How Past Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies Have Fared

by Alyssa Oursler | December 11, 2013 11:37 am

General Motors (GM[1]) just made one of the world’s most powerful women even more powerful. Yes, Mary Barra — already the global product development chief of GM, the highest-ranking woman at the company, the highest ranking woman in the auto industry and the 34th most powerful woman in the world — was named the new General Motors head honcho.

powerful-women-female-ceosBarra will replace current General Motors CEO Dan Akerson on Jan. 15, bumping the disappointing number of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies just slightly.

Even after decades of progress, women in business are still underrepresented at the top spots. Female CEOs hold the reins at fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 companies … even factoring in the General Motors news.

And it’s not because the top women in business don’t have a solid track record — far from it. While plenty of the twenty-odd female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies — including big shots like Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ[2]), Virginia Rometty at IBM (IBM[3]) and Indra Nooyi at Pepsi (PEP[4]) — have held their own, a handful of powerful women have posted simply outstanding results while occupying the corner office.

Only time will tell if Mary Barra can lead GM to similar new heights. But until then, let’s take a look at six of the best-performing female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

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Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies: Ellen Kullman

ellen-kullman-dupont-dd-female-ceosFortune 500 Company: DuPont
Became CEO: January 2009
DD Stock Under Kullman: +145% (vs. +106% for S&P 500)

One of the most powerful women in business is Ellen Kullman, the CEO of chemicals giant DuPont (DD[6]). While Kullman has worked at DuPont for 25 years, she wasn’t promoted to the top spot until 2009.

And while Ellen Kullman was the 19th person to be named CEO of DuPont, she was the first female to take the top spot since the company was founded in 1802.

Since then, though, DD stock has been beating the market handily. A few reasons: DuPont has posted improving sale and profits (beating analyst estimates for the last four quarters), offers a sweet dividend north of 2.9% and has a solid share buyback program.

DuPont is No. 72 on the list of Fortune 500 companies, while Kullman is No. 42 in Forbes List of Most Powerful Women.

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Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies: Marissa Mayer

marissa-mayer-yahoo-yhoo-female-ceosFortune 500 Company: Yahoo
Became CEO: July 2012
YHOO Stock Under Mayer: +155% (vs. +33% for S&P 500)

Of all the powerful women in business on this list, Yahoo (YHOO[7]) CEO Marissa Mayer is the one who’s been making the most headlines. And it wasn’t just her no-shit telecommuting policy or glamorous Vogue feature that had people talking.

It was also the fact that Yahoo stock has posted a stellar and unexpected comeback under her guidance. Since Mayer was appointed as the CEO in July of 2012, YHOO stock has posted gains five times larger than the broader market’s bull run.

Of course, the company’s stake in Alibaba has played a large role in that as well … and Marissa Mayer will have to work hard to keep the search company chugging along once Alibaba goes public.

But Mayer is likely up for the task considering she is not just one of the most powerful women in tech, but one of the most experienced. Before taking over at Yahoo, Mayer worked at Google (GOOG[8]) for 13 years, working her way up to Vice President before she left.

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Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies: Marillyn Hewson

female-ceos-marillyn-hewson-lockheed-martin-lmtFortune 500 Company: Lockheed Martin
Became CEO: January 2013
LMT Stock Under Hewson: 51% (vs. +26% for the S&P 500)

The newest kid on the block for this list of female CEOs is Marillyn Hewson, the current head honcho of Lockheed Martin (LMT[9]). Hewson became one of the most powerful women in business when she was named CEO of Lockheed late last year — and her performance since then shows why.

While Lockheed is facing big-time headwinds, including pinched government spending and this year’s multi-week shutdown, shares of LMT stock have still gained almost twice as much as the broader market since Hewson took over.

Of course, Hewson is pretty darn familiar with the ins and outs of the Lockheed Martin business considering she’s been an employee for three decades. And she hasn’t just stayed with Lockheed because its was the path of least resistance. According to a Washington Post article[10], Hewson moved her family eight times during her Lockheed career.

Marillyn Hewson is No. 34 on the Forbes list of Power Women, while Lockheed Martin is No. 59 on the list of Fortune 500 companies.

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Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies: Gracia Martore

gracia-martore-gannett-gci-female-ceos[11]Fortune 500 Company: Gannett
Became CEO: October 2011
GCI Stock Under Martore: +178% (vs. +59% for S&P 500)

This next company that’s been blowing away the broader market under the leadership of a female CEO may come as a bit of a surprise.

Everyone might be saying newspapers are dead … but media giant Gannett (GCI[12]) has been killing it. And the woman at the top during its recent run has been Gracia Martore. Martore has worked at Gannett for almost 30 years, and was named chief executive on Oct. 6, 2011.

Since her appointment, GCI stock has nearly tripled the gains of the S&P 500 — thanks in part to its acquisition of Belo Corp, which sent shares soaring earlier this year. Plus, Gannett is expected to grow earnings by 36% next year, and by an average of 8% per year over the next half-decade.

Martore has also made the Forbes list of Most Powerful Women in Business and the broader list of Most Powerful Women, One interesting point: A Forbes profile[13] of the female CEO describes her as having an “old-school” approach to climbing the corporate ladder.

A few of her tips? “Grow a thick skin, say goodbye to your comfort zone and marry a great man.”

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Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies: Heather Bresch

female-ceos-heather-bresch-mylan-mylFortune 500 Company: Mylan
Became CEO: January 2012
MYL Stock Under Bresch: +99% (vs. +43% for S&P 500)

A common theme on this list: Female CEOs who worked their way up one company’s corporate ladder. That’s precisely what Heather Bresch, the current CEO of pharma giant Mylan (MYL[14]) did. She had already worked at Mylan for two decades when she was appointed head honcho in late 2011, effective at the start of 2012.

As countless summaries of her career point out, Bresch made it to the top despite controversy around her education. The now-CEO of Mylan allegedly received her MBA from West Virginia University without completing required credits.

Bresch denied it … and made it to the top anyways. That’s likely because, as previous Mylan CEO Robert Coury said in a prepared statement when she was appointed, Bresch “has unmatched knowledge of Mylan and the industry, and she has demonstrated extraordinary passion, dedication and leadership in executing our strategic goals.”

Clearly her background and passion has paid off. Since Bresch officially took over, Mylan has been solid. MYL stock has more than doubled the S&P 500’s climb since the start of 2012, and is actually leading the InvestorPlace Best Stocks of 2013[15] contest with a 55% year-to-date total return.

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Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies: Carol Meyrowitz

carol-meyrowitz-female-ceos-tjxFortune 500 Company:  TJX Companies
Became CEO: January 2007
TJX Stock Under Meyrowitz: +336% (vs. +27% for S&P 500)

Arguably the most impressive of this list of female CEOs is Carol Meyrowritz — the leading lady of discount chain TJX Companies (TJX[16]). While the other powerful women on the list were appointed after the worst of the Great Recession, Meyrowitz steered TJX straight through the downturn … and did so pretty flawlessly.

Sure, TJX Co. was naturally at an advantage considering discounts were in high demand during the pullback. But TJX stock didn’t just stay steady during the downturn. It soared.

Since early 2007, shares of TJX stock have jumped 336% vs. a 27% gain for the broader market. In 2013 alone, TJX Co. is up 46% so far. Meyrowitz has maintained the company’s strong earnings growth — to the tune of a 22% improvement per year over past half-decade — and also has lofty goals. Namely, she wants the retail chain to top $40 billion in sales and 4,500 in store count.

TJX is No. 115 on the list of Fortune 500 companies, while Carol Meyrowitz is No. 82 on the Forbes list of Power Women.

As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not hold a position of any aforementioned securities.

  1. GM:
  2. HPQ:
  3. IBM:
  4. PEP:
  5. Compare Brokers:
  6. DD:
  7. YHOO:
  8. GOOG:
  9. LMT:
  10. Washington Post article:
  11. [Image]:
  12. GCI:
  13. A Forbes profile:
  14. MYL:
  15. InvestorPlace Best Stocks of 2013:
  16. TJX:

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