Women on top: Breaking the glass ceiling

Something interesting happened at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, at the end of January. The members selected the co-chairs for the 2019 sessions that will be held in San Francisco. All seven are women. At one time, those positions would have been filled by men exclusively.

But, the times have been changing for quite a while. At the Davos meetings, founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba, the world’s largest online sales platform, said, “Part of the ‘secret sauce’ of our success is because we have so many women colleagues.” In fact, 37 percent of senior management in Alibaba is made up of women. Today, many women have risen to the top of the ladder within our major corporations. Women on top

Fortune, the magazine that annually ranks such things as wealthiest people and most valuable corporations, has determined the top women professionals for 2018. Interestingly, they are not in traditional “women-oriented” businesses, like cosmetics or fashion. That, like the selection of the chairs for the World Economic Forum, is a major step forward as we work our way into the 21st century.

Mary Barra, chair and CEO of General Motors, grabbed the top spot on Fortune’s list. She beat Tesla’s Model 3 to the market with the Chevy Bolt EV, the top-selling electric car. Now, she’s set her sights on a driverless future, having acquiured Cruise Automation last year.

Fortune’s No. 2 is Indra Nooyi, chair and CEO of PepsiCo. Under her leadership, profits jumped 15 percent from 2016.

No. 3 is Marillyn Hewson, chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35 fighter-jet. Lockheed Martin is also one of the biggest military contractors to the U.S., with new deals pending with some of our allies.

Abigail Johnson, chair and CEO of Fidelity Investments, claims the No. 4 position. She reports $15.9 billion in revenue for 2016, the fourth consecutive record-setting year. She is now concentrating on lowering fees on passive investments and enabling customers to track Bitcoin holdings.

No. 5 on the list is Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook. While dealing with problems like fake news and online hate groups, she is focusing on women’s health and immigration reform.

Chair, president, and CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, is No. 6 on Fortune’s list. Although “Big Blue” has lost significant investments in recent years, Rometty is bringing the corporation back with her emphasis on business analytics, the “cloud,” and computer security.

No. 7 is a person who is familiar to most Californians who are interested in state and national governance because of her involvement in politics. Meg Whitman is CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprises. Although the corporation’s sales have been decreasing since Whitman engineered the biggest split by revenue in corporate history two years ago, HP’s profits have started growing again. Still, she is under pressure to deliver on overall revenue growth.

As co-CEO of Oracle, Safra Catz (No. 8) is leading a major expansion of the corporation by hiring at least 5,000 engineers and other staff to grow its gigantic cloud business. She was responsible for the 2016 acquisition of NetSuite and oversees a multi-billion dollar investment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives.

Phebe Novakovic, chair and CEO of General Dynamics is No. 9. As national priorities shifted toward aircraft and weapon systems last year, sales fell for General Dynamics, which specializes more on “boots-on-the-ground” technology. So Novakovic turned the corporation toward more emphasis on cybersecurity, enabling it to gain new contracts and increase earnings.

Rounding out the top ten is Ruth Porot, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Google/Alphabet. Since she became CFO in 2015, shares in the corporation have jumped more than 70 percent. Because of her focus on “the bottom line,” she’s known as “Ruth Vader” within the organization. Personal note

In writing about women who are successful in business, I would be remiss if I were not to include Karen Buerkle, who — at one time — I thought might be my daughter-in-law. Karen was my son’s girlfriend through high school and at least four years of college. She ate with us almost every night during the high school years. After the first couple of evenings, my ex asked me, “Have you noticed Karen’s eyes?” I answered truthfully, “She’s never looked at me.”

A once-shy girl, Karen has beautiful green eyes to accent her red/auburn hair (pretty much the same color as my ex’s). Before she and my son David went off to the University of California at San Diego, almost every Friday night, we’d take her and David to a local Italian restaurant, where — we later learned — the personnel thought she was our daughter.

As she entered her junior year at San Diego, she told me that she had switched her major to sociology. I fervently hoped that her decision had nothing to do with my being a sociologist because, frankly, outside of teaching or research, there weren’t a lot of jobs available to sociologists at the time. However, Karen got top grades in all her classes, and I got her involved with the California Sociological Association as a representative for undergraduate students.

As graduation approached, Karen decided to apply to graduate school. She came to me, practically in tears, because UCSD did not offer a master’s degree in sociology. Instead, the school had a four-year program, leading directly to a Ph.D. She said, “I just don’t think I can sit in a classroom for four more years.” I explained to her how being a graduate student was so much different from being an undergraduate, telling her that eventually she’d get a teaching assistant job and have her own office on campus.

Obviously, I didn’t know just how great her grades actually were. She was awarded a teaching assistant job as soon as grad school started. Two years later, I ran into her at a conference of the Pacific Sociological Association where she and a colleague were giving a paper on the educational system of Eastern Europe, where she studied on a Fulbright Scholarship. And, today she is the managing director of APCO Insight, a D.C. firm that provides opinion research and analytical services for corporations, governments, and nongovernmental organizations.

Congratulations to Dr. Buerkle and all of the other brilliant and successful women groundbreakers during Women’s History Month.

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Jim Glynn may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.