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Indra Nooyi

Glass ceiling alive and well - 6 left at the very top in 2019

With Indra Nooyi’s exit, six fascinating female CEOs left in Fortune 100

At the start of 2018, only seven women CEOs headed up multi-nationals in the Fortune 100 list.

At the start of 2019, it looks like it will go down to six, after world-renowned PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi handed over the reins after 12 years to her appointed male successor Ramon Laguarta in October 2018.

Here I explore why there are so few, who’s left, and how the world’s most powerful female CEOs are doing.

Why so few women CEOs in Fortune 100?

It’s a pipeline issue, suggests Chief Executive’s CEO of the Year 2018 Marillyn Hewson, head of Lockheed Martin in an interview with journalist Dan Bigman.  

“I mean, it takes time to get the experience I’ve gained, to get to the role I’m in. We need to accelerate it,” she said.  

With a mean age of 59 and a median of 58, the six current women CEOs and former CEO Nooyi are not old, but a little older than the average age of 50 for CEOs in the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 last year (Source: Quartz, citing Crist Kolder, a Chicago-based executive search firm).

Hewson said she also wanted better female role models in popular culture.

“We have got to get even the entertainment industry involved in this. Because frankly, what are the signals that we’re giving to our young people in this country? I think it needs to be government; it needs to be industry, all sectors of industry; it needs to be non-profits, all working together on this very important problem.”

As well as entertainment industry role models, and time; balancing home and career was a factor in elevating strong female leaders, according to PepsiCo chair and former CEO Indra Nooyi. 

“We get a lot of women in at the entry-level positions,” she told the Freakonomics radio show in 2018. “As you get to middle management, women rise to those positions, and then that’s the childbearing years.”

“And when they have children, it’s difficult to balance having children, your career, your marriage, and be a high potential out-performer who’s going to grow in the company,” she added.  

“So it starts to thin out as you move up,” she explained. “We have to solve for that.”

As well, Indra Nooyi links studies in Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering with career building. And, in many countries, female students are still less likely than males to study STEM subjects at school and university.

“One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth--through your high school and college--if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and grounds you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is. It's very hard to learn science later on in life. One of the pleas I would have for most young people today is, stay with STEM as long as you can,” she told Freakonomics radio show.  

Nooyi was one of the world’s most effective CEOs during her time at PepsiCo, with sales during her leadership growing 80 percent, despite a decline in the soft drinks product category.

So, who’s left going into 2019, and how are they doing?

General Motors CEO Mary Barra

The first female CEO of any major automaker, Mary Barra has been able to make General Motors more profitable since she took the helm in 2014.  The profits come partly from downsizing; closing five factories, dropping six car models and shedding 15,000 jobs in 2018.

She has proven to be a risk taker, notably via the $1 billion purchase of Cruise Automation in 2016. The San Francisco-based start-up is taking the lead in GM's autonomous vehicle strategy and is planning to have its first self-driving vehicles enter a pilot ride-sharing program in 2019.

Anthem Health Insurance President and CEO Gail Koziara Boudreaux

Reduced costs plus some acquisitions and enrolment gains in Anthem's Medicare business helped profit climb 23 percent, to $1.05 billion, in the second quarter of 2018.  

Gail Boudreaux has implemented changes to improve execution, including sales force automation, the introduction of new clinical programs and further scaling of existing assets, like CareMore.

It launches a collaboration with Walmart in January 2019.

IBM Chair, President and CEO Ginni Rometty

Ginny Rometty told the Irish Times that she often asks people ‘What do you think IBM does?’ She says they can answer ‘Well, hardware?’ to which she answers ‘Well, it’s 10 per cent of IBM today, hardware’.

IBM’s hardware runs banks, airlines and the biggest companies in the world. However, Rometty says the other 90% was software and services.

“The company has been reinvented around data”, she says.

The results for IBM have been patchy, however, and according to a Forbes article in April some analysts question whether the transformation is happening fast enough under Ginni Rometty.

So, it’s unknown if another female CEO will not see out 2019, if momentum builds behind calls for Rometty to step down.

Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson

Since taking the reins of the world’s largest aerospace and defence company in 2013, total shareholder return for Lockheed over Marillyn Hewson’s tenure has been 309 percent, versus 107 percent for the S&P 500. Rising global defence spending bodes well for the future.

She was named Chief Executive CEO of the Year in 2018.   Talking to the award organisers, Rometty said she discovered early on that Lockheed had an engineering approach to customer service, often talking more than listening.

She’s quoted as saying, “I hear stories about somebody answering their smartphone in the middle of a customer meeting. Now why would you ever do that? Right? Or they come in with their talking points, and they just drill and they’re not listening; they’ve got an objective for the meeting, but they’re not listening to the customer.”

She runs her company under the core values of: do what’s right, respect others, perform with excellence.

Hewson has a go-to question when interviewing candidates that’s worth filing away which is: How did you spend the first 90 days of your previous job?

Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz

“Consensus does not always work in a crisis. You must have the courage to move forward.”- Safra Catz

Co-CEO Safra Catz and Mark Hurd have headed up Oracle since 2014.

According to ComputerWorld UK, Oracle’s 'cloud services and licence support' “pulled in 60% of total revenue for the quarter at $6.8 billion, up 8% year-on-year.”

Catz is one of the world's highest paid female executives, earning nearly $41 million in 2017. She is credited with spearheading Oracle's aggressive acquisition strategy, helping close more than 100 acquisitions since 2005. Catz also serves on the board of The Walt Disney Co.

General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic

The spy who came in for the gold, Phebe Novakovic is a former CIA operative who is famously media-shy.  

"Performance speaks for itself and, absent performance, you really don’t have anything to say,” Novakovic has said. "Results are, at the end of the day, all that really do matter.”

Forbes writes that Novakovic is “allergic” to the press, scarce on the Washington think tank circuit, and limits her contact with analysts to quarterly calls and the occasional investor conference. However, she seems to be thriving as CEO of the more than $30 billion (revenues) defence contractor, which has seen its stock grow about 100 percent under her leadership.

She has said she does indeed talk a lot, but her topics are limited: "My three children and General Dynamics."



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