August 9, 2021
When the annual Fortune 500 rankings came out earlier this summer, a few things remained constant – including the scarcity of female representation at Corporate America’s highest ranks. Despite the progress made, there are still only 26 women in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies – meaning that just 5.2% of executives are women. Even if you expand things to look at the CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies, that number remains relatively flat at 5.4%.
It’s safe to say that women in these positions face incredible challenges daily – and that is particularly true given the events of the last year or so. Making an effort to understand these difficulties can give all of us a better sense of the hard work these executives are putting in.
Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (Tii:WBA)
Having been appointed CEO of Walgreens on March 2021, Rosalind Brewer may be a newcomer to the ranks of Fortune 500 CEOs. Still, her experience as group president and COO of Starbucks Corporation (Tii:SBUX) and CEO of Sam’s Club makes her far from a rookie exec. Her appointment came when the pandemic – the effects of which represent the biggest challenge facing most of the executives in this article – had a significant impact on the pharmacy chain. During the pandemic, government-mandated store closings meant devastating results for a business model that relied on steady foot traffic to Walgreen’s more than 21,000 brick-and-mortar locations.
These days, Brewer is guiding the pharmacy through a turnaround plan designed to boost organic growth and operating margins, which includes the recent sale of Walgreen’s Alliance Healthcare businesses to AmerisourceBergen for approximately $6.5 billion. The turnaround appears to be working. Walgreens raised its fiscal 2021 guidance to around 10% growth in constant currency-adjusted EPS from continuing operations.
Carol Tomé, CEO of United Parcel Service, Inc. (Tii:UPS)
Like Brewer, Carol Tomé assumed the CEO position just a few months ago to guide the shipping and logistics company through one of the most challenging periods it ever faced. The sudden and exponential growth in e-commerce-fueled shipping and logistics brought about by the pandemic created business conditions that none of Tomé’s predecessors ever had to address. Though the company’s stock is down from its 52-week high on supply chain challenges and declines in shipping volumes as consumers slowly forego e-commerce in favor of in-person shopping, UPS shares are still up 17.58% for the year (as of August 6th). Further, UPS’ board recently demonstrated its faith in its strategy and Tomé’s leadership by authorizing a new $5 billion share repurchase program.
Linda Rendle, CEO of The Clorox Co. (Tii:CLX)
Linda Rendle also walked into her new role to face an unprecedented situation. As the pandemic was making its way across the world last year, the demand for hand sanitizing wipes and other cleaning supplies went through the roof - making it nearly impossible for manufacturing to keep up. Rendle and her team managed to stabilize Clorox’s supply issues and get critical products into the hands of people who needed them. Looking ahead, Rendel’s challenge will be driving sales. The pandemic-fueled boom for disinfectants has tailed off significantly, resulting in a steep drop in the company’s share price. However, Rendle has held positions in marketing, sales, product supply and more during her 20-year tenure at Clorox – which could mean more positive news ahead for the company and its shareholders.
Sonia Syngal, CEO of The Gap, Inc. (Tii:GPS)
Taking the reins as CEO of Gap, Inc. in March 2020, Sonia Syngal was also forced to hit the ground running. Shortly after assuming her responsibilities, the company had to shutter the vast majority of its stores for the then-foreseeable future. Under her leadership, Gap pivoted to selling apparel online, eventually increasing e-commerce by 44% compared with the same period in 2019. The retailer also grew its customer database by 14%, reaching 183 million consumers. Looking ahead, Gap is in a pretty good spot, with $2 billion in cash on its balance sheet that can be used to ramp up marketing/advertising or possibly increase market share by acquiring competitors.
In the end, it’s not easy to be a CEO and effectively lead a global organization in these situations. But in the face of these extraordinary challenges, it would seem the women mentioned above are up to the task.