Yes, corporate America still has a woman problem. And Chicago isn’t exactly a capital of progress on this front: Of the area’s 100 largest public companies, only seven are helmed by women. Now for some good news. We’ve recently witnessed a string of high-profile promotions of female executives, and more local female business leaders are being named to major corporate boards outside of the city. This movement prompted Crain’s to assemble this first-ever ranking. The list below is strictly business: No politicians, or philanthropists, or cultural leaders appear here. Editors considered four criteria: size and importance of a company; title and performance; career trajectory; and an individual’s sphere of influence. Tell us how you think we did, WITH THIS HANDY INTERACTIVE TOOL HERE. And find our full 2014 Who’s Who list of 500-plus movers and shakers HERE. Illustrations by Jode Thompson.
The first woman to captain agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland Co., Patricia Woertz has transformed the humdrum grain processor into a $90 billion powerhouse that, by revenue, eclipses every other public company in Illinois. That the revenue has more than doubled during her eight-year tenure is far from her only achievement. ADM has expanded into Eastern Europe, South America and China, where it’s building a sweetener and soluble-fiber manufacturing complex at the Port of Tianjin. And the company employs 31,000 in 74 countries.
Still, ADM’s cachet on Wall Street meant little to Chicagoans until news last year that it would move its 75-employee headquarters to the Loop from Decatur. Mayor Rahm Emanuel crowed that the move would make Chicago a destination for international headquarters. Ms. Woertz is less effusive but acknowledges that she’s “excited” about the relocation. “Our move gives us more efficient access to our operations and customers around the world while allowing us to remain close to U.S. farmers and food manufacturers,” she says via email.
Trained as an accountant, the Penn State grad plunged into the oil industry in 1977 at Gulf Oil Corp., which ultimately merged with Chevron Corp. There, she ascended to executive vice president, overseeing marketing, supply and trading businesses in 180 countries. But she retired in 2006 when it became clear the CEO job wouldn’t be hers anytime soon.
“I wanted to be able to make a larger contribution,” she would say later.
Within months, retirement was a memory. Since nabbing the top job at ADM, Ms. Woertz has been vocal about her four-word management philosophy—be, know, do, care—and about changing company culture. “She has high standards for both ethics and execution,” says Alan Lafley, CEO of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., where Ms. Woertz is a director.