Fortune Magazine recently released the 21st issue of their 50 most powerful women in business list and it’s chock-full of newbies, surprises, and milestones. Topping the inventory of formidable females is Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President, and CEO of Lockheed Martin. Hanging on by a fingernail at 51st – an honorary position added just for her this year – is Oprah Winfrey.
As Fortune crows about their picks, “Our 2018 ranking is comprised of seven newcomers, two returnees, and CEOs controlling just under $1 trillion in market cap.” Perhaps the most interesting characteristic most of these ladies share, besides an untouchable work ethic, is political savviness.
You won’t find the top five openly backing one political party over another. Like most people in power, they spread resources around, ensuring all bases are covered in case the preferred candidate doesn’t win.
It’s a small club, and membership dues can be steep.
In 1998, the same year President Bill Clinton faced impeachment after being less than honest about his “inappropriate” use of the Oval Office and an intern, Fortune released their inaugural Most Powerful Women in America list. Mrs. Clinton was not on it.
But that first list, even with the controversaries sparked in its creation, gave the world a glimpse of the future of American power. Women were taking their rightful positions at the board table and entering the coveted C-suites.
It was the year Carly Fiorina topped their list and flew high enough to appear on America’s radar – a woman who enjoyed a meteoric rise. Much as Clinton did in 2016, Fiorina aspires to become the first female president of the United States. Unlike Clinton, however, she won’t try to get there by abusing “deplorables,” as she’s running as a conservative Republican.
Not Your Father’s World
The United States military has never been in better hands, as the company run by Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin, supplies F-35 fighter jets, could equip President Trump’s proposed “Space Force,” and is hard-charging in the development of hypersonic weapons — which travel five times faster than the speed of sound. Yes, Hewson is the face for encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers.
But she isn’t the only woman in the war equipment business. Former CIA intelligence officer Phebe Novakovic is the Chairman and CEO of General Dynamics – the company building our nuclear submarines – and claims the respectable eighth spot on the list.
Let’s also mention Kathy Warden, President and COO of Northrop Grumman, who earned the 22nd spot. Warden is the expert in military-grade IT and cybersecurity. And holding strong against mostly male military decision-makers as number 23, Leanne Caret is the president and CEO of Boeing.
That Pesky Glass Ceiling Cracks
Oprah Winfrey made the original register in 1998, and for almost three decades, she bounced around like the weight loss and gain challenges that she shared with Americans ad nauseum.
She fell off the rankings in 2013, but the lightbulb went off and she found a new gig: investing in and hawking Weight Watchers. She did not make the top 50 this year, but it seems Fortune wanted her back bad enough to create a new 51st place.
And Winfrey insists she is apolitical – despite the fact that she threw her significant incumbrance behind Obama in 2008 and Hillary in 2016. And let’s not forget the stir she caused in leftist circles when she went on the offensive at the 2018 Golden Globes, forcing another #metoo moment on the audience and taking a swipe at men in general.
She has recently conceded that she won’t try for the White House in 2020. “In that political structure―all the nontruths, the bullshit, the crap, the nastiness, the backhanded backroom stuff that goes on―I feel like I could not exist.”
Evidently, Oprah does not have the stones to take the punishment Trump has endured.
Dynamic, educated, wealthy, and powerful: That’s a curricula-vitae most recipients share. But a handful of these women started at the proverbial bottom – the lowest ladder rung in the corporate world.
Ann-Marie Campbell, number 16, is the Executive Vice President of Home Depot, but she began her career as a cashier. As her employers like to say, Campbell was “built from scratch.” And Tricia Griffith, 13th on the list, is president and CEO of Progressive. She got her start as a rep, talking to people about bundling insurance policies.
And 2018 welcomed Geisha Williams to the club: the first Latina to ever lead a Fortune 500 company.
Of course, the list boasts the accomplishments of social media execs, each huddling in the top ten, including Sheryl Sandberg — COO of Facebook, Ruth Porat — Senior Vice President and CFO Google Alphabet, and Susan Wojcicki — CEO of YouTube. When not changing minds through social media, these women might be found on Capital Hill, testifying before Congress on whether their businesses are biased against conservatives.
These ladies are strong and powerful, forces to be considered in corporate American board rooms. Yet Fortune reports that 2018 saw a decline of women CEOs in the top 500 businesses – only 24 – and reflects a down turn of 25% from last year’s record-breaking 32 female CEOs.
But the list doesn’t only rank CEOs – it factors in influencers.
The magazine compiles their list by the following four criteria:
“the size and importance of the woman’s business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman’s career (résumé and runway ahead), and social and cultural influence.”
Every last woman on this list deserves the recognition by Fortune for personal and professional achievement. Some started out privileged. while others struggled. They were single moms, Harvard graduates, and immigrants – but above all else, they were trailblazers.
Regardless of their backgrounds, they all found a path to greatness and avoided the dreaded and dead-ended “R” departments — PR and HR.
These women wield power: raw, unadulterated, and earned power. We all would be wise to pay close attention to their idiosyncrasies and ideologies. And pay them the respect they deserve as they continue to move into the desirable C-suites.
Who knows? One of these over-achieving women may just break down the door to that man cave at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and become the ultimate CEO in the free world.