Top Influential Business Women in Business History

Many influential women have been in business history, but only a handful have been as successful as these six. The first woman to rule a country was Queen Hatshepsut in the 14th century BCE, and the first elected female head of government came in 1960 with Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel would follow, while Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia topped the first female heads of state list.

Nicole junkermann mary barra

The first two female CEOs in business history are women like Mary Barra and Nicole Junkermann. Both are razor-sharp leaders and have demonstrated entrepreneurial skills. Read on to learn more about their accomplishments and the power of female leadership. Here’s a closer look at these two influential businesswomen. They represent two sides of the same coin – the power of female leadership and the power of business acumen.

Indra Nooyi, a global icon, is a prominent example of a woman in business. She is one of the most influential people in the world and also proudly wears traditional Indian clothes. Another influential businesswoman, Nicole Junkermann Mary Barra, is the founder and CEO of the technology company Snapple. Despite being born in India, she is also a pioneer in a male-dominated field such as technology.


Anita Roddick, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, is a British businesswoman and the founder of the Body Shop, a chain of cosmetics stores with more than 77 million customers worldwide. In 2003, the Queen honored her as a dame. Her success has been credited to her altruistic approach in the boardroom and her philosophy on human relationships.

She fought against the old-style capitalists who were stifling innovation and success. Her infamous sale of the Body Shop to L’Oreal, a conglomerate owned by Nestle, led to much controversy and criticism. Roddick was a controversial figure – a mix of seriousness and mischief. But despite the criticism, she was an inspiring figure – a force to be reckoned with.


Lillian Vernon was one of the first businesswomen to create a mail-order catalog. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany who began her career selling monogrammed accessories to teenagers. In 1951, her ads brought in just $32,000 in orders. By the decade’s end, Vernon had grown her enterprise into a multibillion-dollar corporation.

Despite her success as an entrepreneur, Vernon also remained a popular speaker at business schools, earning half a dozen honorary doctorates. Despite being successful, Vernon believed that conventional MBA programs did not create good entrepreneurs. She endows a chair for entrepreneurship at New York University. She also creates her foundation to support art and business-related causes. She gave back to the community by becoming a member of the boards of Bryant College and the Children’s Museum of Art.


As a young girl, Ruth Handler wasn’t taken seriously, but by the time she was an adult, her business acumen was unrivaled. Ruth Handler went from working as a stenographer to becoming one of the richest women in U.S. history. Handler began by turning a small shop into a giant Mattel toy empire. She was responsible for creating the Barbie doll and the Barbie clothing line.

In the early 1970s, Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. When she resigned from her Mattel position, she continued to work on a new business, designing a breast prosthesis called “Nearly Me” and distributing post-mastectomy swimwear. Handler passed away in 2002, but her influence is still evident in today’s business world.


During the late 1960s, Estee lived in a mansion in Manhattan. Later, she moved to the South of France and Palm Beach, Florida. Her lifestyle was glamorous, and she often viewed herself as an international socialite. Her favorite television shows were evening newscasts and the All in the Family sitcom. After her husband died in 1983, she focused on running her cosmetics and fragrance business alone. Since then, she has rarely been seen in public. After the death of her husband, Estee Lauder focused her energies on philanthropic work, including the establishment of the Joseph T. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Still, she managed to maintain a glamorous social life. Estee Lauder died on 19 March 1983 of cardiopulmonary arrest in her Manhattan home. Her two sons, four daughters-in-law, and several grandchildren survived her