There’s no denying the huge rise in successful female entrepreneurs over the last few decades. Women have been smashing gender inequalities and proving their innovation, leadership and determination across multiple business industries. From beauty gurus to CEOS of major companies, here is a list of our Top 10 Female Entrepreneurs from the past century for International Women’s Day 2021, who carved the path for female entrepreneurs today, helping to shape an equal society and empower women in business.
1. Madam C.J Walker
The first female self-made millionaire in America, Madam C.J Walker is regarded as one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of the 20th century. Walker started her business in 1905, using the knowledge she had learned about hair and hair products from her two brothers, who were barbers. Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioner, was born, and grew rapidly, spreading to Central America and the Caribbean. By 1917, Walker held one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in The United States. What makes Walker’s success truly remarkable is that she built her business from scratch; her parents were slaves and she was orphaned at the mere age of 7. A true trailblazer for female entrepreneurship.
2. Coco Chanel
In 1910, Coco Chanel began designing hats as a distraction from the sorrow of losing a loved one. In 1912, Gabrielle Dorziat, a theatre actress, wore one of Chanel’s hats in a play, causing Chanel’s hat designing expertise to become recognised. Chanel opened a boutique in Normandy in 1913, selling a whole manner of clothing and accessories, and later expanding to fragrance. It was in 1921 that arguably the most iconic fragrance in history, Chanel No 5, was released, becoming the first fragrance to be sold worldwide. Chanel as a brand exploded from here and still to this day, her name is recognised all around the world as a true icon.
3. Elizabeth Arden
At the height of her career, Elizabeth Arden was one of the wealthiest women in the world. A tireless entrepreneur, she established the American beauty industry and successfully built up an entire empire. In 1912, she visited France to learn of the beauty practices in Parisian salons, and returned to America with the knowledge and practices she had uncovered. She introduced the concept of eye makeup to America and expanded her business, opening up salons worldwide. To this day, consumers still loyally purchase Elizabeth Arden products.
4. Brownie Wise
The inventor of Tupperware was a man named Earl Tupper. However, the success of Tupperware itself is owed entirely to Brownie Wise, a saleswoman who saw the potential in the product. She found that these plastic containers could be marketed well at social events and home parties, and consequently, her home sales surpassed store sales. This caught the attention of Earl Tupper himself and he appointed Wise as his vice president. It was extremely uncommon for females to be in a high position for a company during this time, so it was an incredible achievement. Wise’s innovation and sales skills are what made her a successful businesswoman. Truly inspiring.
5. Katharine Graham
In 1972, Katharine Graham was appointed as CEO of The Washington Post: this meant she was the very first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Graham stated that she faced many struggles as a female in such a high position at a company, but her leadership and determination was sincerely inspiring, and there’s no doubt that The Washington Post wouldn’t have been the success it was without her. Graham received so much recognition during her career, and Steven Spielberg even produced a film about her called The Post, with Meryl Streep portraying Graham.
6. Oprah Winfrey
The Daily Telegraph, TIME and CNN have all dubbed Oprah Winfrey “the most influential woman in the world” and this is indeed a statement I may have to agree with. Her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, was the highest rated show of its kind and she revolutionized the talk show genre by smashing taboos and exploring new, controversial ideas. Her influence has been massive, and her philanthropic efforts have inspired people to make a difference to the lives of others. Interestingly, Winfrey once stated that “she does not like being referred to as a businesswoman”, but businesswoman or not, Winfrey’s influence on the lives of others, and the success she has built for herself, has been monumental.
7. Indra Nooyi
Indra Nooyi is CEO of the world’s second-largest food and beverage company in the world, PepsiCo. Ranked by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in the world, it was Nooyi’s attitude and insight towards financial strategising which have made her one of the most successful CEOs in the world. Realising that more and more people were starting to make healthier choices, and consequently sales of fizzy drinks and unhealthy snacks could decline, it became obvious to Nooyi that PepsiCo needed more diversity in their products. Nooyi instigated the acquisition of Tropicana and Quaker Oats to the company and pulled in a revenue of £20 billion in 2017 alone.
8. Arianna Huffington
The Huffington Post is by far the most successful blog of its kind, with a revenue of $14 million per month. Huffington launched her blog back in 2005, and her liberal views on life and politics are what shaped The Huffington Post into success. Huffington is recognised for creating a new kind of media business- one that made use of the new digital medium, as she realised people were beginning to go to the internet for news and information. A huge success, Huffington sold her blog to AOL for $315 million in 2011.
9. J.K Rowling
One of the best selling authors of all time, JK Rowling transformed from struggling single mother to a best-selling billionaire. Her Harry Potter books took the literary world by a storm, having sold over 500 million copies worldwide. The franchise itself is worth over £18 billion, including films, merchandise and theme parks, which have continued to capture the interest and dedication of fans for two decades. What makes Rowling’s success so special is that she was rejected by 12 different publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury; luckily Rowling had the perseverance and determination to continue trying after so much rejection. She has managed to build an entire empire out of a huge, dedicated fanbase, making her more than just an author, but a true entrepreneur.
10. Zoe Sugg
In under a decade, Zoe Sugg, also known as “Zoella”, has created an empire through her Youtube videos. By creating entertaining videos on makeup, fashion, daily life and advice, Sugg has accumulated over 12 million followers, and this is continuing to grow rapidly. Sugg also has her own beauty range which is sold nationwide across Boots and Superdrug. Even more impressively, Sugg’s debut novel Girl Online smashed records as the fastest selling book of 2014, and achieved the highest sales for a novel within the first week of its release since 1998. Zoella’s innovation, authenticity and creativity is what has made her an internet sensation; she is relatable and genuine and this has what has gained her such a loyal following. Forbes has even placed Sugg at number 1 on the top influencers list in the beauty category.
What are your thoughts on female entrepreneurship? Who has influenced you? Leave a comment below!
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