Fort Wayne, IN

The richest woman in Fort Wayne

Ash Jurberg
Flickr under Creative Commons license

Recently Forbes released their Top 100 list of the richest self-made women. The list consists of the 100 most successful women entrepreneurs and executives in the United States, all of whom earned their fortunes through hard work.

To make the list in 2021, a net worth of $225 million was required. This was a significant jump increase from 2020 when a $150 million net worth ensured a spot on the list.

Many famous names made the list, such as Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey, and Dolly Parton, but today I thought we would take a quick look at a story that will make the people of Fort Wayne proud.

The Fort Wayne entrepreneur

Fort Wayne local Patrica Miller has a net worth of $325 million. Her fortune ranked her at number 87 on this prestigious list in 2021.

Many Fort Wayne readers may know her as the co-founder of Vera Bradley- the brand that sold over $460 million in bags and luggage brand in 2020. However, Vera Bradley has a fascinating origin story.

Back in 1975, Miller knocked on the door of Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, who had just moved to Fort Wayne. Miller wanted to welcome Baekgaard to the neighborhood. This was the start of a long friendship and, eventually, a business partnership.

Several years later, the duo was traveling through an airport and noticed that all the luggage and carry-on bags were masculine. They felt there were no suitable options for females- and so a business idea was born.

They each borrowed $250 and started making colorful handbags using the ping pong table in the basement of Baekgaard's basement in Fort Wayne. They named their business Vera Bradley after Baekgaard's mother and launched it on November 15, 1982.

Within three years of business, the sales of the company reached $1 million.

Since then, the business has continued to grow, and in 2010 the company went public. After 28 years as co-president of Vera Bradley, Miller stepped down in 2010.

Miller currently serves as a director for the Indiana University Foundation and for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. This foundation was set up in 1998 when Mary Sloan, a friend of Miller and Baekgaards and one of Vera Bradley's first employees, passed away from breast cancer.

The foundation raises funds to assist in research for a cure for breast cancer, and a portion of Vera Bradley's profits goes to the foundation. Almost $40 million has been raised so far.

While Patricia Miller made this year's Richest Self-Made Women list, Baakesgard didn't. She just fell short with a net worth of $210 million. In 2020, Baakesgard partnered with Provenance Hotels to open The Bradley hotel in Fort Wayne, which she co-owns.

It certainly is an inspiring story of two women from Fort Wayne who began making handbags on a ping pong table and turned it into a multi-billion dollar business.

Readers, have any of you met or worked for Miller or Baakesgard? What was the experience like?

As always, please leave your comments in the section below.

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