Happy International Women's Day! To celebrate, here is our profile of five inspirational business titans (who also happen to be women...!).
Angela Ahrendts DBE
From fashion to tech, Angela Ahrendts has conquered it all.
Hailing from Indiana, a young Angela was determined to join the fashion industry. The day after she finished her exams at Ball State University (Indiana) she left for New York City on a one-way ticket.
Ahrendts secured her first job in New York as a sales representative for a menswear company. She then moved to merchandising at Warnaco and then to Donna Karan International, where she served as president for six years. Ahrendts also worked at Henri Bendel and Liz Claiborne before joining Burberry as CEO in 2006. At the time of her appointment, Burberry was struggling: its once exclusive image had become tarnished with cheap copies of the iconic ‘Burberry check’ becoming the uniform of choice for football hooligans and yobs.
During her tenure at Burberry Ahrendts succeeded in the daunting task of bringing Burberry back from the brink. Under her expert guidance the brand regained its credibility, expanded into new markets and tripled its stock price – earning her an honorary DBE for ‘her contribution to British business’.
In 2014, Ahrendts’ career took an unexpected turn as she left the fashion industry to become executive vice president of retail at Apple. The iconic technology brand tasked Ahrendts with revamping its stores and improving employee morale. She was also asked to overhaul the buying experience both online and offline. The first female executive at Apple, Ahrendts became the company’s best paid employee, taking $24.2 million in 2017 – double the amount that CEO Tim Cook made in the same year.
Last month Ahrendts announced her departure to follow ‘new personal and professional pursuits’. We look forward to seeing what she does next!
World renowned journalist, media mogul and philanthropist Arianna Huffington – once described as ‘the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus’ – is a true force to be reckoned with.
Born in Athens, young Arianna Stasinopoulos dreamt of attending Cambridge University and realised her dream of attending the prestigious institution to study economics. Whilst a student, she became the first non-British president of the Cambridge Union debating society. She graduated in 1972 with an MA in economics and published her first book ‘The Female Woman’ the year after. She would go on to be a prolific author, publishing twelve more books on a range of subjects including Greek mythology, political satire and self-help.
Arianna moved to New York in the early 1980s and met Michael Huffington, the American politician and oil billionaire. During the course of their relationship, Arianna became more involved in politics and made a name in her own right as the ‘darling of the Republican establishment’. Following her divorce from Huffington in 1997, Arianna began her first internet venture: a website that opposed Bill Clinton called ‘resignation.com’.
However, after a change in political ideology, Arianna began to speak out against her former Republican allies and ran as an independent candidate for the post of Governor of California in 2003 – losing to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Following her defeat, she went into partnership with Kenneth Lerer and Jonah Peretti to found ‘The Huffington Post’ – an online news outlet that helped to pioneer the concept of digital-only journalism.
The Huffington Post was later sold to AOL for $315 million in 2011 and Arianna stayed on as president and editor-in-chief for several years. In 2016, she took the decision to leave her namesake organisation to run a start-up called ‘Thrive Global’ – a wellness business that seeks to help combat the modern phenomenon of ‘burnout’.
A decorated scholar, Indra Nooyi has held high profile roles at some of the world’s most famous companies for over a decade.
Nooyi earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Madras Christian College in 1976 and her Master’s in Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta two years later. Upon finishing her studies, she moved to the USA where she completed an additional Master’s in public and private management at the Yale School of Management.
Following her graduation, Nooyi worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group before leaving to hold executive positions at Motorola and ABB. In 1994, she joined PepsiCo as senior vice president of corporate strategy and development before being promoted to president and CFO in 2001. On becoming president, one of Nooyi’s first acts was to lead a major restructure of the business, whilst managing the acquisition of new companies in a strategic move towards offering more ‘healthful’ brands under the PepsiCo umbrella.
Five years later Nooyi became the CEO of PepsiCo and the chair(wo)man of the board the following year. Upon assuming the role, Nooyi became the first woman to lead the company in its 42 year history – and one of only 11 female chief executives of Fortune 500 companies at the time. During her tenure, Nooyi continued to develop the company strategy to become a ‘well-balanced consumer-products company’ that is ‘less reliant on sales of its flagship soft drinks’. She also championed international expansion. Her strategy was hugely effective: PepsiCo’s revenues grew from $35 billion in 2006 to $65 billion in 2017 under her leadership.
This year marks a new venture for Nooyi as she steps down after 12 years at PepsiCo and joins the board of retail giant Amazon. She will sit alongside ten other board members: four of whom are also women. This makes the new board 45% female – an unusual move in the technology sphere, but an exciting one!
Already a successful Hollywood actress, Jessica Alba has become an equally successful businesswoman with the formation of The Honest Company: an organisation dedicated to producing natural baby, beauty and household products.
As a child, Alba suffered with severe health issues which she has since realised were predominantly caused by allergies. So when she washed the baby clothes that she had been gifted whilst pregnant with her first child, she was dismayed to find that she broke out in hives whilst handling them and worried that her unborn child would be affected with the same health issues as her infant self. After Googling all of the ingredients in the detergent that she had used and realising that the majority of them were toxins labelled as ‘fragrance’, Alba delved deeper with her research and discovered that the FDA had banned precious few harmful chemicals (when compared with the EU, in which more than 1,300 chemicals have been deemed unsafe for use within household products). Her mission was clear: to develop a line of products free from harmful toxins that could responsibly be used around children.
Jessica teamed up with an team of investors in 2012 to help develop her concept and The Honest Company was born. The company has continued to grow over the years, expanding into new international markets, diversifying into cosmetics and amassing a worth of around $1 billion.
A perfume mogul with a nose for scents that most perfumers can only dream of, Jo Malone has built an empire around her luxury fragrances – twice. From the humble beginnings of a Bexleyheath council estate, Malone discovered her gift for fragrance with the help of her mother’s employer: Madame Lubatti, a celebrated aesthetician who treated aristocrats and celebrities during the roaring twenties. Under Lubatti’s tutelage, Malone developed her abilities and eventually inherited Lubatti’s highbrow clientele when she launched her own range of bath oils from her kitchen table in 1994.
After a meteoric rise to prominence, Jo Malone London was eventually sold to Estée Lauder for ‘undisclosed millions’ in 1999, but Jo stayed on as Creative Director until 2006. During this time, she was diagnosed with cancer and faced a year of gruelling chemotherapy treatment. When she emerged from her course of treatment, Jo also found that she had emerged with a new sense of perspective and stepped down from her directorship, feeling that she needed a change.
Her agreement with Estée Lauder meant that she was obliged to take a five-year hiatus from the industry: a challenging time for Jo, who missed being involved in the beauty industry so much that she found it painful to walk through a department store amongst the products that bore her name.
Once her enforced hiatus was finally over, Jo set to work developing a new brand entitled ‘Jo Loves’ and thrived on the challenge of formulating new scents and growing a new business from the ground up. The flagship ‘Jo Loves’ store opened in 2013 on Elizabeth Street in Belgravia: on the same site as the florist shop where a sixteen-year-old Jo worked as a florist’s assistant. The brand continues to grow under Jo’s expert creative guidance and she launched her first eponymous fragrance last year to great acclaim.