The most powerful women in Chicago Business
Chicago has a pack of powerful women. This special report demonstrates their achievements across industries. They've seized their opportunities, plunged ahead with their ventures and cultivated communities supportive of others¡ªregardless of barriers in their way. To see how women are faring in the C-suite, click here. Also, don¡¯t miss Sally Blount¡¯s guest column, ¡°Too few female CEOs? How we solve it,¡± and Crain¡¯s editorial, ¡°Let us now praise powerful women.¡±
President, Ariel Investments
Mellody Hobson leads one of Chicago¡¯s largest asset managers alongside its founder, chairs the city¡¯s most exclusive business club and sits on three major U.S. corporate boards. It wasn¡¯t always like this.
When she was growing up in Chicago, her single mother struggled to earn a living in real estate, and that meant the family¡ªincluding five older siblings¡ªwere evicted so frequently that Hobson, 49, doesn¡¯t call any particular neighborhood home. Eager to please her mother and find financial security, she aimed high. ¡°I had very big dreams for myself, and I wanted to work really hard, and I wanted to make sure that I didn¡¯t leave anything on the field. And that¡¯s how I¡¯ve always lived my life,¡± Hobson says.
A graduate of St. Ignatius High School, the 17-year-old Hobson¡¯s charisma got the attention of Ariel Investments founder and CEO John Rogers when he was assisting his alma mater Princeton University in a review of prospective students. ¡°She had this ability to tell you what was on her mind and have you sit up and take notice,¡± he says.
With help from former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, a fellow Princeton alum, Rogers persuaded Hobson to attend the university. Later she landed at his young Chicago investment firm in 1989 for a summer internship. By 1991, she was his protege, rewriting letters five times to meet his standards, taking his ¡°tests¡± on Ariel's approach to business and regularly working weekends. Hobson says Rogers had a ¡°very significant influence¡± on her. Today she is president of his firm, which manages about $13.6 billion in mutual funds and separate client accounts.
Hobson has helped shape Ariel¡¯s strategy, widen its client base and establish its intentionally slow-paced ¡°patient tortoise¡± brand. She has also extended her reach to director posts at Starbucks, JPMorgan Chase and Estee Lauder.
Poised and glamorously stylish, Hobson plays well to an audience. In June, hundreds of people attending Morningstar¡¯s annual investment conference gathered in a gigantic McCormick Place hall to hear her keynote ¡°fireside chat,¡± during which she shared views on the economy, industry trends and diversity in financial services. She¡¯s also a regular on CBS News and the nationally syndicated ¡°Tom Joyner Morning Show.¡±
Hobson doesn¡¯t consider herself a networker¡ªit sounds too calculating, she says¡ªbut she¡¯s collected an impressive array of associates, including corporate chieftains like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon; political luminaries such as former President Barack Obama, whom she met through Rogers; and Hollywood types like Oprah Winfrey. There¡¯s also her 74-year-old husband, filmmaker George Lucas. They married at his California ranch in 2013. To celebrate in Chicago, they leased Promontory Point for a party headlined by Prince.
Hobson and Lucas lost their bid to build a museum on Chicago¡¯s lakefront in 2016, and that ¡°still hurts,¡± she says, even though they¡¯re ¡°truly excited¡± about the museum¡¯s confirmed Los Angeles location. ¡°It hurts because I love Chicago,¡± says Hobson, who splits her time between here and the couple¡¯s homes in New York and San Francisco.
Chicago has loved her back. Last year, she became the first African-American woman to chair the Economic Club of Chicago, and she also chairs former Chicago first lady Maggie Daley¡¯s After School Matters nonprofit. ¡°Mellody is a complete force,¡± says Economic Club First Vice Chairman Reeve Waud, who credits her with attracting Obama and other high-profile people like BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink as recent speakers. ¡°She¡¯s engaging, she¡¯s thoughtful, she¡¯s creative, and she has friends across politics, entertainment and business.¡±
Hobson credits her ¡°very elegant and graceful¡± late mother, Dorothy Ashley, for much of her success. She admits that she has a harder edge than her mother did. ¡°I have a strong point of view, and that¡¯s a double-edged sword,¡± she explains. ¡°It can be a phenomenal characteristic in terms of getting things done, but it can also mean I will be relentless in my pushing for my point of view.¡±
Today Hobson is putting her and Lucas¡¯ toddler daughter, Everest, first. Still, she wakes up thinking about her goal: hitting $50 billion in assets at Ariel one day.
Diana Mendley Rauner
President, Ounce of Prevention Fund
Diana Mendley Rauner, 57, is president of Ounce of Prevention Fund, a nonprofit that is one of the country¡¯s most vocal and powerful advocates for early childhood education. Ounce has an annual operating budget of $74 million and has secured multimillion-dollar donations from the Pritzker Children¡¯s Initiative, run by gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and his wife, M.K. This year, Diana Rauner and the nonprofit helped secure a five-year reauthorization of the federal Maternal, Infant, & Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which assists at-risk new parents. A native of New York City, she has been president of Ounce since 2011 and first lady of Illinois since 2015. (Interview condensed and edited.)
CRAIN¡¯S: Do you remember ever being impressed by a powerful person?
RAUNER: My parents were very involved in their community. They were hands-on volunteers. I saw their effectiveness.
Effectiveness, power, influence: Are they all part of the same thing?
It¡¯s amazing what you can get done if you don¡¯t worry about who gets credit. You focus on the work, you do what¡¯s right, you don¡¯t think about whether you have influence or power.
I worked on the reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, & Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. I am the first lady of Illinois, so I have a little more entree to some offices than other people do. That was a wonderful opportunity to use every asset I have to do something that is critically important for the well-being of children and families across the country.
What accomplishment has made you feel powerful?
The greatest feeling of power I¡¯ve ever had is having a child.
When did you know you had power?
In 2003 I became board chair at National Louis University. I realized that when the chair speaks, it¡¯s game over. That¡¯s when I learned to be strategic¡ªif I wanted other ideas, I had to be really thoughtful about when I spoke. That was my first understanding of the use and misuse of power.
CEO, Ulta Beauty
Anyone who pays attention to beauty or the stock market¡ªor both¡ªknows Mary Dillon¡¯s power. Since the Chicago native took over as CEO of Ulta Beauty in 2013, the Bolingbrook-based chain has nearly doubled its store count to more than 1,100 locations; more than doubled its revenue to $5.9 billion; and¡ªeven taking into account a sizable dip in the last year¡ªwatched its stock price skyrocket to more than $240 a share.
Behind those headline-worthy numbers sits another impressive stat: Ulta employs 30,000 people¡ª92 percent of whom possess two X chromosomes. ¡°I¡¯m leading a company that¡¯s creating thousands of jobs, largely for women,¡± says Dillon, 57. ¡°We have people who started as part-time cashiers and are now regional managers. To me, that¡¯s the ultimate expression of power.¡±
Despite her sterling r¨¦sum¨¦¡ªan upward march through the marketing ranks at Quaker Oats, PepsiCo and McDonald¡¯s, topped by a three-year stint as CEO of U.S. Cellular before moving to Ulta¡ªDillon acknowledges that wielding power hasn¡¯t always been easy. She had to tweak her approach when her career growth moved her beyond exerting direct control over a profit-and-loss statement into a role that required leading by influence. ¡°It helped me become more patient,¡± she recalls.
As Ulta seeks to continue its hot streak while keeping an ever-growing list of competitors at bay, Dillon says she¡¯s using every trick in her playbook. The company is moving beyond cosmetics to enter high-end skin care, a market that is booming thanks to Americans¡¯ obsession with Instagram-worthy complexions. It's opening 180 in-store Skin Bars, staffed by experts eager to dole out advice and services. On the back end, Ulta continues to invest in artificial intelligence that optimizes inventory, as well as in digital capabilities that churn out personalized customer offers.
Understanding what customers of tomorrow will want is critical to maintaining and growing market share in a crowded market, says Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail in New York. Ulta long has competed with both Sephora and drugstores; these days it also must contend with direct-to-consumer brands like Glossier, Beautycounter and the Kardashian family¡¯s proliferating makeup lines. ¡°Ulta has done a great job of understanding how customers want to shop,¡± Liebmann says.
Dillon and her team just need to keep those shoppers coming back.
Founding principal, Studio Gang
Ask architect Jeanne Gang what power is, and she doesn¡¯t hesitate to answer. It¡¯s about ¡°being a voice that is heard, a voice that people are waiting to hear.¡±
People around the world listen to Gang¡¯s voice. A MacArthur fellow, Gang, 54, has risen to become one of the world¡¯s top architects, an ascent accented by her two big Chicago projects: the curvy-balconied 82-story Aqua Tower north of Millennium Park and the nearby Vista Tower, a 101-story skyscraper under construction along the Chicago River.
Gang opened Studio Gang in Chicago in the late ¡¯90s. The firm now has offices in Chicago, New York and San Francisco and is designing a new U.S. embassy in Brazil, a building for the American Museum of Natural History in New York and high-rises in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles.
Gang¡¯s international success hasn¡¯t seemed to faze her, says Jim Loewenberg, co-CEO of Chicago-based Magellan Development Group, the builder of Aqua and Vista. ¡°She¡¯s a very grounded person,¡± he says. ¡°She¡¯s still the same Jeanne she was eight years ago when we did Aqua.¡±
She does, however, use her starchitect status to take on the big issues of the day, including gender discrimination and the lack of diversity in her field. In July, Gang wrote an opinion piece in Fast Company magazine about the gender pay gap in architecture. The studio, now in its 21st year, employs about 120 people. Men and women are represented almost equally. Even so, there was a small pay disparity between the sexes. Gang writes that the firm used an analytical tool created by the British government to discover and correct it. ¡°It¡¯s very objective,¡± she says. ¡°It¡¯s easy. It¡¯s math.¡±
In the essay, Gang urges other firms to make the same fix themselves¡ªand to do so ¡°immediately.¡±
Chairman, PSP Partners
Penny Pritzker has the rare combination of elite corporate and political power. She also has had the rare chance to reinvent herself.
She built successful senior-housing and airport-parking ventures through her family's real estate conglomerate, which includes Hyatt. In 2011, she launched her own private investment firm, PSP Partners. Then, early in President Barack Obama's second term in 2013, she became U.S. commerce secretary.
Since leaving the Cabinet about 18 months ago, she has stepped up her civic involvement. She wrangled Chicago's CEOs to support the Amazon HQ2 bid, and she's joined software entrepreneur Chris Gladwin to come up with a sort of Burnham Plan 2.0 to reinvent Chicago as a top-tier tech hub.
With her husband, Bryan Traubert, Pritzker, 59, is doubling down on philanthropy through their family foundation, committing to spend another $100 million over the next decade in Chicago. They've already backed projects such as Skills for Chicagoland's Future, which has helped over 5,000 people find better jobs, and a job-training program at the Hatchery, an incubator for food and beverage companies in East Garfield Park.
Here she offers a glimpse into how she's approaching this chapter of her life. As told to John Pletz. (Interview condensed and edited.)
You have somewhat of a blank sheet because you have to resign from all the things you were doing before taking a Cabinet position. I decided I wanted to be active in three things: be more present for my family, continue to build businesses, and have a rich civic and philanthropic life.
I'm more involved in tech, more interested in tech in how to create or grow businesses by embracing new technologies.
On philanthropy, Bryan and I sat down and said we're going to do it together and be strategic. We knit together an interesting set of activities. What was important to us was to make a difference in our community. I also wanted to be able to build on what I'd learned from my business career and my time in government.
It helped me be clearer about what I wanted to do, being exposed in government to the fact that the divide is growing in America. The ability for people to reach their potential and benefit is becoming harder. You can see within our own city how hard it is. That informed our philanthropic focus. The solutions for that¡ªmany of them are local.
At her first job out of college, Jennifer Scanlon's manager at IBM told her she had the potential to run the company one day. "Now, I'm a math person, and I realized that in a company of 400,000 employees, 5 or 10 percent were having the same conversation with their boss," Scanlon writes in an email. "I was one of between 20,000 and 40,000 people with high potential. But it planted a seed that I was viewed as a leader."
The Elk Grove Village native did end up leading a public company: USG, the 116-year-old wallboard manufacturer. (Its main shareholder is none other than Warren Buffett.) The company announced in June that Germany's Knauf would acquire it for $7 billion.
Scanlon, 51, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1988 with dual degrees in government and computer applications, then earned her MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. After IBM, she worked for a consulting boutique. USG was her favorite client, so much so that her friends dubbed her the "Sheetrock Queen." In 2003, she took a job there.
Scanlon is "a very strategic thinker," says Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where Scanlon sits on the 20-member executive board. Her interest in immigration policy and environmentally sustainable housing¡ªboth important issues for a company that supplies the construction industry¡ªunderscores her long-term perspective.
With USG unable to confirm whether Scanlon will remain chief executive after the Knauf deal closes in 2019, where she'll be next year is an open question.
Chief operating officer, Archdiocese of Chicago
Betsy Bohlen, 49, became chief operating officer at the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015, reporting to Cardinal Blase Cupich. A native of Gary, she worked 16 years at management consulting firm McKinsey before leaving to join the archdiocese, which serves about 2.2 million Catholics and 336 parishes in Cook and Lake counties. She is heavily involved in Renew My Church, the archdiocese's restructuring initiative in response to a priest shortage. (Interview condensed and edited.)
CRAIN'S: How did you discern that you had a vocation to do this work? Did you struggle with the decision to leave McKinsey?
BOHLEN: I struggled less than you might imagine because it happened gradually. I had served the archdiocese on a pro bono basis for many years. I had this sense of calling to help the archdiocese, which I thought at the time meant using my volunteer time. Then I took a sabbatical from McKinsey to help the archdiocese for a year, so I think it was an easier transition because I was already here working.
What is the hardest part of the job?
Because in the work we're doing now people come from very many different backgrounds and experiences, misunderstandings can result. So people might think that the businessperson is going to come corporatize the church, when the businessperson really is trying to use those skills in the service of the mission of the church. You have to spend much more time on buy-in building than you might otherwise. It takes longer, but I actually love that challenge.
The archdiocese is evaluating which parishes to close and consolidate. Are you the last person who signs off before it goes to the cardinal?
I'm part of a group of people that would be the last to sign off before it would go to the cardinal. We have been very careful to try and make this as consultative as possible. So we obviously ask the parishes for their own views of things, about what they think the right options are. There's a group called the executive committee here that evaluates it, but then there's a decision commission made up of laypeople and religious throughout the archdiocese who are also reviewing the recommendation before it goes to the archdiocese. I know that gets a lot of news, the structural configurations, and I think we would describe Renew My Church first and foremost as spiritual renewal. There's a lot of work that we're beginning around how to think about what a parish¡ªand parish vitality¡ªlooks like in the future.
What are the limits of power?
Whatever we try to implement, there has to be understanding of it. It has to make sense to people, and there has to be buy-in for it. There has to be some sense that people have input to the process. Trying to actually have impact without people coming along¡ªthat absolutely would limit any sense of power.
Do you have a favorite saint?
Catherine of Siena is one. She actually led reform in the church.
She was tough. She lobbied the pope.
She absolutely did. A very close priest friend had suggested, early in my tenure, thinking about her and having a special devotion. So that helps frame how I think about my role. Just in terms of some aspiration.
Vice president of sales, site leader, Google
Karen Sauder became Google's top executive in Chicago in July, replacing Jim Lecinski. Since she arrived at the Chicago office seven years ago, the internet search and advertising giant has more than doubled its employees here, with headcount at 1,000.
As with other Silicon Valley tech companies, Google is under scrutiny to do better when it comes to diversity of its workforce. "Part of my job is to make sure everyone understands the importance of meaningful diversity and inclusion and make sure there's accountability behind the goals we set," says Sauder, 50.
In her role as vice president of sales, she also leads a team that serves some of Google's largest global customers across multiple industries.
Sauder came from global advertising agency FCB, where she was brought in to run its Chicago office¡ªa job similar to the one she has now. At Google, she had the chance to step back into more of a front-line job and become a "Googler" before taking on another senior management role. "I was able to see so many different aspects of the company. I'm better prepared," she says. "The agency world has a little more traditional corporate structure. Culturally, it's very different."
President, John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Julia Stasch has worked in real estate development, banking and government¡ªas chief of staff to former Mayor Richard M. Daley and deputy administrator of the General Services Administration under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. "I used to think that power was something that you take," says Stasch, 71. "Over my career, I have come to see that it is something that you earn."
As president of the MacArthur Foundation, Stasch has made innovative use of the organization's abundant resources, which include $7 billion in assets. In 2016, MacArthur helped launch Benefit Chicago, an "impact-investing" loan program for socially minded nonprofits and businesses in the city, with the Chicago Community Trust and Calvert Impact Capital as its co-founders.
Last year, MacArthur awarded $100 million to Sesame-IRC, a partnership between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee that will help provide education and stress relief to children displaced by conflict in the Middle East. The organization won MacArthur's 100 & Change competition, which seeks innovative and effective solutions to global problems.
"Collaboration is very much her leadership style," says Jennifer Pryce, CEO of Calvert Impact Capital, which is based in Washington, D.C. Collaboration, she adds, "is a modern sense of power, a relevant sense of power."
CEO, Federal Signal
When she was a 29-year-old lawyer with a University of Michigan degree and ambition to move into the corporate world, Jennifer Sherman got plenty of offers from Fortune 500 companies. She chose to go with Federal Signal, a midsize maker of street sweepers and emergency equipment based in Oak Brook. "At a smaller company, I was able to get broad exposure, working with different departments and reporting to top executives," recalls Sherman, now 53 and Federal Signal's CEO.
She moved through a variety of roles¡ªin-house counsel, chief administrative officer, chief operating officer¡ªbefore landing the top job two years ago.
"I didn't feel empowered from the start," says Sherman, who looked to mentors like Joe Ross, a former Federal Signal CEO, for advice. "I found careers are not ladders but jungle gyms, to borrow a quote from (Facebook COO) Sheryl Sandberg. To get ahead, I had to be willing to seek out lots of different experiences, to volunteer for tasks that weren't exactly within my comfort zone."
Some of the path was tough. Federal Signal was working off bad acquisitions and a sinking stock price before and after the 2007-09 recession. But in the past couple of years, with Sherman masterminding some big acquisitions¡ªincluding a $270 million deal in mid-2017 for Truck Bodies & Equipment International in Hoover, Ala.¡ªFederal Signal has been growing again. The company is on course to reach $1 billion in annual revenue for the first time and surpass its all-time high stock price set under Ross in the '90s.
Ross, who stepped down in 2003, has not been surprised by Sherman's willingness to sell off underperforming businesses and shrink the company for a time. Her broad experience and unflinching decision-making made her a natural pick for the top job, he says. "CEOs at a company like Federal Signal, where you have only a small team of execs surrounding you, have to be confident in their decision-making," Ross says. "I could see early on that Jennifer had the ability to make tough decisions."
Senior managing director, Midwest, Accenture
Pallavi Verma, 51, manages more than 10,000 workers across 13 states for Accenture. Born in India, she has moved around the U.S. in her 30-plus years with the consulting firm; she came to the company's Loop office two years ago from New Jersey. (Interview condensed and edited.)
CRAIN'S: How many women at Accenture are in roles that are similar to yours?
VERMA: Three of the six regional senior managing directors.
What's the toughest job you had that prepared you for this position?
Early in my career, I got pulled in to take over a project for a much more senior partner. I learned a lot.
After 30 years as a consultant, how many miles have you flown?
I'm a million-miler on United and American.
What has it taught you about coping with business challenges?
It's part of the life. I like to travel. I'm very relaxed. You never know who you're going to sit next to. Everybody has some insight into life.
We were flying to a port to go on a cruise, and the flight was delayed because of mechanical issues. It wasn't going to be ready until after our ship left. There was another flight that was going sooner, but it was full. There were about 40 of us who were going on that cruise. I said to the gate agent that it would be cheaper for (them) to bump the people from this flight than to pay for all of our cruises. The rest of the people in line went silent. My daughter was about 12, and she says, "Don't worry. My mom will take care of it." We all got on the plane.
What's your favorite airport?
The shopping. It's just pristine and new and nice.
What are the limits of power?
How much responsibility can you take?
CEO, World Business Chicago
Andrea Zopp has what every leader in Chicago wants: a direct line to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Zopp, 61, served as deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer from May 2016 to last November, when she was named CEO of World Business Chicago, the public-private partnership tasked with building the city's economic strength. Access to the mayor confers both privilege and responsibility. "As someone who has the ear of the mayor, you have to be willing to be honest, even when that's uncomfortable," she says. "He listens," she adds.
"She is an important ally of mine," says Emanuel, noting that Zopp's inner circle encompasses corporate leaders as well as African-American and Hispanic community leaders. "She can go from the boardroom to a church pew without missing a beat," he says. When asked whether Zopp's power stems from who she is or where she is, Emanuel has a quick answer: "Because of where she's been."
Zopp agrees. The Rochester, N.Y., native built up her wide-reaching Rolodex working in the public and private sectors over decades. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she clerked for the late U.S. District Court Judge George Leighton. In 1992, she became the first woman and the first African-American to serve as first assistant in the Cook County state's attorney's office. Under her direction, the office became "more reflective of the community and worked with the community more effectively," Zopp says.
She cultivated corporate contacts as general counsel at Sears, from 2003 to 2005, and in human resources and as general counsel at Exelon, from 2006 to 2010. In 2010, she left corporate America to become CEO of the Chicago Urban League, which she ran for six years.
"You build a base of support and a base of mentors, people you can reach for advice and counsel," she says of her wide-ranging experience. "That informs who I am and helps me exercise my leadership. That's important."
CEO, Exelon Utilities
Anne Pramaggiore is a rare example in the utility industry of an executive who is effective and also liked.
She thrives in a monopoly business whose customers take it for granted that the lights turn on every day but seethe when something, for whatever reason, goes wrong. The 59-year-old worked at Commonwealth Edison for more than two decades and has risen from a young attorney to the first female CEO of one of Chicago's most venerable companies.
Just a few months ago, in a reorganization at ComEd parent Exelon, Pramaggiore was put in charge of all of Exelon's electric utilities, which power the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore, among other areas. It's a huge job but one she earned by excelling in every position she's held. Says John Rowe, former Exelon CEO: "(Former ComEd CEO) Frank Clark and I kept betting on her, and the bets kept coming back three cherries or three smiley faces."
Pramaggiore describes her leadership style as giving a team a goal and then demanding collaboration to achieve it. That was embodied in the 2011 "smart grid" law that gave ComEd $2.6 billion in ratepayer funds to upgrade the local power grid and install smart meters at more than 4 million homes and businesses. The utility delivered within budget, and so far its reliability in terms of outages has improved. "We were able to bring the company together with a sense of mission," she says.
That's how she views power. "The power really derives from the group dynamic," she says. "The capacity to take action derives from a group agreement or compact."
But Pramaggiore knows when and how to be firm. "She can take a very hard-line position and not put people off," Rowe says.
Midwest chair, JPMorgan Chase
Melissa Bean has formed her power around connecting with people and building constituencies¡ªwhether that's meant representing Illinois' 8th District in Congress as a Democrat from 2005 to 2011, running the Executives' Club of Chicago or, now, playing a pivotal Midwest role for a major international bank.
Bean is JPMorgan Chase's senior executive across its businesses in the region and a face of the brand, helping to recruit talent, overseeing the bank's charitable efforts, spearheading public affairs and maintaining relationships with elected officials.
"It's not a linear career path, but interestingly enough, I think, a lot of the skill sets transfer across the different roles because it's very much about relationship development," she says.
Growing up in Park Ridge, Bean's role models were a U.S. Marine father and a homemaker mother who demonstrated everyday "moxie" in managing the household, she says. Now, with two daughters of her own, the top executive takes time to mentor young Girl Scouts (she's an alum). An early-career saleswoman, Bean, 56, tells them that selling cookies is a way to practice people skills and reminds them that rejection puts them one step closer to the next sale.
Theresa Mintle, former CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and interim vice chancellor for public and governmental affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, calls Bean the rare "corporate and civic leader," adding that she is "pragmatic, no-nonsense and effective."
If you see Christine Schyvinck hanging around backstage at "Jesus Christ Superstar," she's working … really.
As CEO of one of the world's top makers of microphones and other audio equipment used by performers, she's spending more time in the field, figuring out how customers use Shure's products.
"We used to do a lot of focus groups," Schyvinck says. "We do a lot more travel, observation and shoulder-to-shoulder work than before."
Schyvinck, 51, is an engineer by training. She joined Shure 29 years ago, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She worked her way up from the Niles company's factory floor to the executive suite at one of the Chicago area's largest privately held companies. She has been in the top job a little more than two years.
"It does take a little time to settle in," she says. "You've got to find your own groove. I'm focusing more on the outside, networking with other CEOs, trying to get myself out of the building more."
The company has global reach, with 2,300 employees scattered from Chicago to China, and about $700 million in sales. Schyvinck has led Shure into new businesses, such as high-end audio-conferencing equipment, and into new markets¡ªthe audio-conferencing equipment was designed for boardrooms but has been used in theme parks and on TV sets.
"We're trying to penetrate further into broadcast and theater," Schyvinck says. "We're hoping to parlay that ("Jesus Christ Superstar") win into other opportunities."
Zaldwaynaka 'Z' Scott
President, Chicago State University
Zaldwaynaka "Z" Scott, 60, took the top post at Chicago State University this year after getting to know the school as a board member. She brings vast experience to her new job¡ªshe has held government positions, as a former chief federal prosecutor and as a former inspector general for the state of Illinois, and rose to leadership roles as a partner at top corporate law firms including Mayer Brown and Foley & Lardner. This may be her toughest challenge yet: The South Side school, which laid off 40 percent of its staff and came perilously close to running out of money in 2016, is down to about 3,000 students. (Interview condensed and edited.)
CRAIN'S: What is power to you?
SCOTT: Power is the way to get things done. It is the way to move systems and people.
What challenges shaped you?
I grew up in the South at a time when Jim Crow continued to exist long past any law that would have sanctioned it, and my parents were very supportive in breaking down barriers that led to segregation. My sister and I were some of the first children to go into integrated schools.
How did that experience affect you?
It placed in front of me a sense of resilience and the importance of quality education, and how sometimes certain sacrifices have to be made for the greater good, even if you are part of what's sacrificed. I understood as a 10-year-old this was something important to a larger community.
What are some of your aspirations at Chicago State University?
I would like to build strong entrepreneurship on campus, and repurpose the library so that it conforms to a 21st-century library for students and neighbors.
If you could have any kind of power, what would it be?
I would make sure resources were properly apportioned among people. We are, as an institution, under-resourced. We need to make sure we're offering our students the best educational outcome available.
Chairman and CEO, Ventas
Debra Cafaro has been in power at Ventas, a giant real estate investment trust specializing in health care properties, for 19 years¡ªlong enough to multiply shareholder value nearly a hundredfold and make herself the second-highest-compensated CEO in Illinois last year. (Her pay was $25.3 million.) Among the highest-paid female CEOs nationwide, the native of blue-collar Pittsburgh also came in second.
Industry overcapacity, rising interest rates and health insurance market turmoil have shaved $6 billion off Ventas' market capitalization since mid-2016, posing a late-career challenge for the former lawyer, who has a reputation as a tough dealmaker. "I believe my negotiating strengths are intellectual and relational," she says.
In 2011, Ventas sued competitor HCP¡ªthen headed by Cafaro's University of Notre Dame classmate Jay Flaherty¡ªfor sabotaging an acquisition. Flaherty baited Cafaro during a bidding fight with email comments like "show me what you got, yoe (sic) mamma." Cafaro had the last laugh: Ventas won $228 million in damages.
Recently, Ventas has been spinning off or selling assets, reworking leases and focusing more on medical office and life-sciences facilities among the 1,200-plus sites in 46 states it rents to nursing homes and other operators. Cafaro, 60, sees opportunity¡ªsomeday¡ªin a huge market still in the early stages of going public and in a demographic "silver wave" of future tenants.
Flaherty now says, "She's a class act."
CEO, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
Joanne Smith makes no local-only plans. After obsessing over "every square inch of construction" of the 27-story Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and securing $332 million in donations to fund it, she declares, "This is a gift to the world."
She means it literally. Smith envisions the 18-month-old Streeterville successor to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as a "proof of concept" for others like it. More than just a new building, the lab brings patients and researchers into the same spaces, with the hope of speeding scientific feedback and spurring faster recoveries.
The 57-year-old physician turned CEO says she grew more spiritual during the $550 million project's planning and execution, but she became no less exacting in meeting her goals for it. Smith was demanding of fundraisers during the lab's gestation: Many came and went. And when she wasn't getting the results she wanted from the project's architects, Smith recruited Los Angeles interior architect Clive Wilkinson, a vendor to Google, Microsoft and Disney, to step in. "She was not going to be sidelined by a lot of resistance," Wilkinson says.
"When you're an ¡®A' player, it's easy to work here," Smith says.
CEO, Holly Hunt
Holly Hunt, one of the most recognizable names in furniture, says she's never thought much about having power. That is, until her three sons gave her a birthday card 22 years ago that pictured her as Wonder Woman. "Power was never a goal for me," says the woman who started her namesake furniture business in 1983 and sold it to industry behemoth Knoll in 2014 for $110 million.
She remains CEO of Holly Hunt, which operates as an independent unit. It had gross annual revenue of $180 million last year and is on track to do $200 million in another two years, Hunt says. She oversees some 370 employees, 70 of whom make furniture in her manufacturing facilities in Chicago and in Dallas.
Hunt, 72, who has homes in Chicago and Aspen, Colo., is on the board of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She recently headed up, with Quintin E. Primo of Capri Capital Partners, the school's first big capital campaign. They raised $55.2 million for scholarships and to attract star faculty.
"It all comes down to leadership," she says of her management style. "I say, ¡®Here's what I think we should do,' and I persuade people to come along and do the right thing. Failure is never an option. I think in business you have to win."
And win she has. "She has tremendous influence," says Dennis Scully, host of the "Business of Home" podcast, which is produced in New York. "Everyone looks to Holly to see what's the best of what's going on. She sets the bar for visual standards. And she's been consistently on top for so long. Like the 1927 Yankees, but every year."
CEO, Economic Club of Chicago
Donna Zarcone, 60, searched carefully for the best words to describe the Economic Club of Chicago when she became its leader in 2012. She settled on "a long-standing organization that was seen as kind of like the old guard."
She didn't say "old boys club"¡ªthe idea is clear enough when looking at the archival photos of black-tied white men on the club's website¡ªbut Zarcone saw an opportunity to modernize, including remaking the membership of the club's business and civic leaders to reflect Chicago's diversity.
Zarcone already was an insider¡ªshe had become a member in 1999 while president of Harley-Davidson Financial Services. She left Harley to run her own firm in 2006, and did so until taking the post at the Economic Club.
Once there, she began compiling and circulating lists of strong, diverse candidates for membership and leadership, and emphasizing to her peers the importance of a more inclusive club. Since then, the number of women and the number of minorities on the club's board have nearly doubled, to 38 percent and 26 percent, respectively. Last year, 45 percent of new members were women and 40 percent were people of color.
The 1,850-member club is rich with CEOs and other alpha types, so to make the changes, Zarcone couldn't just pound on the boardroom table; she had to convince the old-timers to go along. Fortunately, persuasion is one of her strong suits. "She's strategic, inclusive and collaborative," says John Ettelson, CEO of investment bank William Blair and the Economic Club's chair from 2013 to 2015. "She's good at getting others to participate in idea generation and at thinking about things against the strategic backdrop."
It's a subtle kind of power, but power all the same.
CEO, Health Care Service Corp.
Paula Steiner oversees the parent of Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans in five states including Illinois, where a 66 percent market share gives it a big say in who gets how much health insurance coverage and at what price. The 61-year-old Wharton School graduate, who moved up from chief strategy officer at the start of 2016, steered the Chicago company to profitability again after it lost billions of dollars during the switch to Obamacare. (Interview condensed and edited.)
CRAIN'S: You're a rare woman who succeeded a woman, Patricia Hemingway Hall, as CEO. What can be done to unclog the pipeline of female executives?
STEINER: I get asked that question a lot¡ªI'm kind of a rare breed. The reality is that pipelines spring leaks all the time. One reason is they're built out of shoddy materials, and I don't accept that rationale. Clearly we have the right materials going in. But pipelines can be influenced by their environment. And you can have really hostile environments that create cracks in pipelines. In business we call that culture. This is a multidecade journey.
When you came to Chicago 35 years ago, the Blues were losing members and money. What did you bring to the crisis that created opportunity?
That was a lucky break for me. I have the background in public policy, not just from growing up in Washington, D.C. I had classic business training. I was trained to segment markets and take apart problems. The Blues at the time weren't grounded in business principles as much as they were in social ideology, and they had new entrants taking away their business.
What's your greatest challenge now?
Affordability. At the cost of anywhere from $14,000 to $18,000 a year for a family of four, the product we sell is out of reach for most Americans, unless they get help from their employer, the federal government or the state.
Do you see a point where that market is going to be profitable?
We will be profitable this year. Our goal, though, long term is to stabilize. Since the Affordable Care Act started, we have lost $2.5 billion in the retail market. So we have a long way to go to recoup the losses.
Do you have any qualms about the gap between your comp¡ª$5.7 million in 2015¡ªand where your policyholders are in this era of increased wealth inequality?
Well, you're getting into a societal issue that extends far beyond HCSC and is clearly central to the challenges that face the country.
What is on your horizon? Do you face a mandatory retirement age?
Hey, I'm just getting started. I've only been at it (as CEO) two and a half years. Trying to push me out?
Chair and CEO, Deloitte Consulting
As CEO of Deloitte Consulting, Janet Foutty, 52, is responsible for about 50,000 employees and a business that generates $9 billion in annual revenue. She's also a frequent and candid presence on social media¡ªshe has more than 5,600 Twitter followers. For Foutty, sharing personal stories is key to building a strong organizational culture. As told to Steve Hendershot (interview condensed and edited).
Being influential is about how you set an example and shape an environment where your people can succeed. Authenticity is an incredibly important part of that.
The first time I started to weave things about who I am personally into my professional conversations happened in 2007. I was leading a new team where I had responsibility across multiple cities and sets of people, and my early communications felt a little flat. I started thinking about how to create intimacy with a larger group of people. I decided to talk about how our family built a DIY ice rink in our backyard in Evanston so my kids could skate and play hockey, and how that created a very different family dynamic. We as parents appreciated our children's creativity and tenacity in wanting to try to make this idea a reality; they appreciated us as parents for pursuing such an out-of-the-box experience.
It felt a little bit unnatural, and I had to push myself to put it out there. I tied it into a broader business discussion. But by putting my authentic self out there, I was creating an inclusive environment where other people are comfortable doing that. And sharing in that way gives me a platform to be able to influence how other people think about how they bring themselves to work.
Openness and transparency at Deloitte, where we get to know each other on a personal level better, makes for higher-performing teams because you are more invested in each other to enable better collaboration and teamwork¡ªwhich is ultimately what drives successful outcomes for our clients.
More than a decade later, people still say to me, "I'm going to be in Chicago. Can I come skate with you?"
Partner, Kirkland & Ellis
Linda Myers settled on a career in law at age 5 after watching "Adam's Rib" with her grandmother. "I thought Katharine Hepburn seemed cool and together and strong, and I loved it," she says.
Myers, 54, joined the 15-lawyer management committee at Kirkland & Ellis in 2010. The law firm brought in nearly $3.17 billion in 2017, making it the country's largest law firm by revenue. When she started at Kirkland in 1994, she was the firm's second debt finance lawyer. Now she heads the practice, which has grown nearly tenfold. Her clients include United Airlines, Nuveen Investments, Zebra Technologies and private-equity giants Bain Capital and KKR.
Not only is Myers "a technically excellent lawyer," says Leslie Smith, another partner on Kirkland's management committee, but "she is always working to promote junior stars and, not only help them in their careers, but also strengthen the firm by doing that."
Myers has recruited big names to the firm and championed ways to improve lawyers' quality of life, from a well-being program to reviews of partners by subordinates. She helped in 2003 to found the firm's initiative to recruit, retain and promote female lawyers and hosts an annual cocktail party to foster connections between female partners and law students working at Kirkland for the summer.
Group president, prepared foods, Tyson Foods
When you hear the name Tyson Foods, you probably think about chicken. But consider this: As the largest food company in the U.S., Tyson employs 122,000 people and generates almost $40 billion in annual sales from feeding an ever-increasing global population that wants much more for dinner than another serving of nuggets.
As group president of prepared foods at Tyson, Sally Grimes understands her inherent challenge: ¡°We need to lead the responsible production of food and raise the world¡¯s expectations of how much good food can do,¡± she says. That means Grimes is responsible for shifting Americans¡¯ relationship with food and tackling the head-spinning issue of sustainability, all while delivering top- and bottom-line growth for Tyson¡¯s nearly $8 billion prepared-foods unit.
She¡¯s fulfilling those outsize goals¡ªand, in the process, changing the future of food¡ªby investing in plant-based proteins like Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats, as well as backing innovations like Yappah protein crisps, which ¡°upcycle¡± chicken and vegetable leftovers from other food processing.
Ethan Brown, the vegan CEO of Beyond Meat, says he first met Grimes in 2012, when she was chief innovation officer of Chicago-based Hillshire Brands. ¡°It was clear then that she saw that shifts were already underway in the protein space,¡± he says.
Since landing at Tyson in 2014, when the Springdale, Ark., meat processor bought Hillshire Brands, Grimes, 47, has capitalized on unprecedented opportunity born of Tyson¡¯s deep pockets. Her arrival came at exactly the right time, as Tyson¡ªpowered by its Chicago office and new innovation lab¡ªbegan digging into new ways to deliver healthy, convenient options to protein-obsessed customers.
CEO, Chicago Public Media
Goli Sheikholeslami likes to make things happen, and Chicago Public Media has benefited from that drive since she arrived there in 2014. She lured a $2 million gift from the Pritzker Foundation to transform the nonprofit¡¯s digital outreach, and now she¡¯s on a hiring spree at its NPR affiliate, WBEZ-FM/91.5, and its Vocalo Radio station station, WBEK-FM/91.1.
Donors, who fund more than half of CPM¡¯s budget, and employees gravitate to her. ¡°She is able to tell a very exciting story about what¡¯s happening at WBEZ and what the possibilities are, and how someone¡¯s contribution could have a real impact,¡± says Kay McCurdy, a Chicago attorney on the CPM board.
While Sheikholeslami, 50, has previously led divisions with more employees¡ªincluding at the Washington Post and digital media company Everyday Health¡ªthis CEO role is her first as the ¡°ultimate decision-maker,¡± she says. Ever since a college job working in production management for a Washington, D.C., documentary filmmaker, she¡¯s wanted to run the show. ¡°I sometimes joke, I like telling people what to do¡± she says wryly. ¡°I like to make order out of chaos.¡±
A passion for progress has sometimes led to impatience, but she¡¯s learned to temper her zeal. ¡°A lot of my time is focused on making sure the board and the staff are really on the same page with me in terms of where we¡¯re taking the organization,¡± she says.