Katherine Graham

“Mrs. Graham’s imprint was the product both of her values, which suffused the paper, and of the crucial decisions she made about its leadership and direction.”

This is a line from Katharine Graham’s obituary, published in the Washington Post in July 2001. Clearly, Katharine Graham lived her life, and published her newspaper, with a level of integrity that defined her life and her career.

Katharine Graham was born in 1917. The child of a publisher and an educator, she graduated from the University of Chicago in 1938 and began her illustrious journalism career shortly thereafter working as a reporter for the San Francisco News. Mrs. Graham eventually found her way back to the Post, providing sustenance and support, and ultimately passionate leadership.

Mrs. Graham presided over one of the most influential newspaper of all time during one of the most politically tumultuous and ethically compromised eras of the modern age. She refused to buckle to politicians or presidents and stayed true to her integrity when faced with questions about what to publish. In fact, Katharine Graham made most of her decisions based on the notion that governments should not dictate what ought to be published. The Washington Post faced down the sitting president and Graham moved forward publishing the Pentagon Papers, and later, pursuing the Watergate investigation, against the advice of her legal team who feared the paper might be forced to shut down. But again, Mrs. Graham’s personal and professional integrity served as her beacon and dictated those business decisions. They proved to be the best decisions possible for her newspaper, and ultimately, the American people.

Katharine Graham assumed the leadership role of the Washington Post abruptly and unexpectedly when her husband died. She was not professionally prepared for such a role but allowed her personal values to dictate her professional decisions. That dignity and integrity served her well. Her insecurities about being in such a lofty role are well documented in her Pulitzer-Prize winning autobiography, “Personal History”. She became an iconic feminist hero by virtue of being the only female head of a Fortune 500 company for a number of years. And she had a good understanding of her role as a corporate professional female saying “The thing women must do to rise to power is to redefine their femininity. Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact power has no sex.”

With passion and integrity, Graham bridged the gap between journalists, politicos, Washington socialites, and Washington Post rank and file. She provided consistent, values-driven leadership that helped transport an entire nation through bleak political times. Our national psyche took a beating during the post-Vietnam era, but the Washington Post was the steadying voice of reason and discovery that forced us all to examine our news gathering processes. With Katharine Graham at the helm, truth and integrity were the order of the day.

Executive Leader – Katherine Graham of the Washington Post:
Chairman of the Executive Committee from September 1993 until her 2001 death
Chairman of the Board from May 1973 to September 1993
CEO from May 1973 to May 1991
President from 1963 to 1973
Publisher from 1969 to 1979

Jenny Ming

Jenny Ming graduated from San Jose State University expecting to teach home economics to teenagers. But even in college, she was recognizing her combined passion for design and business. Her business minor, which included the requisite marketing classes, as well as her boyfriend (now husband), nudged her in the right direction and she took a job with Gap Inc.

With a focus on design, Ming helped launch Old Navy in 1984. The complementary value division for Gap was an immediate success and Ming was offered the job of President not long after its inception (1998). After much internal reflection and consideration, she eventually accepted the promotion. During her tenure she championed Old Navy into a separate brand concept, ultimately surpassing Gap in total retail sales for 2004.

Using design concepts as the hook, Ming revolutionized one particular retail market sector. Jenny Ming’s now famous PJ bottoms as a ‘separate’ idea is legendary among retail giants and sparked copy-cat merchandising from most of her major competitors. Again, the idea was spawned from seeing the world through the eyes of her child and taking that idea from vague notion to design concept to retail floor quickly. She successfully integrated a simple but radical design concept into a huge business success, and managed to distinguish the brand from the other value retail market players at the same time.

Industry insiders credit Ming’s focus on design as the single greatest cause for the success of Old Navy. Ming herself, as do most passionate leaders, credits everyone except herself. She suggests her team and their design concepts are the principle reasons Old Navy surpassed the parent company in retail sales. Successfully identifying the customer base and target marketing to that core group are also primary objectives for any retail concept. With Ming at the helm, Old Navy clearly catered to the previously untapped Gen-X retail clothing market. Other competitors seemed intent on capturing the expendable capital of those either older or younger.

Passionate leaders see an opening, exploit a break, and take a chance when others don’t even recognize the prospect.

One of her most significant achievements during her run as President was her ability to balance work and family. Jenny and her husband have 3 children and she is quoted as saying ‘having kids helps me prioritize my day’. She usually made it home each night in time for dinner with the family. Obviously, she started many a day with her children as well, as indicated by the legendary pajama concept, realized as she dropped off one of her daughters for school one day. Jenny Ming recognized this as a huge retail design opportunity that many others probably only saw as a distraction. She saw the opening, exploited a break, and took a chance when others didn’t even recognize the prospect. We salute Jenny Ming for successfully seizing that moment!

After 20 years with the company, and 10 of those as president, Jenny Ming decided to step down in the fall of 2006. Just as in the beginning, she made the decision after considerable introspection, but ultimately decided simply that the time was right. We also salute Jenny Ming for successfully seizing that moment!

Helen Thomas

Born in Kentucky to Lebanese immigrants, Helen Thomas was raised in Michigan during the depression and eventually graduated from Wayne State University. Ms. Thomas had always wanted to be a journalist and became one just one year out of college, joining UPI and covering federal agencies such as the FBI, DOJ, and HEW. While many women relinquished their jobs to returning WWII veterans, Helen Thomas followed her true north, and continued her journalism career.

Ms. Thomas has achieved many ‘firsts’ in her life including first female White House bureau chief of a wire service, first female member of The Gridiron Club, and first female officer of The National Press Corp. She managed to carve out an unusually successful career in a field where women were not welcome, and at a time when women were not welcome.

Early on, growing up as one of 9 children, Helen targeted journalism. Whenever she as asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her response was always the same. Once as a youngster, a visitor arrived and Helen peppered her with questions. Finally, the visitor exclaimed ‘Helen, why are you so inquisitive?’ Helen’s reaction was to ask her sisters what ‘inquisitive’ meant and then immediately returned to the questions.

Her father never learned how to read, but still had an avid interest in current events and world news. Each night after dinner, he would ask one of his children to read the paper to him. Helen not only enjoyed being the conduit, but developed a fondness for news that never diminished. During high school she joined the school newspaper staff and had found a role she never surrendered. In spite of her father’s inability to read, their household was full of books and her parents expected those books to be more than paperweights. All 9 children had a clear understanding that greatness was expected of all of them.

Helen Thomas has remained faithful to her roots as a cub reporter by forever championing the ‘people’s right to know’. She insists that she still gets a rush from seeking the whys and wherefores for daily events. In speaking engagements around the country, she exhorts journalism students to seek the truth and to report the facts. She insists that her training as a wire service reporter taught her to leave out all adverbs and adjectives, which would leave nothing but truth and facts! An insatiable desire to ‘be there’ when major events take place keeps her active in her field in spite of being many years past the age when most of us retire.

When asked who had the greatest influence on her life, Helen steadfastly insists it is her parents. She cites teachers throughout her life as being important, but her guiding lights were her parents. Her father, George, immigrated to the US at 17, in 1892 from Tripoli, Syria, which later became part of Lebanon. He returned to Syria in 1901 and married Mary. They had one child and returned to Kentucky to raise their family that continued to grow.

Helen graduated from college in 1942, with World War II in full throttle. She traveled to Washington, D.C. ostensibly to visit her cousin, but this was a one-way visit, as Helen never returned home. She began her journalism career covering police and fire reports, women’s events and issues, but was soon moved to cover hard news for the wire service. Helen freely admits that it is not her post as White House watchdog that is the most interesting part of her job. Rather, it is the observations performed and intimate knowledge gained of those in power that has made her job a privilege and a responsibility.

Helen’s constant, natural inquisitiveness has served her well as a reporter. She is one of the most respected Washington scribes to ever put pen to paper. Following her earliest instincts she prevailed in a career where nearly everything discouraged her. But her choices were home-grown and true. Her success and longevity are a strong testimonial to passionate leaders making organic choices.

Mary Kay Ash

Over 800,000 Independent Beauty Consultants work for a little company which started from a kitchen table in the home of a retiree by the name of Mary Kay Ash. Knowing the direct sales industry as well as anyone in the business, Mary Kay retired in 1963 from a long career in sales and went home to settle into retirement.

Within a few weeks after retirement, Mary Kay Ash decided that she would put together a book which would be written in such a way to inspire women to take the reins in a male-dominated world of business and push forward to achieve their own dreams. Mary Kay began to construct lists of what her ideas of the perfect company consisted of including things that she had seen during her own lifetime of working for other companies.  

After she compiled two lists she realized she possibly had in front of her a marketing guide for a successful company and together with her son, Richard Rogers, Mary Kay Cosmetics was born. The birth of Mary Kay Cosmetics was conceived in a matter of a few short weeks yet no one, not even Mary Kay, could imagine what kind of world wide fame the company would achieve.

Mary Kay Cosmetics rapidly found a place within the direct sales market and Mary Kay Ash guided her employees and independent contractors to take up the Golden Rule philosophy while maintaining priorities within their own lives. According to Mary Kay, a very wise business woman, priorities should be in the order of God first, family second, and career third. 

Mary Kay’s philosophy for life and business certainly inspired women to work for her company. In fact, because of the philosophies for which Mary Kay Cosmetics were founded, Fortune Magazine named Mary Kay Cosmetics as one of the top 10 best companies for women to consider when searching for careers.  

Mary Kay Ash, along with Mary Kay Cosmetics and Richard Rogers, supported cancer research through The Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation which began in 1996. Later in 2000, Mary Kay became active in supporting the prevention among violence against women. Her ambitions to support women were surpassed only by her willingness to enable women to work in pleasant working environments while staying home to raise their children and take care of their families. Her charitable contributions, while geared originally toward research, took another approach when she chose to take a stand in helping battered women. 

Wealth and prosperity were not owned by Mary Kay Ash when she retired. In fact, her company was built on $5,000.00 in life savings and those savings were her retirement savings. The company achieved over one billion dollars in sales in 1996 and is still growing strong long after the beloved Mary Kay Ash passed away. Upon her death, Mary Kay left over 15 million dollars to the foundation which she started. She will be remembered for her generosity, determination and her willingness to help women succeed in all aspects of their lives.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman was the youngest of three children growing up in an affluent family in Long Island. She was able to attend the best public schools and was a competitive swimmer who held the highest grades academically from an early age forward. Later, she attended Princeton and graduated from Harvard. This lady is not to be taken lightly. She is intelligent beyond comprehension and is in a position that she well deserves. Meg Whitman is the President and CEO of the greatest online business in the world—eBay Marketplace.

When Meg Whitman joined the throes of the corporate giant, eBay was on its way to corporate notoriety but had not quite lived up to its full potential. Whitman took over her position as the President and CEO of eBay in 1998 when the company had 30 employees and was only available within the United States. Today, over 9,000 people work for eBay and the company is a global giant which can be attributed to Meg Whitman.

Meg Whitman is family oriented and because of her affluent upbringing, you would think that she would be ready to ride the wave that her prestigious position within the corporate world brings. That’s not Meg. She has an open cubicle in the workplace and is surrounded by family photos and dozens of mementos which she treasures from her past. It’s obvious that Meg Whitman has a strong family connection and it’s one of the charms about her.

If Meg Whitman isn’t well suited for her position, then no one is. She has been a very hands-on CEO and has never taken her position lightly. When eBay ran into a would-be catastrophe on June 10, 1999, corporate executives from all over the world began to see the kind of leader that eBay had. And Whitman experienced the kind of stress that most CEO’s would crumble under.

On June 10th 1999, eBay’s site went down and it stayed down. Even though eBay’s site had crashed before, techs within the engineering team had always been able to revive the site quickly. Not this time and this time, all indications were that the eBay site as everyone knew it would not be coming back as it was before. Millions of people world wide were on a limb as they saw business transactions failing all because the site crashed without warning and was temporarily crippled. While some eBayers may have thought it was only temporary, a good number of eBay customers were very disturbed. And eBay engineers and executives joined the ranks of being disturbed.

Whitman could’ve waited from home as many CEOs might have preferred to do had they been her shoes, but not Meg Whitman. The President and CEO of eBay went into the trenches with her staff of fearless and dedicated individuals and from Thursday until that following Monday, they all camped out on cots for short naps and breaks whenever needed and possible. And their leader never left their side until eBay was back online and stable again.

Meg Whitman donated more than 30 million dollars to Princeton University and the university plans to use the money wisely. In fall 2007, Whitman College at Princeton will become the sixth residential college at Princeton University. Meg Whitman’s contribution will enable more dreams to be realized through a Princeton education.

Anne Mulcahy

Anne Mulcahy probably never envisioned herself as the CEO and Chairman of Xerox but that is exactly where she landed on August 1, 2001. Mulcahy may very well have been the last hope that Xerox had when they placed her in the position of CEO. The company was in debt so deep that the figure seems too outlandish to even mention. It is safe to say that bankruptcy and Xerox were about to become very acquainted. Then the company decided to put all that was left into the hands of the long time employee, Anne Mulcahy.

No one was better suited for the seat of CEO and Chairman of Xerox than Anne Mulcahy. She had given her life to the company and fortunately, the company realized her potential and placed her in the driver’s seat. And not a moment too soon. Mulcahy had been with Xerox since 1976. When she joined Xerox, it was only a couple of years after completing her education at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. Surprisingly, Mulcahy received her bachelor of arts degree in English and Journalism rather than a MBA from a more prestigious university.

Mulcahy’s positions at Xerox were varied. She began working for the company as a sales representative and worked her way through the ranks of the company. She held various sales and senior management positions and in 1992 was named Vice President of Human Resources. In 1998, she became Senior Vice President immediately followed by a promotion to Executive VP in 1999. Then, in 2001, she found her niche as CEO and Xerox found their leader giving her the whole ‘kit and caboodle’ when she gained the title of Chairman too on January 1, 2002.

Anne Mulcahy is a powerhouse in business. She serves on the boards of Catalyst, Citigroup Inc. and Target as well as a few others. She is considered one of the most powerful women in the world and has achieved that notoriety on Forbes’ most powerful women in the world list. Ranked in the top 10, Anne Mulcahy has finally made it to the top of the corporate world after a long climb to get there.

The most amazing story behind this woman is how Xerox was truly on the brink of bankruptcy, and yet Anne Mulcahy stepped in with all of the confidence in the world and immediately formed a plan to rebuild a failing company. What’s more, Anne Mulcahy had some of the stiffest competition in the corporate world. While Xerox could certainly lead within their industry with Mulcahy’s help, the company still faced challenges from highly competitive companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Canon. Anne Mulcahy was up for the challenge and because of her dedication and commitment to her company; Xerox has made a strong come-back.

Anne Mulcahy will continue to look for ways to improve the overall productivity of a company which has come a long way since its 1938 humble beginnings. She has already decreased Xerox’s mind-boggling debt load and continues to keep the faith of Xerox investors and employees.


Who else that walks this earth is any more generous than Oprah Winfrey? Who else holds record numbers in daytime talk show hosting? Oprah Winfrey has defied all odds and grown into a powerhouse entertainment executive, actress, and philanthropist. She is also a billionaire but that seems to be a minor detail that she is still unimpressed by as she forever remains ‘real people’ to the millions of people who watch her show.

Oprah Winfrey should have been a long way from where she is today. She began life on a Mississippi farm where her grandmother helped nurture her desire to ‘broadcast’ with performances both Oprah and her grandmother enjoyed. Later, she lived with her mother in Milwaukee and endured molestation from family members while her mother turned a cheek to the activity. After she ran away from it all, she landed in Nashville with her father and began to build a life with him.

Oprah’s father expected her to make something out of herself. He required her to be an achiever asking her to do things to encourage her intellectually. He knew that Oprah had the ability to do anything she wanted to do and he wasn’t willing to let her ‘slip through the cracks’ just because of the place where she was in her life when he welcomed her to his home. Oprah’s father wanted more for her and was strict enough to enforce that she see all that she could achieve.

At seventeen, Oprah was given the opportunity to work for WVOL in Nashville. Later she signed with WTVF-TV in Nashville while she attended school at Tennessee State University. She later moved to Baltimore and enjoyed a co-anchor position. While in Baltimore, she discovered that she had a knack for talk show hosting.

In 1984, Oprah Winfrey became the hottest radio show in town with a talk show on the radio which was appropriately named “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” And of course, that show became a national daytime talk show in 1986 and has continued to thrive since then.

Worldwide, Oprah Winfrey is known as ‘Oprah’ to all of those who welcome her into their homes for an hour each day. She is notably, “America’s Best Friend” but she has never forgotten those friends who were with her along the way. Her lifelong friend, “Gail” and the man in her life, “Steadman” have been influences that she carried with her through all aspects of her famous career showing that you can be humble and famous all at the same time while never forgetting those who were with you along the way. Oprah also contributes her dedication to reading to her father and other successes as well.

Oprah Winfrey is the most powerful woman in America which is evident in her Oprah Book Club. Oprah Winfrey’s Book club selections instantly become best sellers and she has received much publicity for her work to bring authors and their books to the public eye.

To give a true account of Oprah Winfrey’s life would take an entire book to successfully capture her greatness. This woman is not just a tough act to follow but an act that will never be imitated by another. Her charitable contributions alone could fill the interior pages of a large novel. Oprah Winfrey is a leader who will never be surpassed by another. She is genuine and genuinely, she is Oprah.

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