When you think of powerful and influential businesspeople in the UK, you immediately think of Sir Richard Branson, Lord Alan Sugar, Lord Stuart Rose and Sir Philip Green, etc. However, there is an obvious pattern to that list, and that is the fact that they are all male businesspeople. Representation of women in the highest positions in top British businesses is very small. Nonetheless, women are slowly starting to make waves in this male dominated arena, although of course, there is still a long way to go. Of the 100 companies listed on the prestigious FTSE 100, only five are headed by women. Here, we introduce you to these five female powerhouses.
Chief Executive Officer of Kingfisher PLC, the (UK based) largest DIY retailer in Europe and the third largest in the world. Kingfisher is home to B&Q, Screwfix and French DIY stores, Brico Depot and Castorama. Laury assumed her new role in early 2015 but had had various roles in the company’s subsidiaries. She has had somewhat of a mixed start to life at the helm of the British multinational, with a proposed acquisition of a French competitor embarrassingly collapsing. However, her strategic plan to standardize Kingfisher’s businesses across Europe was warmly welcomed by analysts.
Chief Executive Officer of Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, a multinational tobacco company with its headquarters in Bristol, England. It is the world’s fourth-largest tobacco company, and the world’s largest producer of cigars, fine-cut tobacco and rolling papers. Some of its notable brands include Golden Virginia, Drum, Lambert & Butler and Rizla. She joined the company in 1999 as Group Finance Manager before being promoted to the role of Group Financial Controller in 2001. In 2009, Cooper was appointed Chief Operating Officer before assuming her current role as CEO 2010. Under her watch, Imperial Tobacco’s stock rose by 20%, despite declining numbers of smokers.
Chief Executive Officer of Severn Trent, the largest water company listed on the FTSE 100, supplying an estimated four million homes in England and Wales with water. Prior to her appointment as the company’s new CEO in 2014, Garfield was CEO of Openreach, a subsidiary of BT Group from 2011. She started at BT in 2003 as the general manager of a sales team, later becoming Director of Strategy and Regulatory Affairs. Under her stewardship, Severn Trent has recently announced plans to preserve water supply to their customers in the West Midlands by constructing a secondary pipe to complement the historic Elan Valley Aqueduct. The £100 million project will be completed at no extra cost to the company’s customers and is arguably the biggest project Severn Trent has ever taken on.
Chief Executive Officer of easyJet, the budget airline with its headquarters at London Luton Airport. It is the largest airline in the UK based on passenger numbers, and offers domestic and international flights on over 700 routes in 32 countries. McCall began her career at The Guardian newspaper in 1986 as a research planner, before moving to the Advertising Sales department. She rose to become CEO of Guardian Newspapers LTD in 2006, before becoming CEO of the parent company Guardian Media Group. Since her appointment at easyJet in 2010, the company experienced four consecutive years of record profits and the stock almost quadrupled.
Chief Executive Officer of Royal Mail, the first non-Brit and first female to ever head the company. She began her career in 1979 in the Public Service of Canada, in Ottawa, before moving on to the Department of Labour. She later took on a role in the Privy Council as Assistant Deputy Minister for Transport Canada and oversaw the privatisation of Canadian National Railway. Greene had various other senior management roles at several big institutions from 1996 until her appointment as President and CEO of Canada Post in 2005, where she oversaw the tripling of the company’s profits in her five year tenure. In her current five year tenure at the helm of Royal Mail, she has successfully privatised the company and in 2014, cut costs by an estimated £42 million.
Ever since the ancient days of long distance trade, e.g. the Silk Road or Spice Route, and the very beginnings of international trade, there have always been very influential people overseeing and directly contributing to the way businesses and governments interact and trade. With a current global GDP of over 77 trillion US dollars as estimated in 2014 (half of which was estimated to be spent on international trade), and the world economy on the road to recovery after the global financial crisis, international trade is steadily rising and global businesses are starting to thrive again.
In the past, women may not have had the opportunity to have a direct impact on the way local businesses, much less international ones traded, but in the last few decades, women have started to occupy greater positions in politics, and as such, they have had the opportunity to have an influence on international commerce. As is the case in private business boardrooms, women are still a very small percentage of those that occupy powerful and influential political offices that have a direct effect on commerce. Here, we take a look at two women in powerful, influential offices, who are making massive contributions to international business.
Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and the leader of the Christian Democratic Union. As the head of the German government, she is the leader of the most vibrant European economy, and in 2014 she won a third term in office, making her the longest serving elected head of state in the European Union. She entered politics after the revolutions of 1989, assuming the role of deputy spokesperson for the East German government in 1990. Following reunification, she was elected to the Bundestag, the German parliament, for Stralsund-Nordvorpommern-Rugen in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a seat she has held ever since winning it in 1990. She held various ministerial positions from 1991 until she was elected as the CDU’s first female leader in 2000, and in 2005, she was elected as the Chancellor of Germany, another first for a female.
Merkel was the second female to ever chair the G8 when she presided over proceedings in 2007. And as the President of the European Council at the time, she was pivotal in negotiating the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration, as well as signing the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council, as one of her priorities was said to be to strengthen transatlantic economic relations. She is regarded as one of the central figures that helped manage the global financial crisis, and was seen to be very decisive. She fought of a national recession with stimulus packages and government subsidies to companies that cut hours for employees, and is heavily involved in trying to help Greece resuscitate its economy. As such she is viewed by many as the EU’s de facto leader.
Christine Lagarde is a French lawyer and politician who is currently the head of the International Monetary Fund, the first woman to take up that role. Prior to her assuming her position at the IMF, she held various ministerial positions, including becoming the first female finance minister of a G8 economy, and she was also the first female chairperson of the international law firm Baker & McKenzie. Appointed to a five year term at the helm of the IMF in 2011, Lagarde is now in her final year with the organisation, which serves as economic advisor and de facto safety net to 188 countries.
When she assumed stewardship of the organisation, the world was still recovering from the global financial crisis, and at present, the IMF is projecting 3.5 percent annual global growth, and Lagarde is voicing concern over the slow growth. Her strategy is to view emerging markets individually rather than collectively as a single entity and to warn central bankers to be careful of the potential adverse effects of differing monetary policy globally. Lagarde has also championed efforts to increase female labour forces in developing countries as a means of helping to cut levels of poverty and inequality.
The world of high-powered business is a cut throat, kill or be killed, sink or swim type ofworld. It’s tough for anyone, but maybe more so for women. With glass ceilings and other forms of discrimination, rising to the top of your industry is incredibly difficult if you are of the female persuasion. And this is evinced by the relatively small amount of women in top positions and the even smaller amount at the helm of the biggest companies in the world. Here are the top five most powerful women in the world of high-powered business, those who not only managed to break the glass ceiling, but beat all the competition to become the biggest players in their chosen field.
Number one on our list is Mary Barra, Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Company, a major auto manufacturer. She assumed her role in early 2014 and is the first female CEO of an international auto manufacturer. She weathered a difficult first year as the company dealt with the discovery of defective ignitions that were found to be responsible for the deaths of 74 people and the injury of another 126. But under her direction, the company is displaying greater financial discipline and Barra has revealed a very impressive long term strategy, including plans to transform Cadillac into a worldwide luxury brand.
Second on our list is Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She joined Facebook in 2008 and was elected to the board in 2012, becoming the first woman to serve on the company’s board. Prior to that, she was VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. In her time at Facebook, Sandberg has helped the company in its global expansion, including going public, and increasing its digital revenue.
Number three is Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube. Wojcicki started off as Google’s marketing manager before she went on to become Senior VP of Advertising and Commerce. She was instrumental in the development of AdSense, which became Google’s second largest source of revenue and championed the acquisition of YouTube. In 2014 she was appointed CEO of YouTube and in the same year, the company’s revenue rose by 33 percent, with its value put at USD20 billion. She has been called the most important person in advertising and the most powerful woman on the internet.
Number four on our list barely needs an introduction. Recognized universally, Oprah Winfrey started on radio while still in high school, co-anchoring the local evening news by the time she was 19 years old. Her unique style landed her a gig on a daytime talk-show, and after dramatically increasing the ratings, she started her own production company and her show was broadcast internationally. It was the highest rated show of its kind and ran for 25 years, helping to launch the careers of other talk-show hosts such as Dr. Phil. Known as the queen of daytime TV, Oprah is a media magnate in her own right, and her cable TV network OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) founded in 2011, is going from strength to strength. She is regarded as the richest African American of the twentieth century and is currently North America’s only black billionaire.
Number five on our list is Virginia ‘Ginni’ Rometty, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of IBM, the American multinational technology firm. She joined the company in 1981 as a systems engineer before rising to the position of Senior VP and Group Executive for Sales, Marketing and Strategy. She was appointed CEO in 2012, becoming the first female to head the corporation.