Democracy dies in darkness. That’s the slogan for The Washington Post, the American newspaper that made history in 1972 when it became the first Fortune 500 company with a woman CEO: Katharine Graham. Daughter of The Washington Post publisher, Eugene Meyer, Graham was foisted into the unlikely leadership position after the former CEO—her husband—passed away.
Graham was reportedly tongue-tied when the idea of taking over The Washington Post was first suggested to her. It must have been a momentary uncertainty, however, as she led The Post for over two decades; a tenure that included presiding over the Watergate Scandal—one of the most significant moments in journalistic history. There have been relatively few women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies since; evidence of numerous factors that keep women from breaking through corporate culture's glass ceiling. Undeniable, however, is the path of leadership, progress, and resolve that each woman who has become CEO has shown.
Stacker looked at all the women CEOs of 2019 Fortune 500 companies. Fortune 500 companies are ranked by their revenue: The ranking of CEOs is reflected as such, with women in ascending order according to the amount of revenue their company reported for 2019’s fiscal year. The list below is updated to reflect women who are CEOs to date (the original 2017 list featured more female CEOs).
Companies have a long way to go in representation among leadership for many diversity efforts. That being said, it’s a victory that in 2019 the Fortune 500 contained more female representation than ever before among the largest companies in America. From giants like Best Buy, Rite Aid, and Kohl’s to the most influential defense, insurance, and financial companies, more of the most powerful corporations are being headed by the most powerful women.
Here are the women who have made the list.
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- Company: Williams-Sonoma
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #495
Laura Alber took over Williams-Sonoma, the specialty home retailer, in 2010, having started there in 1995 as a Pottery Barn senior buyer. In 2006, the University of Pennsylvania graduate became president of Williams-Sonoma and four years later replaced former CEO W. Howard Lester, becoming one of the highest-paid women in American business. Alber has brought a unique approach to business, which she called a “willingness to blend art with science, ideas with data, and instinct with analysis.”
- Company: Zoetis
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #487
In October 2019, Zoetis—the global animal health provider—announced Kristin Peck would become the newest CEO of the Fortune 500 company beginning Jan. 1. Prior to Zoetis, Peck served as EVP of worldwide business development and innovation at Pfizer, where part of her scope involved strategizing the company’s animal health business. Peck had been EVP and group president of U.S. operations at Zoetis, praised for her data-driven approach to market strategy and business development. She takes over following Juan Ramón Alaix’s seven-year run and has been on the board of directors since the announcement.
- Company: Advanced Micro Devices
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #460
Lisa Su is a Taiwanese American executive who became CEO of the semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices in 2014, two years after joining the company. Previously she served as COO and Senior Vice President of AMD’s global business units. A graduate of MIT, Su is known for her work on silicon technology for IBM, and she is a widely recognized, national and international name in the business world.
- Company: Ulta Beauty
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #449
An accomplished CEO of Ulta Beauty since 2013, Mary Dillon was previously CEO of U.S. Cellular since 2010. Fortune has called Ulta Beauty the “fastest-growing cosmetics empire,” and earlier in 2019 Dillon announced her intentions to make her company a global brand, beginning with operations in Canada. The graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, besides being known as one of the best CEOs and most powerful women, has also won awards for her philanthropy.
- Company: CMS Energy
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #440
The daughter of a school principal and nuclear engineer, Poppe has been CEO of CMS Energy since July 1, 2016, and she’s determined to make a change. In multiple interviews, she expresses practical respect for the possible threat of global warming, and using low prices of energy to “attract[s] businesses to come do work in Michigan again.”
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- Company: Celanese
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #426
Celanese, a chemical and advanced materials producer, announced Lori Ryerkerk as CEO in spring 2019, the culmination of a 35-year career in the petrochemicals/refinery industry. Having worked for Exxon Mobile for over 20 years, Ryerkerk served as EVP of global manufacturing at Royal Dutch Shell since 2010. The chemical engineering graduate of Iowa State is known for her global leadership skills.
- Company: Graybar Electric
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #423
In Mazzarella’s words, “my career path has also allowed me to learn Graybar’s business from the bottom up." That much is certainly true, as Mazzarella began her career at Graybar at just 19 years old as a customer service representative.
- Company: KeyCorp
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #413
Not only does Mooney preside over one of the largest banks in the United States, when she was announced CEO and chairman of KeyCorp on May 11, 2011, she became the first female CEO of a top-20 U.S. bank in history. Educated at the University of Texas at Austin, Mooney got her start as a secretary, a role she held until she one day camped out in a training manager’s office for three hours until he agreed to hire her.
- Company: Hershey Company
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #391
As traditionally large food companies are inundated with competition from smaller food start-ups, appointing a CEO who can steer the company into trends that compete with niche markets is vital. Buck had experience spearheading some notable strategies (such as Krave beef jerky) before being appointed CEO of the Hershey Company.
- Company: Yum China
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #362
Joey Wat reached the Fortune 500 in 2019, one year after becoming Yum China’s CEO. The Hong Kong native earned her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management before beginning her career as a consultant. She became CEO of KFC China in 2015 and COO of Yum China thereafter. The current head of the fast-food holding company is one of the most powerful business leaders in China, and one of the most influential women in global business.
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- Company: Jones Financial
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #356
Penny Pennington began as a financial advisor for Edward Jones in 2000, and by 2006 started to hold leadership roles. Currently, she is the only woman who runs a major U.S. brokerage after being named managing partner—just the sixth ever in the firm’s history—and CEO in January 2019. Besides her renowned leadership and financial genius, Pennington is a senior executive sponsor of Jones’ LGBTQ+ & Allies Business Resource Group.
- Company: Thrivent Financial
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #351
Named Thrivent Financial’s new CEO in October 2018—the first woman to hold the role in the company’s history—after 13 years there as general counsel, secretary, and SVP. Before finance, Rasmussen served as a U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney and is respected for her acumen in both the legal and business spheres.
- Company: Veritiv Corporation
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #347
Many Fortune 500 companies have been around for decades: Laschinger led Veritiv to the Fortune 500 list after only two years of existence in 2016 and did it again in 2017. Raised on a dairy farm, Laschinger’s desire to go to college was pivotal in her later success.
[Pictured: Veritiv plant in Montreal, Canada.]
- Company: Hertz Global Holdings
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #331
In a world where ride-sharing apps gain popularity year over year, it’s no wonder Hertz had a disappointing few quarters before appointing Marinello as CEO in 2016. Her tenure has earned Hertz Global Holdings a place on the 2017 Fortune 500 list, an honor that it was not bestowed in 2016.
- Company: JCPenney
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #261
In 2018, Jill Soltau came over to JCPenny from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, where she’d held the CEO and president titles. With 30 years of retail experience, Soltau was called a “winning choice” by Forbes’s Walter Loeb upon her appointment, and Ron Tysoe, chairman of the board, said, “She has the track record of enhancing profitability and delivering results” with “the talent and passion to revitalize the business.”
[Pictured: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks alongside Jill Soltau (C), and Art Peck (R), as he meets with retail industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington D.C., Feb. 15, 2017.]
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- Company: Reinsurance Group of America
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #251
Not on the 2016 list, Manning drove the Reinsurance Group of America to the 2017 Fortune 500 list after being taken on as CEO in January 2017. Her appointment led to RGA’s most successful year ever, growing revenue almost 11% from 2016 to 2017.
[Pictured: RGA Germany.]
- Company: Guardian Life Insurance Company of America
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #244
Unlike many CEOs on this list, Mulligan’s appearance is a definite comeback; she has not placed since the first year she was made CEO of insurance giant Guardian in 2013. A Stanford Graduate Business School graduate, Mulligan’s tenure has seen record revenue growth and expansion into India and Canada.
- Company: Land O'Lakes
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #212
Beth Ford was named CEO of Land O’Lakes in August 2018, becoming the first openly gay woman to head a Fortune 500 company. Although the Minnesota-based food/agriculture company acknowledged the milestone, they highlighted their choice of “the person they felt best met the criteria to drive success,” as Ford proved her enormous value as COO and EVP prior. Deena Fidas, director of workplace equality at the Human Rights Campaign noted, "This is not a story of someone getting into the higher echelons of leadership and then coming out, this is someone walking into this role with her full self."
- Company: Ross Stores
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #209
The struggles retailers are facing across the U.S. are, by now, notorious. And yet, Ross Stores keeps reporting strong earnings. Rentler is undoubtedly to thank as CEO since 2014.
- Company: CDW
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #191
A 16-year veteran of CDW prior to her takeover as CEO, Christine Leahy previously served as COO of the technology provider. She started as general counsel in 2002 and then SVP of the international division. According to O’Ryan Johnson of CRN, “Leahy is a founder and current sponsor of CDW’s Women’s Opportunity Network, a business resource group that actively and strategically supports the advancement of women leaders.”
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- Company: Synchrony Financial
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #173
The daughter of an NYPD officer, Keane turned away from a life of law enforcement to get her MBA from St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Now, she is one of few women to be leading a multi-billion dollar U.S. bank.
[Pictured: (L-R) Janice Reals Ellig, Michael Corbat, Susan N. Story, Hubert Joly, Margaret Keane, Christian Ulbrich and Eileen C. McDonnell speak onstage at Women's Forum Of New York Breakfast Of Corporate Champions on Nov. 7, 2019 in New York City.]
- Company: Occidental Petroleum
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #167
As a woman who got her start working on oil rigs in Mississippi, it is no wonder Hollub feels at home as CEO of one of the largest petroleum producers in Texas. Another CEO who didn’t feel the need to get an MBA, Hollub holds a Bachelor of Science in mineral engineering from the University of Alabama.
- Company: Kohl's
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #156
Michelle Gass has been CEO of Kohl’s since spring 2018 after serving as Chief Merchandising and Customer Officer. Recently, Gass wrote a letter about strengthening Kohl’s commitment to the well-being of families and children as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility platform, gifting millions through partnerships with both the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
- Company: AutoNation
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #145
AutoNation, the American car retailer, announced Cheryl Miller as CEO in July 2019, a culmination of her 11 years at the company. She held the role of CFO for the previous five years and was called “unflappable” by former CEO Mike Jackson. Miller is the first woman head of a publicly traded automotive dealership group.
- Company: Duke Energy
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #126
Less than a year after Good became CEO of Duke Energy, she was dealing with a worst-case scenario: thousands of tons of coal ash spilling into the Dan River in North Carolina. The controversy that swirled around Good for months following didn’t stop Fortune from writing an article titled “Is Lynn Good the smartest (new) CEO in the energy industry?” just nine months later.
[Pictured: Rick Perry meets with Lynn J. Good, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Louis Renjel, VP, Federal Government Affairs & Public Policy of Duke Energy at the Department of Energy. ]
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- Company: Northrop Grumman
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #108
The new CEO of aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman, Kathy Warden has extensive experience in information technology, cybersecurity, and venture capital. She joined Northrop Grumman in 2008 as GM and VP of their cybersecurity business.
[Pictured: The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Nov. 2, 2019.]
- Company: Rite Aid
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #107
The supermarket superpower Rite Aid named Heyward Donigan CEO in August 2019, with chairman Bruce Bodaken saying in a statement, “We are confident that Heyward is the right person to lead the company in capitalizing on the opportunities in the evolving healthcare environment.” She previously served as CEO of Sapphire Digital, CEO of ValueOptions, and CMO of Premera Blue Cross.
- Company: Progressive
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #99
The drop in profits Progressive saw in 2017 did not prevent it from placing on the Fortune 500 list. Griffith believes its success is, in part, because of its transparency—in her own words, “we are the only Fortune 500 company that releases earnings on a monthly basis so our stockholders don’t have to wait until the end of the quarter to know how our business is doing.” Griffith has led Progressive into outperforming industry averages.
- Company: General Dynamics
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #92
Some CEOs get their start on oil rigs; some, in their dorm rooms. In a dramatic twist of events, Novakovic’s prior experience includes something far more exotic: espionage. While it is unclear what exactly Novakovic did at the CIA, the success defense-contractor General Dynamics has seen under her is undeniable.
- Company: Oracle Corporation
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #81
Israeli-born CEO Safra Catz made $40.9 million dollars in 2017, making her the highest paid female CEO in the United States. Alongside co-CEO Mark Hurd, Catz is pushing for expansion in Oracle’s cloud business, a division which brought Oracle $4.6 billion in its last fiscal year.
- Company: Best Buy
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #74
Best Buy CEO Corie Barry first held the title of Chief Financial and Strategic Transformation Officer for the consumer tech giant. The Minnesota native joined the company in 1999 and now oversees some 125,000 employees and $43 billion in annual revenue. Best Buy's board launched an investigation in January 2020 into whether Barry, 44, had an inappropriate romantic relationship with fellow Best Buy executive prior to her taking over as the company's CEO in June 2019.
- Company: Lockheed Martin
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #60
Born in Kansas, Hewson received her undergraduate education at the University of Alabama before attending executive programs at the Columbia Business School and the Harvard Business School. Under the Trump administration and Hewson’s leadership, Lockheed has enjoyed the White House’s recent defense budget increase, seeing a 26% increasing in stock price from 2016 to 2017.
- Company: IBM
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #38
IBM has been a technology giant for over a century: In January 2012, Rometty became its first female CEO. Although IBM has seen significant, consecutive declines in its revenue, there is hope that the company will be a pioneer in AI. On Jan. 30, 2020, Rometty announced she would step down as CEO on April 6, 2020.
- Company: Anthem
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #33
President and CEO of Anthem, the approximately 78-million-member health insurance provider, Gail Boudreaux appeared on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women as far back as 2009. Now one of the most powerful business leaders—male or female—she previously drove billions in revenue for UnitedHealth. Boudreaux was a star basketball player for Dartmouth before earning her MBA from Columbia.
- Company: General Motors
- 2019 Fortune 500 rank: #13
The top woman on this list is the first to be named CEO of a major global automaker. Mary Barra started as a co-op student at the General Motors Institute when she was just 18 and rose to CEO 34 years later in 2014. As traditional automakers defend their business models against generational shifts in car ownership and unprecedented technological advancement, having a grounded CEO to lead the charge will be more important than ever.
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