Top Influential Business Women in Business History

If you’re interested in the past and present of American business, you’ve likely heard of some of the top influential female leaders. IBM named Ginni Rometty as its CEO, Sheryl Sandberg led Facebook to its IPO, Irene Rosenfeld split Kraft into two public companies, and Marissa Mayer jumped from an exec position at Google to a CEO spot at Yahoo. But what about the women behind these iconic companies? How did they change the course of business?

Nicole junkermann mary barra

A woman who has accomplished much in the business world is Nicole Junkermann. The CEO of General Motors is one of the most influential businesswomen in history. She attended college and majored in business administration and electrical engineering. By the time she turned 18 years old, she was already working for a multinational company. She is the first female CEO of a large company. She has been credited with changing the company culture and working towards its future.

Other prominent female executives include Nicole Junkermann Mary Barra. While all three women come from affluent families, they have proven their courage and leadership abilities. In addition to their great business acumen, they have exemplified the qualities that make women powerful leaders. So, what makes these women so inspiring? Read on to discover more about these inspirational businesswomen.


Among the most influential businesswomen in history is Dame Anita Roddick, who is considered a pioneer of green entrepreneurship. In the 1970s, her ideas about social and community economics were dismissed, but by the early 1990s, her visions for business were championed by leading educational institutions. Since then, she has been hailed as one of the most influential businesswomen in history.

The late 1990s saw the rise of the corporate sector and an intense focus on human rights, particularly in Nigeria. This led to a global movement supporting human rights, including a campaign that saw 3 million customers give thumbprints to support human rights defenders in jail. In late 2002, Anita founded the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights (BLIHR), which encourages companies to be responsible in this area.


Lillian Vernon was born in Leipzig, Germany, the second of two children. Her older brother, Fred, was three years older. Her parents were both successful businessmen in lingerie manufacturing. Her father was a well-dressed and exceptionally intelligent man who was equally as gifted in solving problems as he was in his business. As a result, Vernon was born with many of the same traits.

The Second World War brought many women into the workforce, replacing men in the military. This created an unmet need for many women who jumped into the workforce. Pauline Trigere opened a fashion house, and Lillian Vernon founded a home-based cosmetics company. All three businesses grew into billion-dollar enterprises. Today, The Estee Lauder Company and Lillian Vernon are among the most famous and innovative businesswomen in history.


In 1959, Mattel introduced the first Barbie doll to the public at the New York Toy Fair. The handler used an older woman’s doll, Bild Lilli, as the inspiration for Barbie. Two years later, Mattel introduced the Ken Doll. Both dolls were a huge success and were recognized by 98 percent of Americans. Today, women worldwide recognize Barbie and Ken.

In 1970, Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to undergo a mastectomy. Despite her cancer, she continued to work at Paramount and enrolled at the Art Center College of Design. Her husband began sketching designs for Lucite accessories. Handler encouraged him to produce these pieces and sell them. In 1995, Handler turned her new business into a massive empire that eventually made her one of the wealthiest women in U.S. history.


In her later years, Estee Lauder became a key player in the family cosmetics business. She was involved in planning advertising campaigns, developing new fragrances, and entertaining on a grand scale. She also enjoyed the finer things in life, including evening newscasts, sitcoms, and vacations to the south of France. She was so beloved by her family that her husband, Joseph, offered her an ambassadorship to Luxembourg, but she declined. Lauder was the only woman to cut into time magazine’s list of the 20 greatest business geniuses of the twentieth century.

Lauder is arguably the most influential woman in business history. The company’s products have influenced millions of women worldwide, including the First Lady of Fashion. She has become one of the world’s most famous beauty entrepreneurs, and her products are now found in fine department stores around the globe. In addition to her makeup, she introduced Aramis male toiletries and Clinique fashion cosmetics. Her success was such that she eventually convinced Harrod’s in London and Galleries Lafayette in Paris to carry her products. By the mid-1970s, Estee Lauder’s products were sold in 70 countries. By the end of the decade, the company had a staff of over 10,000 and sales totaling over $2 billion. This company accounted for 50 percent of retail beauty aids in the United States.

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