Commentary about high-powered female professionals is often dichotomous. Praise for their empowering mantras couples with eye rolls at their advantages and wealth. Applause for their efforts to break the mold meets with cries of privilege being the reason they're able to do so. This isn't a column to continue that dialogue; this is a chance to highlight their achievement while also drawing some lessons from their career that can be applied universally to anyone's professional path.
Upon becoming Google's 20th hire in 1999, Marissa Mayer also became the company's first female engineer. During her stint with the corporation she has had influence over the look and function of some of its best-known products, such as Google Maps, Google Earth and the Google Doodle. But Mayer probably made the most headlines of her career during last summer when she joined Yahoo and became that company's youngest CEO at age 37. Even more fodder: Mayer was pregnant at the time and announced her intention to return to work shortly after giving birth.
Career Lesson: Go against the grain. You probably already knew of the brouhaha regarding Mayer's abbreviated maternity leave or her edict to winnow telework privileges for Yahoo staff. What you might not know is in the nine months since Mayer was tapped as CEO, president and director, Yahoo has introduced a new email application for the iPad and Android tablets, as well as a new weather app for the iPhone.
[See: The 25 Best Jobs of 2013.]
The illustrious résumé of Meg Whitman, president and CEO of computer company Hewlett-Packard, includes time served as an executive with The Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks, Procter & Gamble and Hasbro. Prior to coming on board at Hewlett-Packard in 2011, Whitman was the CEO at eBay. She also ran in the California gubernatorial race of 2010, losing to Edmund "Jerry" Brown, Jr.
Career Lesson: Don't shy away from challenges. Whitman inherited a wounded company when she became CEO in 2011. The New York Times Bits blog notes, "H.P. is one of the world's biggest technology companies in terms of sales, but for years it has been marked with financial losses, bungled acquisitions and turbulence in the executive ranks and boardroom." Yet Whitman has promised the company will be in the black by 2014 as a result of expanding Hewlett-Packard's platform to include cloud computing and big data.
Company: Campbell Soup Co.
Ambition and excellence runs in Denise Morrison's family. She's the oldest of four girls, all of whom hold or have held executive positions. In Morrison's case, she became the first female CEO of the Campbell Soup Co. She began working there in 2003 as president of global sales and chief customer officer, and she's held other positions in the food industry, including leadership roles with Kraft Foods, Nabisco and Nestle.
Career Lesson: Embrace change. Morrison has only been the CEO at Campbell Soup since 2011, but she has already left her mark by introducing Campbell's Go soup line designed to entice the millennials' foodie palates. The new soups range from Golden Lentil with madras curry to Creamy Red Pepper with smoked gouda.
Company: Sam's Club
Rosalind Brewer is the first woman and first African-American to ascend to the position of CEO with a Wal-Mart business unit. Before taking the lead at Sam's Club in 2012, Brewer was a scientist in Nonwoven Technology and Product Development at the personal care consumer product company Kimberly-Clark Corp.
Career Lesson: Don't shortchange your potential. Brewer eschews a stereotypical CEO pedigree; instead of graduating with a business degree, she studied chemistry at Spelman College.
PepsiCo's 22-brand multinational reach extends beyond soda to Gatorade, Lay's potato chips, Quaker Oats and Tropicana juice. Indra Nooyi has been CEO since 2006, and she assumed a chairman role a year later. During her tenure, Nooyi has become known for buoying company earnings and repositioning the brand's association with sugar-laden refreshments to healthier products such as Sabra hummus and Naked Juice.
Career Lesson: There is no traditional pathway to career achievement. Nooyi's career has been eclectic, with positions that range from vice president and director of corporate strategy and planning at Motorola, to product manager at Johnson & Johnson and lead guitar in an all-women rock band in her hometown of Madras, India.
Virginia "Ginni" Rometty
In the 30-plus years Ginni Rometty has been with IBM, she's witnessed the technology juggernaut's introduction of the personal computer, LASIK eye surgery and "Jeopardy!" champion, Watson. Before she was tapped as chairman, president and CEO in 2012, Rometty worked with the company's Global Business Services division and the Sales, Marketing and Strategy team.
Career Lesson: Show grace under pressure. At the time she was named CEO of IBM, Rometty was not invited to join the then all-male, ultra-exclusive Augusta National Golf Club (IBM sponsors the Masters Tournament, played on Augusta's grounds, and the club has historically invited IBM CEOs to join). Augusta National does not always extend an invitation to the company's CEO immediately, however, and in the months since her appointment the club added two female members, philanthropist Darla Moore and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rometty has largely remained mum regarding the controversy and has even attended the Masters since becoming CEO. At press time Augusta National had not extended an invite for Rometty to join.
Company: Mylan Inc.
Heather Bresch got her first job with Mylan when her father, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, ran into the then-CEO and co-founder Milan "Mike" Puskar at a college basketball game and mentioned that his daughter, a recent graduate, was job hunting. Though she might have gotten her foot in the door thanks to paternal intervention, she's ascended to CEO at the generic drug company on her own. Steve Clemons of The Atlantic writes, "spending time with her, it becomes immediately clear that her intellectual dexterity with the details of running a global pharmaceuticals business has nothing to do with family connections." Bresch transitioned from company president to company CEO in 2012 and became in charge of approximately 18,000 employees. Barron's reports Mylan's earnings have risen more than 25 percent in the last year that Bresch has been CEO.
Career Lesson: Humble beginnings and success aren't mutually exclusive. Bresch started at the bottom, literally, when she began working for Mylan in 1992. She was responsible for typing drug labels on bottles in the basement of one of the company's West Virginia plants.