Fast Company

25 Top Women Business Builders

You know the party line about women today: They're "opting out" of business, fleeing the confines of the corporation in droves, unwilling (or unable?) to make it in the big leagues. But if all these smart, ambitious, experienced women are leaving, we wondered, where are they going?

Turns out that while many left corporate America, they've hardly left business behind. What they're doing is striking out on their own, launching companies at a higher rate than any other group. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, from 1997 to 2004, the number of women-owned businesses grew twice as fast as all businesses in the United States. One in 18 adult women in the United States is a business owner. Women-owned companies generate $2.5 trillion in annual sales and employ nearly 20 million people.

So who are these women? What kinds of companies are they founding? What have they learned--and what can we learn from them? To find out, Fast Company teamed up with the Women Presidents' Organization (which offers help to women owners of companies with more than $2 million in annual revenue) to launch a search for the Top 25 Women Business Builders. Female business owners in North America were invited to apply on our Web site and tell us their stories.

And women answered the call: Nearly 600 applied for these first-ever awards. They represented industries as varied as fashion, agriculture, manufacturing, and armored security. They included one-woman shops struggling to turn their first profit as well as--in the case of one eventual winner--companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

Each applicant was scored based on revenue, revenue growth, and level and consistency of profits. We culled a group of 52 finalists, and our panel of judges (page 76) helped us choose and rank our final list of 25 winners (27, actually, since two of our winning spaces are shared by cofounders).

We think these women, and their accomplishments, will inspire you: Each one's story offers lessons--whether it's how to spot a marketable idea, how to distinguish yourself from the competition, how to hire and train the right people, or how to put customers front and center. They haven't really left corporate America behind. They're just building their own version.

1. Taryn Rose

38, CEO and designer
Taryn Rose International, Los Angeles, California

13. Himanshu Bhatia

42, CEO,
Rose International, Chesterfield, Missouri

2. Jill Blashack

46, founder and CEO
Tastefully Simple, Alexandria, Minnesota

14. Pamela Chambers O'Rourke

President and CEO
Icon Information Consultants, Houston, Texas

3. P.K. Scheerle

45, president and CEO
American Nursing Services, Metairie, Louisiana

15. Victoria Buyniski Gluckman

53, founder, president, and CEO
United Medical Resources, Cincinnati, Ohio

4. Mary-Ellen Hardin

56, chairman and CEO
SmileCare, Santa Ana, California

16. Cordia Harrington

51, president and CEO
Tennessee Bun Co., Dickson, Tennessee

5. Gay Warren Gaddis

49, president and CEO
T3 (The Think Tank), Austin, Texas

17. Margery Kraus

58, president and CEO
APCO Worldwide, Washington, DC

6. Irene Cohen

67, founder and CEO
FlexCorp Systems, New York, New York

18. Janet Kraus and Kathy Sherbrooke

38 and 37, CEO and president, respectively, cofounders
Circles, Boston, Massachusetts

7. Karen Bressler

43, CEO, AGAR Supply
Taunton, Massachusetts

19. Nina Vaca

33, founder and CEO
Pinnacle Technical Resources, Dallas, Texas

8. Sharon Evans

55, president and CEO
CFj Manufacturing, Fort Worth, Texas

20. Nancy J. Connolly

52, founder and CEO
Lasertone, Littleton, Massachusetts

9. Madolyn Johnson

60, founder and president
The HomeMaker's Idea Co., Glendale Heights, Illinois

21. Elaine Osgood

50, president and CEO
Atlas Travel International, Milford, Massachusetts

10. Cyd Szymanski

48, CEO, Nest Fresh Eggs
Denver, Colorado

22. Cheryle Pingel and Misty Locke

40 and 28, chairman and president, respectively, cofounders
Range Online Media, Forth Worth, Texas

11. Julie Rodriguez

47, president and CEO
Epic Divers and Marine, Harvey, Louisiana

23. Angela Drummond

37, president and CEO
SiloSmashers, Fairfax, Virginia

12. Gloria Bohan

63, CEO
Omega World Travel, Fairfax, Virginia

24. Ranjini Poddar

36, president
Artech Information Systems, Morristown, New Jersey

25. Rebecca Boenigk

41, CEO
Neutral Posture, Bryan, Texas

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