment.

She says her personal mission is saving jobs and to the workers at the factory, she's a hero for preserving theirs.

But for would-be entrepreneurs -- especially women -- she may be a hero for another reason: Her business successes have made her a billionaire and one of the few self-made, female billionaires in the world.

At 52 years old, Tilton is an unlikely combination of fashionista and Warren Buffett. She says she owns 75 companies -- more than any woman in America and probably the world.

Together, these companies generate over $8 billion a year in revenues, according to financial statements Tilton provided.

For an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters, Tilton wore Gucci boots, a Gucci miniskirt and Cartier jewelry. She said her look consciously reflected her identity.

"I do it on purpose, to some extent. That's sort of my 'dust to diamonds' persona. You know, I like to say that we buy companies when they're dust, and we turn them to diamond," she said.

That drive to succeed was instilled in her at an early age by her parents, she said. Growing up in Teaneck, N.J. she was very close to her father, who taught high school math.

When Tilton was a sophomore at Yale University, her father passed away.

"It was devastating. … I came from a very strong-knit family built on love and devotion. And what I saw [was] that the loss of a parent, or a loss of a working parent, can tear a family apart," Tilton said.

Tilton took on the burden of caring for her mother and teenage brother.

"I needed to be grown up immediately," she said. "I wanted to heal everybody."

Making money was a clear way to satisfy this desire. But the stress of trying to do it ended her marriage, she said. At 23, divorced and with an infant daughter, she started working on Wall Street, putting in fifteen-hour days.