The top 50 women in world business

Irene Rosenfeld rises to head the Financial Times’ list of the top 50 women in world business in a year defined by her decision to split Kraft Foods into two separate entities. As she said of her own track record, her hallmark is a “willingness to take some bold actions to get this company – this portfolio of iconic brands – to deliver top-tier performance”.

The list, which is compiled by an independent jury aided by Egon Zehnder International, the executive recruitment group, celebrates women who hold the ultimate (group level) responsibility for their companies and comprises the elite of female leadership across the world.

Interestingly though, given the recent moves by several western governments, no one we spoke to wanted to see quotas. Gail Kelly, chief executive of Westpac Group, the Australian bank, said:

“I’m very pro the ‘if not, why not’ regulatory regime we have in Australia.”

However, Nancy McKinstry, chief executive of Wolters Kluwer, the Dutch publishing group, stressed “having a commitment to more women [especially in] the management layer”, was a widely-held priority – a “huge virtue and a huge requirement”, according to Chanda Kochhar of India’s ICICI Bank.

Many praised the companies they now lead for a “neutral” culture that embraces all kinds. As Ursula Burns, chief executive of Xerox, the copier and documents company, said:

“I still speak as fast as hell. I don’t play golf. I like certain kinds of music. I dress and look a certain way.”

She went on to praise Xerox for never asking her to compromise “on things that were too hard to change because they made me the person I was”.

Others talked of the cultures they are building. Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of Burberry, the luxury goods retailer, cited the creation of “one of the most united cultures in the sector today, not in competition with itself”, as her single best achievement.

Maggie Wilderotter, chief executive of Frontier Communications, the telecoms group, said:

“You can do small within big. I run a Fortune 500 company today, but I run it very entrepreneurially. We break everything down into small projects, small teams.”

Those who lead financial services companies are aware of the need to rehabilitate their reputations and build public trust in what they do. Annika Falkengren, chief executive of SEB, the Swedish bank, said:

“We need to ensure we are good corporate citizens again.”

All are involved in transforming their companies as customer needs and technology demands. Sara Mathew of Dun & Bradstreet, the credit rating agency, deserves the final word. She said:

“Sometimes I fly at 50,000 feet and sometimes I’m five feet off the ground, rolling up my sleeves and getting something done. And, actually, I like that.”

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.

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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.