Female CEOs Reveal Their Secrets to Success
If you want to be the best, you need to learn from the best.
That’s why it’s so valuable to take the time to find out what advice the people who are already in your field of work might say about how to make your life easier. And, to be honest, many of these pieces of advice are helpful no matter what line of work you’re in. High-ranking women have all had to figure out how to become and stay successful over the years. In doing so, they’ve learned quite a few helpful tidbits for those following in their footsteps.
From business executives to entrepreneurs to multi-million dollar for-profit business execs or world-changing non-profits leaders, all of these impressive women have shared their helpful guidance so we all can learn from their personal ups and downs. Prepare your notebooks, young business leaders. There is plenty of learning to be had.
Do you have what it takes to go from waitressing at a Hooters to running a multi-million dollar company like Kat Cole?
Cole, the former president of Focus Company, the parent company of Cinnabon and today's president and COO of the direct-to-consumer nutrition company Athletic Greens, is willing to hustle and do whatever it takes to learn the job. Her advice is to keep your ego in check when you’re getting feedback on the job.
As she told Business Insider,“A piece of career advice I received when I was incredibly young was that anytime you get criticized, take a moment and assume the criticism is accurate. Assume the person criticizing you is right, just for a moment.”
Cole's reasoning for assuming the other party’s accurateness has everything to do with keeping your own power. She explained that if you assume they’re correct, you get to consider the criticism with deliberateness like you would any other feedback.
A Favorite Kat Cole Quote:
"When we get our sense of self from only one place, when something goes wrong and the inevitable happens, it can crush you emotionally, spiritually and physically. So it’s important not to believe you are defined by one place, one relationship or one thing, and to find ways to keep your sense of self strong."
Jessica Alba, the actress-turned-businesswoman, founded The Honest Company in 2011. Since then, the company has grown into a net worth of over a billion dollars. For Alba, it’s all about being willing and able to withstand rejection. No matter what is thrown at you, you’ve got to learn from it and move on.
She said, “You’ll never know that something is going to succeed if you don’t try and put yourself out there.”
A Favorite Jessica Alba Quote:
"The only way you can measure your success is by reflecting and seeing what you want out of the experience. And the journey is just as much a part of the success you seek out."
Meg Whitman, formerly of Hewlett-Packard and now U.S. Ambassador to Kenya under President Biden, has a name that is practically synonymous with powerful women in the business world. While she’s given some really wonderful advice on all sorts of subjects over the years, her most helpful is applicable to both business and life. She thinks it’s more valuable to focus on the positive and enhance that rather than obsessing over the negative things that may be going wrong.
Whitman said, “My advice, having done this a number of times, is to go into an organization and figure out what that company's doingright and do more of it. You'll eventually get to your to-do list and to your fix-it list, but if you come in and just talk about what's going wrong, you will lose hearts and minds.”
A Favorite Meg Whitman Quote:
"Problems are good, as long as you solve them quickly."
Former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg has no problem giving all sorts of sage advice, especially for women in the business world. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Or, at least, she wrote a book on it.
Her best advice also centers around the ability to hear and accept feedback. She explained that she looks for that specific quality in an employee, hoping to find, “Someone who takes feedback well. Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly.”
A Favorite Sheryl Sandberg Quote:
"Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential."
The former-Yahoo tech executive Marissa Mayer advocates for getting out of your comfort zone since that’s where real growth can happen. Especially in the constantly changing world of technology and the fast pace it requires new businesses to take, it’d be impossible to prepare for every little bump in the road.
So Mayer says do it before you think you’re ready. “I always did something I was not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”
A Favorite Marissa Mayer Quote:
"Work for someone who believes in you, because when they believe in you they'll invest in you."
Ida Tin is not only breaking ground for women in the technology and business spheres. She’s also changing the way women approach family planning thanks to her popular menstruation-calculating app, Clue. The Danish entrepreneur and author advises women to be aware of the risks and rewards involved in finding the time and energy to really be successful at business.
And she believes that you can create your own reality, saying, “Know what you want to build, but also about what price you’re willing to pay personally. And know what price you don’t want to pay. I want to see my kids every day, and sometimes it feels like a choice women have to make – start a business or have kids. I don’t accept that.”
It’s appropriate to hear a reminder about taking control of your circumstances from a woman whose app educates and empowers other women to do just that.
A Favorite Ida Tin Quote:
"I don’t want to accept that you can only build big companies out of Silicon Valley."
Safra Catz is CEO of Oracle, the computer software giant. She, too, straddles the line between emerging technology and being a woman in the business world. Interestingly, she also believes that you need to be open to feedback. In fact, you need to make sure that you’re not just hearing it, but actively listening.
She said, “Listen, think and don’t be afraid to change your position based on new facts.”
A Favorite Safra Catz Quote:
"The most significant barrier to female leadership is the actual lack of females in leadership. The best advice I can give to women is to go out and start something, ideally their own businesses. If you can't see a path for leadership within your own company, go blaze a trail of your own."
The non-profit Acumen’s founder Jacqueline Novogratz believes that inspiring hope in others is the best way to be successful in this world. Her company’s goal of creating a global community requires an ongoing commitment to seeing and hoping for the best in others.
So her optimistic approach to business is no surprise. She said, “Inspiring hope in a cynical world might be the most radical thing you can possibly do.”
A Favorite Jacqueline Novogratz Quote:
"May each of you live lives of immersion. They won't necessarily be easy lives. But in the end, it is all that will sustain us."
As a Shark Tank investor, Lori Greiner knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. For her, it’s important to separate your personal and professional worlds. And if she could go back and advise her younger self? She’d encourage herself to go for it.
Greiner said, “Go for your dreams. Go to do whatever you want. There’s nothing stopping you. I believe that if there is any goal that you have for your career, for your life, all you have to do is put your mind to it, and then do all the smart things in which to make it happen. I don’t know the word ‘no.’ So I would say be fearless, be driven, be confident and don’t worry about what happens, make it happen.”
A Favorite Lori Greiner Quote:
“A brilliant idea doesn't guarantee a successful invention. Real magic comes from a brilliant idea combined with willpower, tenacity, and a willingness to make mistakes.”
Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder and CEO of one of the hot companies changing the tech and the health industries, 23andMe. Since she and her company are embarking on exciting new biotech waters, they’ve encountered their fair share of challenges along the way. But her advice is to stay true and focused on what you want no matter what may be happening around you.
She shared, “Stick to your vision...If you know where you’re going, the challenges are minimal.”
A Favorite Anne Wojcicki Quote:
"The challenge in a startup is you hit a lot of turbulence, and you want people who understand that it's just turbulence and not a crisis."
Success is a family affair in amongst the Wojcicki sisters. While Anne is at the forefront of the research and biotech world, her sister Susan was the CEO of YouTube. Susan believes in being blunt and up front about what you think you deserve.
“Whether it's salary or a promotion or a job, I think it's important for women to ask for what they think they deserve,” she said.
She also advocates for creating a good work/life balance no matter what you do. “I don’t want to say that you don’t have to work hard; you have to work hard but you need to have balance as well,” Wojcicki explains, adding, “If I’m there at midnight by myself in the office I’m not really having so many great ideas anymore."
A Favorite Susan Wojcicki Quote:
"Rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. 'Here, open it, it's perfect. You'll love it.' Opportunities -- the good ones -- are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They're risky. They challenge you."
The former CEO of Burberry and senior vice president of retail for Apple, Angela Ahrendts is something of an expert on understanding and staying on the cutting edge with your product. She knows what it takes to create a trusted brand and continue to maintain that trust and integrity with both your product and in your own life. For her, passion and success go hand in hand.
She loves what she does and, because she enjoys every element of her so-called work so much, she’s found that success has followed her in her career path.
A Favorite Angela Ahrendts Quote:
“I didn’t jump around, this is all that I’ve done. I have always been so passionate about it. And I think that when you direct your energy and you become so passionate, and you unite people ... and you lead people all around believing in something, things just fall into place … I found my zone. I absolutely love what I do and it’s not work at all ... It’s not work, this is my life.”
Maureen Chiquet was the global CEO of Chanel, so she understands better than most how to continue and improve both as a regular worker and as a business leader.
During an interaction with a former boss during her early career, she found herself learning first hand the very valuable lesson of being willing and open to listen to others.
A Favorite Maureen Chiquet Quote:
“In retail—as well as in other industries—you’ve got to have a strong point of view and present it effectively. But to lead effectively and achieve real business results as the head of any enterprise, you have to listen. You’ve got to constantly ask questions and seek out diverse opinions, and remain humble enough to change your mind—whether about a product or a person.”
The former CEO of the Home Shopping Network turned CEO of Weight Watchers, Mindy Grossman thrives at the top.
With a ton of years of executive experience in various major companies, Grossman has learned many lessons on what it takes to be successful. She’s worked in various corporate cultures – some she’s thrived in and others she’s found more trying. She’s a proponent for hiring the best team you can find to surround you.
But her biggest piece of advice is to make sure that, no matter who surrounds you, you take time for yourself. In a fast-moving world, it doesn’t have to mean stopping everything. It’s a process of trial-and-error to figure out what works best for you. The most important part is that you take some time out from the grind to refresh yourself.
A Favorite Mindy Grossman Quote:
“I might just get out my office and walk over to the TV studio and go say hello to people … [I think] you're better for everyone if you can take those couple of moments and allow yourself to be somewhat replenished.”
CEO and media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s name is basically synonymous with success. She constantly shares incredibly inspiring quotes and helpful advice for people who want to recreate at least elements of the incredible success she’s had. In fact, narrowing down her one piece of advice that she believes wholeheartedly in would be nearly impossible since she has so much juicy information she shares.
But one thing that she seems to say over and over again in very different ways is that being present is a major key to finding success in whatever you’re attempting. There’s no use in getting overwhelmed. Simply being in the moment and figuring out the best move for your current situation will always lead you to the best overall outcome.
A Favorite Oprah Winfrey Quote:
“Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
The former CEO of PepsiCo shares Oprah’s perspective on staying in the present moment in order to find success.
And Indra Nooyi also believes that just as important as being able to do your job better than anyone else — no matter what it may be — you also have to be able to speak up for yourself and your work without apology or hesitation.
A Favorite Indra Nooyi Quote:
“If you really feel strongly about something, have the courage to defend what you're suggesting.”
The CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, believes in hard work and solving problems quickly. She isn’t a fan of procrastination, especially when it comes to fixing an issue. If you see a problem, fix it.
During a 2013 commencement speech, she gave the graduates plenty of advice. But most notably, she told them to be the ones who solve problems not simply ignore or point them out.
A Favorite Mary Barra Quote:
“Address challenges head-on…. And address it right away. Don’t procrastinate, and don’t be content to point it out to others in hopes someone else will take care of it.”
Ursula Burns is impressive on many levels. She was not only the first black woman to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, she’s also has a level head on her shoulders.
Rather than measuring success by the amount of money in your bank account, she measures it by intangible values. She embraces her background and uses her diversityas a major strength in her approach to business.
A Favorite Ursula Burns Quote:
“I say this to women all the time... I guarantee you you will be the minority in the room. And instead of that being a burden, it should be an opportunity for you, to distinguish yourself.”
Denise M. Morrison
For Denise M. Morrison, the CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company, she believes success isn’t something that just happens to you —You go out and create it.
Growing up ambitious and learning how to navigate as a powerful woman in what was still very much a male-centric world, she had her ups and downs. But she never let her vision for what she wanted in her career waiver.
A Favorite Denise M. Morrison Quote:
“Don’t just let your career happen to you. You need to be strategic about how you define your leadership journey and where that takes you.”
Beth E. Mooney
Thought Beth E. Mooney was originally only offered jobs as a secretary, it didn’t take long before her tenacity led her to a higher education and multiple opportunities.
She became the CEO of KeyCorp — her foray as female chairman and CEO has put her in the spotlight in ways that were surprising at first. Now, however, she believes that women in leadership positions in general — especially those like her who are very much in the public eye — need to be trendsetters and pioneers in their own right.
A Favorite Beth E. Mooney Quote:
“You realize people are watching. When that’s the case, it does up the bar on how you get up and want to do... every day, because I want it to be something where when I’m done, it will be like ‘That wasn’t so bad, a woman running a bank. I think I was OK’ and it will make it easier for others to follow.”
Starbucks may be well known for keeping you awake, but, until recently, it wasn’t very “woke.” That changed, of course, when Rosalind Brewer became the first female COO in the company’s history. Her background with Sam’s Club and Walmart certainly made her an attractive candidate for the coffee company. Today she is CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance.
She believes women in general have natural abilities to be excellent executives if and when given the chance.
A Favorite Rosalind Brewer Quote:
“And I will tell you that I feel so strongly that women, women are absolutely more set to make these transformations happen than ever before because I go back to our gut, our nurturing, our ability to take on large assignments, take them seriously, and work as hard as we possibly can. It’s just in our DNA.”
The former CEO of Avon, Inc., Andrea Jung’s journey in the business world is certainly a fascinating story.
Shortly after she became Avon’s CEO, she had words of wisdom to share with the women she hoped would follow in her path. She believed wholeheartedly in finding people who can complement and help complete your own vision.
Everyone comes in with different skills. Understanding your own and harnessing the strengths and perspectives of others for the sake of a better team is invaluable
A Favorite Andrea Jung Quote:
“Spend the time to ask yourself who can you get who can be better than you. Constantly look for new ideas, new eyes, new perspectives.”
Though she rose to fame as an actress, Witherspoon has also become a successful producer and lifestyle business mogul.
For her, ambition isn’t something that should be seen as selfish or should be apologized for. Ambition, especially in women, must be embraced and nurtured like any other positive trait.
As an ambitious power-player in Hollywood who has carved out a seat for herself at the table (a table she is actively changing the demographics of), she believes that you need to embrace your ambition and surround yourself with people who do the same. If the people you’re around can’t or don’t understand who you truly, it’s time to move on.
A Favorite Reese Witherspoon Quote:
“There’s no point toiling away and wasting your ambition on people who don’t value your strengths.”
Lisa Su, the CEO of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), believes in the power of creative problem solving and ongoing learning.
She not only thinks people should be improving their own knowledge, but they need to be constantly in response to the ongoing changing demands of the world and people around them.
For her, a challenge is a chance to stretch that creativity and knowledge even further, not a time to become overwhelmed or downtrodden.
A Favorite Lisa Su Quote:
“I've had a chance in my career to work on a lot of interesting projects, and I learned the most on the problems that were the most challenging.”
Margaret Keane may be the CEO of a major financial institution — Synchrony Financial — but she began her career as a telemarketer. So it’s safe to say that her journey to success has been a colorful one filled with plenty of ups and downs (not to mention outright rejection).
All those experiences, however, have shaped her into the extremely powerful woman she now is.
And her key for success can be encapsulated in one word: Confidence.
A Favorite Margaret Keane Quote:
“I think the number one thing is to have confidence in yourself and believe in yourself. Deliver the goods and don’t hesitate — just go for it.”