March 31, 2020

Profiles in Leadership: 10 Women Leading Fortune 500 Companies

Slowly but surely, women are being represented on the Fortune 500 list. As of June 1, 2019, 33 companies had a woman at the helm. That’s nine more women leading companies than the previous year’s list.

The growth in the number of women CEOs is encouraging, but more needs to be done to bring about wholescale change. After all, the 2017 list included 32 women CEOs. 

Until the gender gap closes forever and women achieve parity in the C-suite, it’s worth celebrating the talented professionals who have risen to the tops of their organizations. Here are 10 women CEOs from that Fortune 500 list who can teach us all valuable lessons in leadership.

Laura J. Alber

Laura J. Alber is president, director, and CEO of Williams-Sonoma, Inc., a role she has been in since 2010.

During her time at Williams-Sonoma, Alber has executed growth strategies, strengthened the overall brand and boosted profits across channels. Alber has been responsible for extending WSI’s market reach with Pottery Barn’s brands, West Elm, Mark and Graham, Rejuvenation, and the WS Agrarian collection.

Alber focuses on combining modern merchandizing with state-of-the-art analytics so that Williams-Sonoma can solidify its reputation as a forward-thinking retailer with a collaborative work culture. 

Alber also serves as a director of Fitbit, Inc. She once told Katheryn Thayer at Forbes that she’s always looking to use health, food, and exercise to optimize performance both personally and professionally.

Mary T. Barra

Chair and CEO of General Motors Company Mary T. Barra has been leading the organization since 2014. She began as board chair in 2016. Barra’s focus has been on health and safety, with an eye on the future. She leads a GM aspiring to a world in which there are zero crashes and zero emissions.

Barra started at GM in 1980 and has steadily moved up in the organization, working in HR, as a plant manager, and as a leader of the global product development team.

In addition to her role at GM, Barra serves on the board of directors for Walt Disney Company and the board of trustees at Stanford University.

Businesswoman at the office, women leading concept

Michele Buck

The 12th president and first woman CEO at the Hershey Company, Michele Buck has more than a quarter of a century of experience in consumer packaged goods. 

Buck says she believes in helping others find their strengths and expertise to maximize their potential. Before her appointment as CEO, Buck served as COO, a role in which she oversaw Hershey’s operations in the Americas.

Buck, who has been at the chocolate manufacturer since 2005, has also worked at Kraft/Nabisco and at the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo.

Currently, she serves on the board at New York Life and as a co-chair at the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation. 

Mary Dillon

Mary Dillon is CEO at cosmetics retailer Ulta Beauty. In the past three years, she has led the company with an annual growth rate of 22 percent, Susie Gharib writes at Fortune.

Dillon’s success earned her a top-10 a place on Fortune’s 2018 Businessperson of the Year list, ranking her ahead of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon.

Dillon attributes her success to being driven. She says to other women that they should embrace their business selves, using consistency, curiosity, ambition, and kindness to their advantage.

More than 90 percent of Ulta’s 24,000 employees are women, and 50 percent of the executive team and board directors are women. Indeed, gender diversity has been one of the reasons for the company’ success, Dillon argues. 

Beth Ford

Beth Ford, CEO and president of Land O’Lakes, Inc., brings her experience from a half dozen different industries to deliver sustainable growth for one of the biggest food and agricultural cooperatives in the U.S. 

Ford, who took over from Chris Policinski, has held senior roles at Land O’Lakes. When she was COO, she managed Land O’Lakes’ WinField United, Purina Animal Nutrition, and Dairy Foods business units. Ford also delivered record performance and growth during her time as head of Land O’Lakes’ Dairy Foods and Purina Animal Nutrition businesses, helping to coordinate the acquisition of Vermont Creamery in early 2017.

Ford serves on the board of directors at the National Milk Producers Federation, Greater Twin Cities United Way in Minneapolis, and PACCAR, Inc.

Land O’Lakes’ Board Chairman Pete Kappelman says Ford is “not afraid of hard work, and she sees every challenge as an opportunity to deliver more value for our cooperative.”

Tricia Griffith

Tricia Griffith has been the president and CEO of insurance company Progressive since 2016. She also held the role of COO of Personal Lines, overseeing personal lines, claims, and customer relationship management. 

Having joined Progressive in 1988, Griffith has gained incisive insight into the organization, starting as a claims rep and working her way to the top, getting involved in HR and operations along the way. 

Aric Jenkins at Fortune says Griffith is funny, motivational, and leads an organization of people who are ready to work for her. For those wanting to succeed as CEO in the future, Griffiths says: “Focus on the job you’re doing now. You will get noticed.”

Margaret M. Keane

Margaret Keane is CEO of financial services organization Synchrony. She helped lead the company’s public offering in 2014 and the split from GE in 2015. Keane is passionate about technology, employee development, and diversity.

American Banker ranks Keane as the third most powerful woman in finance. 

Keane supports multiple causes, serving on the boards of buildOn, St. John’s University, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Connecticut Chapter, and the Patient Care Committee at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 

female project manager presenting report, women leading concept

Kathryn V. Marinello

Kathryn V. Marinello is president, CEO, and director of Hertz. Prior to her appointment to Hertz in 2017, she worked as a senior advisor at Ares Management LLC, as CEO of business process outsourcing service provider Stream Global Services, Inc., and as CEO of HR software provider Ceridian Corporation.

Marinello has also worked at General Electric as CEO of its Fleet Services division, as well as at GE’s Commercial Finance and GE Insurance Solutions businesses.

Marinello says vital to success at Hertz is for her teams to really like people and want to work together to increase productivity.

Phebe Novakovic

Phebe Novakovic is CEO and chair of defense company General Dynamics. She has served in the role since 2013 and is one of the few women CEOs in the military-industrial sector. Before her role at GD, Novakovic worked as a CIA operative

As a corporate leader, Novakovic led GD to tremendous growth, orchestrating a $9.8 billion acquisition of IT service CSRA and extending the global market reach of its commercial aircrafts.

Novakovic also served as special assistant to the secretary and deputy secretary of defense from 1997 to 2001, and worked for the Office of Management and Budget. She also serves on the board of trustees of Northwestern University, and on the boards for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and the National Military Family Association. 

Joey Wat

Joey Wat was appointed as chief executive at Yum China Holdings, Inc. in early 2018. Before that, she served the company as a board member and as president and COO. She has also held the role of CEO at KFC, as part of Yum! Restaurants China. 

Before joining Yum, Wat worked in the UK in management and strategy at AS Watson of Hutchison Group — a global health, beauty, and lifestyle retailer — rising to managing director of UK operations. 

Closing the gender gap is an important social and professional goal that organizations should commit to with enthusiasm. Having more women leading companies shows a positive shift in business. Let’s hope that next year’s list celebrates even more women leaders.

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