Saturday, January 02, 2010

7407: Ladies First.

From Gannett News…

Do women make better CEOs?
Theories | Female execs must be exceptional, males just too risk-loving

Gannett News

Last year may go down as the best year yet for female CEOs of large companies, but those corporate chiefs want to make it clear their success has nothing to do with chromosomes.

“Good leadership is about the person and has little to do with gender,” says Carol Meyrowitz, 55, CEO of retailer TJX Cos., whose stock soared 79 percent in 2009. “Good leadership and good performance [are] not about any one thing, but a host of factors and circumstances.”

Still, the year after Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin fell just short of becoming the first female president or vice president, and heading into 2010, when women will begin outnumbering men in the work force, stocks of the 13 Fortune 500 companies that had a woman at the helm for all of 2009 were up an average 50 percent.

That’s a significant outperformance. The S&P 500 is up 25 percent.

Others with an up year:

• Brenda Barnes, 56, of Downers Grove-based Sara Lee, up 27 percent.
• Andrea Jung, 51, has been at Avon Products a decade, making her the longest-tenured of the 15. Avon stock rose 34 percent in 2009.
• Ellen Kullman, 53, has had an impressive debut since taking over at DuPont on Jan. 1, 2009. DuPont stock is up 34 percent.
• Carol Bartz, 61, the former Autodesk CEO who took over at Yahoo two weeks into 2009 for co-founder Jerry Yang, also ended the year with a gain—Yahoo is up 38 percent since Jan. 13.

There now are a record 15 Fortune 500 companies with a female CEO, seven of them megacorporations in the largest 100 as measured by annual revenue.

Women CEOs of giant firms remain too small a sample size to draw any conclusions, and it would be a stretch to attribute the 2009 outperformance to gender, says Susan Cabrera, whose study of gender, leadership and team performance was in the December issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly.

“Having said that, research shows that women on average tend to be more risk-averse,” Cabrera says, which would give them an advantage in times when it’s best to reduce debt, cut costs and conserve cash. There may be a backlash against male CEOs who “swung for the fences and got clobbered,” she says.

Women who reach the top also have to be more exceptional than the average CEO, Cabrera says, which should show up in performance. EBay CEO John Donahoe, who replaced Meg Whitman in 2008, agrees that female executives are exceptional. But he was at eBay during Whitman’s final three years, when eBay cracked the Fortune 500 and rose to No. 326, and he says she was anything but risk-averse.

Xerox, the 147th-largest company by revenue, became the first to transition from one female CEO to another when Ursula Burns, the first female African-American CEO in the Fortune 500, followed Anne Mulcahy on July 1. Burns is the 44th woman to make it to CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Xerox stock was up 8 percent in 2009 under the combination of Burns, 51, and Mulcahy, 57. That makes it one of the 12 companies led by a woman for the full year that enjoyed a stock rise in 2009.

Burns is a native New Yorker who grew up in a public housing project. A math whiz, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and joined Xerox in 1980 as a summer intern.

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