The top women CEOs in America
Democracy dies in darkness. That’s the slogan for The Washington Post, the American newspaper that made history in 1972 when it became the first Fortune 500 company with a woman CEO: Katharine Graham. Daughter of The Washington Post publisher, Eugene Meyer, Graham was foisted into the unlikely leadership position after the former CEO—her husband—passed away.
Graham was reportedly tongue-tied when the idea of taking over The Washington Post was first suggested to her. It must have been a momentary uncertainty, however, as she led The Post for over two decades; a tenure that included presiding over the Watergate Scandal—one of the most significant moments in journalistic history. There have been relatively few women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies since; evidence of numerous factors that keep women from breaking through corporate culture's glass ceiling. Undeniable, however, is the path of leadership, progress, and resolve that each woman who has become CEO has shown.
Stacker looked at all the women CEOs of 2019 Fortune 500 companies. Fortune 500 companies are ranked by their revenue: The ranking of CEOs is reflected as such, with women in ascending order according to the amount of revenue their company reported for 2019’s fiscal year. The list below is updated to reflect women who are CEOs to date (the original 2017 list featured more female CEOs).
Companies have a long way to go in representation among leadership for many diversity efforts. That being said, it’s a victory that in 2019 the Fortune 500 contained more female representation than ever before among the largest companies in America. From giants like Best Buy, Rite Aid, and Kohl’s to the most influential defense, insurance, and financial companies, more of the most powerful corporations are being headed by the most powerful women.
Here are the women who have made the list.
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#35. Laura Alber
- Company: Williams-Sonoma
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #495
Laura Alber took over Williams-Sonoma, the specialty home retailer, in 2010, having started there in 1995 as a Pottery Barn senior buyer. In 2006, the University of Pennsylvania graduate became president of Williams-Sonoma and four years later replaced former CEO W. Howard Lester, becoming one of the highest-paid women in American business. Alber has brought a unique approach to business, which she called a “willingness to blend art with science, ideas with data, and instinct with analysis.”
#34. Kristin Peck
- Company: Zoetis
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #487
In October 2019, Zoetis—the global animal health provider—announced Kristin Peck would become the newest CEO of the Fortune 500 company beginning Jan. 1. Prior to Zoetis, Peck served as EVP of worldwide business development and innovation at Pfizer, where part of her scope involved strategizing the company’s animal health business. Peck had been EVP and group president of U.S. operations at Zoetis, praised for her data-driven approach to market strategy and business development. She takes over following Juan Ramón Alaix’s seven-year run and has been on the board of directors since the announcement.
#33. Lisa Su
- Company: Advanced Micro Devices
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #460
Lisa Su is a Taiwanese American executive who became CEO of the semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices in 2014, two years after joining the company. Previously she served as COO and Senior Vice President of AMD’s global business units. A graduate of MIT, Su is known for her work on silicon technology for IBM, and she is a widely recognized, national and international name in the business world.
#32. Mary Dillon
- Company: Ulta Beauty
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #449
An accomplished CEO of Ulta Beauty since 2013, Mary Dillon was previously CEO of U.S. Cellular since 2010. Fortune has called Ulta Beauty the “fastest-growing cosmetics empire,” and earlier in 2019 Dillon announced her intentions to make her company a global brand, beginning with operations in Canada. The graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, besides being known as one of the best CEOs and most powerful women, has also won awards for her philanthropy.
#31. Patricia Poppe
- Company: CMS Energy
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #440
The daughter of a school principal and nuclear engineer, Poppe has been CEO of CMS Energy since July 1, 2016, and she’s determined to make a change. In multiple interviews, she expresses practical respect for the possible threat of global warming, and using low prices of energy to “attract[s] businesses to come do work in Michigan again.”
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#30. Lori Ryerkerk
- Company: Celanese
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #426
Celanese, a chemical and advanced materials producer, announced Lori Ryerkerk as CEO in spring 2019, the culmination of a 35-year career in the petrochemicals/refinery industry. Having worked for Exxon Mobile for over 20 years, Ryerkerk served as EVP of global manufacturing at Royal Dutch Shell since 2010. The chemical engineering graduate of Iowa State is known for her global leadership skills.
#29. Kathleen Mazzarella
- Company: Graybar Electric
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #423
In Mazzarella’s words, “my career path has also allowed me to learn Graybar’s business from the bottom up." That much is certainly true, as Mazzarella began her career at Graybar at just 19 years old as a customer service representative.
#28. Beth Mooney
- Company: KeyCorp
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #413
Not only does Mooney preside over one of the largest banks in the United States, when she was announced CEO and chairman of KeyCorp on May 11, 2011, she became the first female CEO of a top-20 U.S. bank in history. Educated at the University of Texas at Austin, Mooney got her start as a secretary, a role she held until she one day camped out in a training manager’s office for three hours until he agreed to hire her.
#27. Michele Buck
- Company: Hershey Company
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #391
As traditionally large food companies are inundated with competition from smaller food start-ups, appointing a CEO who can steer the company into trends that compete with niche markets is vital. Buck had experience spearheading some notable strategies (such as Krave beef jerky) before being appointed CEO of the Hershey Company.
#26. Joey Wat
- Company: Yum China
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #362
Joey Wat reached the Fortune 500 in 2019, one year after becoming Yum China’s CEO. The Hong Kong native earned her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management before beginning her career as a consultant. She became CEO of KFC China in 2015 and COO of Yum China thereafter. The current head of the fast-food holding company is one of the most powerful business leaders in China, and one of the most influential women in global business.
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