Beyonce famously asserted that “girls” run the world, but power lists of the past often overlooked the influence of women. Usually, this was not strictly intentional: instead, it was the accidental result of what people traditionally consider powerful and influential. They tended to look in the political and economic arenas to determine who is the most powerful, the most influential. As a result, women had been left off the lists.
The times are changing, to paraphrase another famous performer, and women are beginning to make their influence felt in many different areas. Of course, they still dominate sectors traditionally associated with the feminine. Women like Miuccia Prada and Diane von Furstenberg exhibit influence in what clothing styles society considers fashionable, and Beyonce and Lady Gaga are using their music to encourage fans to follow their dreams and be themselves in new and exciting ways. Many other women, however, have been exercising their influence in an area associated with the masculine: business.
Below are the top 5 most influential women in business, as set by the Forbes List of the World’s Most Powerful Women. Some of these women are new to the list, and some have appeared since the list began in 2004. Regardless, they are helping to change the face of business – or at least to put a little mascara on it.
Sheryl Sandberg burst onto the international scene when she was named Facebook’s chief operating officer. Now based in California, she earned her Bachelor of Arts and Science and her Master of Business Administration from Harvard University. In 2008, Facebook announced she would become their first COO, and she immediately set about trying to make the company profitable, a real challenge for social networks back then. In 2009, she joined the board of Disney, and she is alsoon the boards of charities like the Women for Women Foundation and the Center for Global Development.
She has actively courted discussion about women in positions of power, starting with a series of articles and talks – most famously her TED Talk entitled “Why we have too few women leaders”. In 2013, she published Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead with journalist Nell Scovell. The book explores the social constructs, barriers in the workplace and internal struggles women face when trying to rise up the social ladder. This book in turn inspired the Lean In movement, which is aiming to encourage women to pursue their ambitions and overcome all the social and personal barriers they might encounter in that pursuit.
Of course, she’s not just in her position to get people talking about women and power. She has met her goal of making Facebook profitable. She led the charge to include ads in the mobile news feeds, and that saw Facebook become the publisher generating the most US mobile revenue. And although its stock is down about 30% after its IPO, it is still one of the most profitable social networks out there.
The first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde has had plenty of experience handling hundreds of competing ideas and interests. She earned her Master of Arts from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France, before eventually coming to the US to be a labour and antitrust lawyer. She returned to her homeland to be the finance minister, which, if you know your French political economy, you’ll realise is no small task.
Now based in Washington, D.C., she had an eventful first few years at the IMF. She was appointed in 2011, right in the middle of the global recession and when the debt crisis in Europe was at its worst. The IDF describes itself as ” working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world”, and as the MD, Lagarde has to achieve all of this whilst balancing the economic interests of the 188 member countries – and all during one of the worst recessions and slowest recovery periods in history.
Because of that, when she recommends a course of action for a country, that country listens and tries its best to respond. In that way, she’s almost like the financial minister for nearly the entire world, which undeniably makes her influential, to say the very least.
Indra Nooyi is the chief executive officer of PepsiCo, and she is now based in Connecticut. She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Science from Madras Christian College, in Madras, India, before getting her Master of Business Administration from Yale University. After working at Johnson & Johnson, Motorola and other companies, she joined PepsiCo in 1994, working her way up until she was made president and CFO in 2001.
From the beginning, she has been focussed on turning PepsiCo into an international food and drink juggernaut. She began by divesting the company of its restaurants, and then she led the company in acquiring Tropicana and merging with the Quaker Oats Company. During her tenure as CFO, BusinessWeek estimates that PepsiCo saw annual revenues increase by 72% and had net profit double to $5.6 billion.
Recently, she has pushed the company to explore an new kind of sweetener would could boost sales beyond even Coca-Cola’s. She has already boosted profits up 1.2%, to $13 billion, after raising prices and boosting sales of crisps like Doritos and Cheetos.
Virginia “Ginni” Rometty
IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty is based in New York. She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Science from Northwestern University in Illinois, and she immediately started work in the male-dominated tech industry, starting with a job at the General Motors Institute. In 1981, she joined IBM. She began as a systems engineer before working her way up to a position in the company’s consulting group just ten years later. There, she championed the purchase of PriceWaterhouseCoopers Consulting, and after a promotion to senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing and strategy in 2009, she began pushing the company into cloud computing and analytics businesses, thereby securing its future as sales of physical computers began to slump. She then essentially followed Sam Palmisano’s career progression, stepping up into his role as president and CEO when he stepped down to focus on being the chairman, and then taking over as chairwoman and CEO when Palmisano fully retired.
When she took over, Rometty became the first woman to hold that position in the company’s history. As such, she heads the largest computer company by revenue in the world: IBM generates $104.5 billion annually and generated $16.6 billion in profit alone last year.
Entrepreneur and media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s influence can hardly be overstated, thanks to the phenomenon known as the Oprah Effect. Because of this effect, she has brought book clubs, self-improvement driven spirituality and public confession as a form of therapy into America’s popular culture. She makes a product a best-seller by endorsing it, as she did with every book selected for Oprah’s Book Club. Some even estimate that her support for Barack Obama gave the president up to 1 million votes during the 2008 Democratic primary race, critical numbers that helped him secure the nomination for President.
America’s only African American billionaire, she has used her influence for social good as well as driving consumer trends. She was amongst the first television personalities to promote LGBT rights and issues – she even played the therapist that comedienne Ellen DeGeneres came out to on Ellen’s incredibly popular sitcom. She started Oprah’s Angel Network in 1998, which raised over $80 million for various charities between 1998 and 2010. She opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Henley on Klip, near Johannesburg, in 2007 to help academicallly gifted South African girls from impoverished backgrounds get a state-of-the-art education.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts and Science from Tennessee State University, she worked for several news stations before beginning to build her media empire with a local half-hour long talk show in Chicago. The show she took over went from last in the ratings to first in a matter of months. As a result, within two years she was able to rebrand it as The Oprah Winfrey Show, expand it to a full hour and sign an incredibly lucrative national syndication deal. With her own show, she was able to pioneer the confessional talk show, where people come on to reveal their deepest secrets, a format now adopted by many talk shows around the world.
Since then, she has developed a production company (Harpo Productions), a magazine (O Magazine), a television network (OWN) and a radio station for XFM, the satellite radio service. All of these arms have helped her build a net worth of nearly $3 billion – not bad for a woman born into poverty in rural Mississippi.
These five women demonstrate that regardless of their backgrounds, women are able to build media empires, drive international conglomerates, make free service providers into incredibly profitable enterprises, lead the way in computer sciences and even determine international loans and fiscal policies. They influence what we eat and drink, what we read, how we connect with each other and how entire countries maintain their finances. To simply call these women influential does them a great disservice. As Beyonce suggested, these women do indeed seem to run the world.