Rihanna received a status upgrade recently as the world’s first billionaire female musician. Forbes magazine calculates the 33-year-old’s net worth at $1.7 billion (Dh6.24bn), putting her second only to Oprah Winfrey as the world’s wealthiest female entertainer.
Already considered one of the world’s most influential musicians of the 21st century by cultural arbiter NPR, Rihanna has sold 250 million records, a feat that puts her in an exclusive club of eight acts, and has won nine Grammy awards.
But her famous smoky contralto isn’t why the Barbadian native, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, finds herself rubbing shoulders with start-up tycoons and billionaires 18 years into her career.
The bulk of Rihanna’s fortune actually comes from the success of her make-up and fashion empires – with music and film royalties contributing only a small percentage.
An estimated $1.4bn comes from Rihanna’s 50 per cent stake in the Fenty Beauty cosmetics line, created in an astute deal with luxury conglomerate LVMH in 2019. The company is reportedly worth $2.4bn.
An additional estimated $270 million comes from her 30 per cent stake in lingerie label Savage X Fenty, now valued at about $1bn. The labels aim to be inclusive across skin tone, gender and body shape – a brand attribute that also makes for extremely good business.
An astute businesswoman, Rihanna is the daughter of accountant Monica Braithwaite and no doubt learnt money lessons as a child. But it is her actions along the way that built her fortune.
Here are five ways you can channel Rihanna’s financial success to improve your own personal finances.
Learn about money early on
As in life, the early bird gets the proverbial worm in finance. Rihanna formed a girl group with two of her classmates in her early teen years and released her first album at the age of 17.
However, her independent streak predates those years. Her father’s struggles with drug addiction meant her mother supported the family by working various jobs, and young Rihanna was often left in charge of her younger brothers.
Being “kind of like the second mum” to her siblings forced her to grow up quickly, she once told The Guardian. She also helped her father sell clothes on a street stall.
The takeaway: Earning money early on teaches you its value and demonstrates how work and money are connected. That’s why Dubai schools are now running financial literacy programmes. In June, nearly 300 grade 11 and 12 students across 10 schools and universities were given basic lessons about money over a week-long web series, as part of a programme run by the Kids Finance Initiative and Emirates NBD. “Adopting good financial habits at an early age is among the building blocks of long-term financial wellness,” said Suvo Sarkar, senior executive vice president and head of retail banking and wealth management at Emirates NBD.
Find people who believe in you
After the success of her breakthrough third album Good Girl Gone Bad in 2007, which sold more than 10 million copies, Rihanna became the face for numerous fashion brands, endorsing CoverGirl, Gucci and Dior – with whom she put out a line of sunglasses.
In 2011, she also launched her first perfume, Reb’l Fleur, following a deal that rapper and businessman Jay-Z struck with Parlux Fragrances.
Jay-Z had believed in Rihanna since, aged 15, she first auditioned at Def Jam Recordings, where he was chief executive. He signed her to a six-album deal in 2005.
“We signed her that night – three in the morning was when that contract got signed,” he told MTV at the time. “We wouldn't let her leave the office. That doesn't happen too often.” He was also an early investor in her Savage X Fenty lingerie line.
The takeaway: Not everyone needs someone to invest in them. But friends and fans – online and offline – can open doors for you in other ways. They can alert you to unadvertised job opportunities, serve as career mentors, introduce you to business partners, or even just buy that e-book you wrote. As Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki says: “The richest people in the world look for and build networks; everyone else looks for work.”
Go where the money is
Rihanna was born and raised in Barbados. When she signed her first deal with Def Jam, she relocated to the US, initially living with her producer Evan Rogers and his wife. In 2019, “work, work, work, work, work” saw her hop across the pond to be closer to the Fenty team, which is based in France and Italy.
Moving abroad for work has become easier than ever in a globalised economy, something that’s familiar to expats in the UAE. The recent InterNations Expat Insider 2021 survey placed the UAE 28th on its Working Abroad Index, thanks to a wide availability of jobs and the positive view of the local economy. Government initiatives, such as residency permits for retirees and remote workers and the expansion of the 10-year golden visa programme, have also boosted the UAE's popularity with expats.
The takeaway: The lesson here is that work won't come to you because of the way the global economy is built. If you want to be a musician, you have a better chance of making it in New York or Los Angeles than your home town. If you want to launch a halal food brand, you'll find that the opportunities are in Dubai and Riyadh.
Build an umbrella of side hustles
Sometimes, a secondary business or side hustle proves so successful that it becomes your main source of wealth. That’s certainly the case with Rihanna. The bulk of her fortune comes from the 50/50 deal she struck with LVMH for Fenty Beauty, a segment that has remained relatively unaffected by the pandemic.
But the singer doesn’t stop there – whether its cosmetics, lingerie, fashion or celebrity endorsements, she has a diverse range of on-the-side business streams, so that if one packs up, the others offer a safety net.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she pressed pause on her Fenty fashion line, also a collaboration with LVMH, but that clearly hasn’t hurt her standing on the rich list. “I used to be in the studio, only the studio, for three months straight, and an album would come out. Now, it’s like a carousel. I do fashion one day, lingerie the next, beauty the next, then music the next,” she told Interview magazine in 2019. “It’s like having a bunch of kids and you need to take care of them all.”
Rihanna’s other businesses include an investment in the Tidal streaming service, the Los Angeles-based beauty and styling agency Fr8me and, as of 2020, skincare line Fenty Skin, which was launched in Dubai from the Burj Khalifa.
“With every business outlet, I’m making something from a vision to a reality, and that’s the thing I really enjoy,” she told Interview.
The term “side hustle” dates back to the 1950s and refers to a secondary business or job that can bring in extra money. But the trend only really took off after the 2008-09 global financial crisis with the advent of the gig economy, which centres on freelance or flexible employment.
Such secondary income can be big money. In the UK, for example, one in four people have a side hustle, generating an aggregate of £72bn ($99.8bn), or 3.6 per cent of national gross domestic product, estimates from Henley Business School show.
The takeaway: With the internet serving as your research centre and marketplace, there is no excuse not to make extra money in the gig economy. Profitable side hustles include digital marketing, being a virtual assistant, voice-over work, becoming a transcriptionist, selling online workshops and more. Innumerable freelance sites allow you to bid for remote gigs around the world right now, and UAE companies are more receptive to staff holding down a secondary job since the labour law was amended in 2010 to permit working for two employers, although permission from your employer is required.
Create a passive income stream
On one front at least, Rihanna literally smells like success. Sales worth over $80m wafted in from Rihanna’s Reb’l Fleur perfume in the first year alone, according to Rolling Stone. That success exemplifies the idea of passive income as it generates repeat revenue over time.
Defined as income from a source other than an employer or a contractor, passive income typically includes rental income, sales of e-books, apps and webinars, affiliate marketing and, perhaps the most accessible, stock dividends.
Over the years, Rihanna has put out 11 scents with Parlux. Her role likely extended to consulting on the fragrance, testing and marketing, with a long-lasting pay-off in terms of royalties and sales profits. But while not everyone can launch a perfume, there are numerous ways to make your assets work for you.
The takeaway: Income doesn’t come from just one source. From photography and digital art to affiliate marketing and renting out their homes on Airbnb, UAE residents earn passive income in a variety of ways – all while holding down a day job. Online photo library Shutterstock, for example, cited a 29 per cent increase in earnings for UAE contributors in 2018-19.
“Creators have tonnes of content collecting dust on their hard drives and it could be out there making money for them,” Shutterstock senior director of contributor marketing, Kristen Sanger, said in an interview with The National last year. “People are making money on images they took seven or 10 years ago. Small amounts of extra income can turn into something more substantial over time.”
As Rihanna shows, every little bit adds up.