23 Women Who Influenced the Business World

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8. It acknowledges the cultural and societal contributions of women throughout history.

As Jacksonville University celebrates the launch of two 100% online business Master’s degrees (Applied Business Analytics and Organizational Leadership), we pay homage to just a few of the many influential women who blazed a historical trail in business, along with some who continue to do so in the 21st century:

Mary Kay (Wagner) Ash, cosmetics entrepreneur: The founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics left the traditional workplace at 45 to start her own cosmetics company after being passed over for a promotion she believed she had earned. Mary Kay set up a system of sales incentives for her employees, and the company had more than 1.6 million salespeople around the world by 2016.

Mary T. Barra, CEO and chairperson, General Motors: As a GM employee throughout her adult life, Barra rose to her current position in 2014, becoming the first woman to lead a major global automaker. She is a consistent top 10 pick for Forbes’ and Fortune’s most powerful women lists.

Olive Ann (Mellor) Beech, cofounder, Beech Aircraft Company: She and her husband, Walter, co-founded their aircraft company and built it to prominence together during World War II. She took over after Walter’s death in 1950, and took the company to new heights during the Korean War. Beech contributed vital technological research for the U.S. space program during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Anna Sutherland Bissell, president and chairperson, Bissell Carpet Sweeper: When her husband, Melville, invented the Bissell Carpet Sweeper in 1876, Anna traveled town to town selling it. When Melville died in 1889, Anna Bissell took over their company and made Bissel an international household name in carpet cleaning.

Sarah Breedlove, hair-care product entrepreneur: The Louisiana native and daughter of former slaves created popular hair-care products for African-Americans and was eulogized as the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire. She took the name Madam C.J. Walker and traveled the country marketing her hair-care products and inventions.

Rosalind G. Brewer, former CEO and president, Sam’s Club: Brewer was the first African-American woman to head up one of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s divisions. She retired in February 2017.

Ursula Burns, chairperson and former CEO, Xerox: In 2009, Burns earned elevation to the top position at Xerox, becoming the first African-American woman to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Helena Foulkes, president, CVS Pharmacy: The Harvard graduate spearheaded the decision to remove tobacco products from CVS stores, then helped lead the CVS acquisition of Target’s in-store pharmacies – which gave CVS the most pharmacy locations in the U.S.

Mary Katherine Goddard, publisher, postmaster: In 1774, Goddard took over from her brother as the publisher of the Maryland Journal, making her one of the first woman newspaper publishers in colonial America. A year later, she became the first woman postmaster in Revolutionary America when she took over that role in Baltimore, Md.

Florence Nightingale Graham, cosmetics entrepreneur: Canadian-born Graham (1878-1966) founded the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics empire. Her sole ownership of Elizabeth Arden, Inc. made her one of the richest women in the world.

Katharine Graham, publisher and chairperson, Washington Post: Graham oversaw the Post during that newspaper’s Watergate investigation and later won a 1998 Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography, Personal History.

Ruth Marianna Handler, president, Mattel Inc.: Handler is credited with inventing the Barbie doll, which she named after her daughter, Barbara.

Marillyn Hewson, president, CEO and chairperson, Lockheed Martin: From 2013, when she became CEO, through 2016, Hewson oversaw a 100% increase in Lockheed Martin’s market cap. She also added Sikorsky Aircraft to Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing family in 2015.

Abigail P. Johnson, CEO, Fidelity: In November 2016, Johnson took over as head of the fourth-largest asset-management company in the world ($2.1 trillion) when her father, Edward Johnson, announced his retirement at age 86.

Marion Knott Montapert, theme park developer: After her parents built a successful business selling berries and other foodstuffs off their Southern California farm, Marion Knott helped forge the business relationships that led to the growth of the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park franchise.

Ellen Kullman, former chairperson and CEO, DuPont: Kullman began her DuPont career as a marketing manager in the company’s medical imaging division. She became the first woman in the 212-year history of the company to lead DuPont when she was elected CEO in 2009.

Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi, chairperson and CEO, PepsiCo: Has overseen the acquisitions of Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Gatorade and other major brands, and is consistently named by Forbes, Fortune and Time as one of the most powerful and influential women in business.

Ginni Rometty, chairperson, CEO and president, IBM: She became the first woman to lead the prestigious tech company in 2012. She has been named Fortune Magazine’s No. 1 most powerful woman in business multiple times.

Debbi Fields Rose, founder, Mrs. Fields Bakeries: Rose used her cookie recipe in 1977 to found the company that has risen to more than 700 retail bakeries in 11 countries. She sold the company in the 1990s, but remains a spokesperson.

Irene Rosenfeld, chairwoman and CEO, Mondelēz International: The current head of a giant conglomerate that includes familiar brands such Nabisco, Cadbury, Trident and Triscuit also served as chairperson and CEO of Frito-Lay.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook: The author of the best-selling “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” helped launch Google’s philanthropic arm as that internet search company’s VP of Global Online Sales and Operations.

Meg Whitman, CEO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and chairperson, HP Inc.: The one-time candidate for California governor also was CEO of eBay for a decade (1998-2008).

Oprah Winfrey, producer, actor, TV personality: The Mississippi native rose to fame as the host of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She founded the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and possesses a net worth of approximately $3 billion, according to Forbes.

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