Just do it

I have spent the past four weeks interviewing many of the world’s most highly rated women chief executives for the FT’s forthcoming ranking of Top 50 Women in World Business (to be announced in a separate magazine published with the FT on November 17).

In fact, just eight of them have combined annual revenues ($3,700bn) some 55 per cent greater than the UK’s annual GDP. They represent a complete cross-section of the corporate globe: from agricultural processing to real estate, banking to mining, retail to the internet – all industrial life is here.

Each one of these extraordinary performers followed a different route to the corner office, and none got there by accident. Some are very supportive of the FT’s Women at the Top project; others feel it is irrelevant. One quality stands out, though: irrespective of nationality, culture or sector, they are all very good at just getting on with it.

Andrea Jung, chief executive of Avon, tells the story of how a few months into her first job as a retail trainee with Neiman Marcus she had confided in her parents that putting clothes on hangers was not quite the future she had envisaged for herself and was thinking of quitting. “’Quit?’” they had exclaimed, she told me. “‘The Chinese don’t quit. You learn more from bad than good experiences – that’s how you grow.’ I don’t think I’ve ever let the word leave my lips again.”

Irene Rosenfeld, her equivalent at Kraft, was puzzled by a question about her early ambitions in what was then even more of a male world: “I just never gave much thought to the fact that I couldn’t do it. I did my thing and just assumed the rest would follow.”

When Nahed Taher, chief executive of Gulf One Investment Bank, was hired as the only female employee in a workforce of 4,000 at Saudi’s National Commercial Bank, she was undaunted: “I decided not to be invisible,” Taher recalls about her time there. “I didn’t hide away in my corner, but went out and visited every office in the bank and introduced myself to as many people as possible from the top to the bottom. I offered my services and support. Everyone knew who I was.”

Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American, was not just the first woman but the first non-South African to head up the mining group, when she was appointed some four years ago. “I believe in my judgment,” Carroll says. “And I’ve had the backing of the board. When people tell me ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘it can’t be done’ you just do it.”

Could there be any better advice for a budding chief executive – whether male or female? When it comes down to it, you need to believe in your own judgment – and just do it.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit www.ft.com/womenatthetop


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.