Producer, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”; Founder, Ellen Digital Network
Most famously known as the host and producer of her eponymous, Emmy-award-winning talk show, Ellen DeGeneres is one of today’s most visible entertainment personalities. She’s also perhaps one of the savviest businesspeople in Hollywood.
In May, the comedian launched Ellen Digital Network, an original programming and user-generated-content platform that will unify her wildly popular entertainment, lifestyle, and social media brands. Already, “The Ellen Show” rakes in more than 600 million average monthly video views across all social media platforms.
DeGeneres’ current digital assets include viral video website Ellentube; No. 1 party game app “Heads Up!”; Ellentube original reality-TV competition “tWitch & Allison’s Dance Challenge”; and interactive “Ellen Show” segment “Epic or Fail.” Under the new digital network, she’ll introduce an animated show produced with Warner Bros. and an exclusive content project with social media superstar Tyler Oakley, among other projects.
Through a steady stream of fresh, energetic, and positive content, DeGeneres — who has more than 60 million followers on Twitter — has crafted a growing brand that’s only elevated by her creed: Be kind to one another. The apparel designer, interior decorator, and New York Times best-selling author also uses her platform to help steer national conversation on topics like gay rights and to give generously to her talk show guests and to charities.
Founder and owner, Spanx
In 2012, Sara Blakely became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at the time, thanks to her invention — Spanx, the revolutionary body-shaping undergarments. The idea grew out of Blakely’s own needs. One day, she cut up her pantyhose to create the slimming effect she wanted under a pair of pants.
Keeping her day job in sales, Blakely went to work developing her idea, despite having next to no knowledge about fashion design, retail, or business. She spent two years — and $5,000 of her own money — diligently patenting the idea, finding a hosiery manufacturer, prototyping the product, and successfully pitching it to Neiman Marcus. Blakely, then still in her 20s, launched Spanx out of her Atlanta, Georgia, apartment in 2000. Her big break came shortly thereafter, when Oprah chose Spanx as one of her favorite products.
Spanx is wholly owned by Blakely. The company does not release its financials, but recent reports estimate annual sales of around $400 million. In its 16-year history, the company’s inventory has moved beyond hosiery to include bras, bodysuits, leggings, activewear, and even a line for men.
Blakely has signed The Giving Pledge, promising to donate half her wealth to philanthropic causes. She created the Sara Blakely Foundation in 2006 to “help women globally and locally through education and entrepreneurship.” And in 2010, she established the Leg Up program to give women entrepreneurs one-on-one mentoring and provide their businesses a platform to scale.
CEO, General Motors
Mary Barra is the first woman to ascend to CEO at a major global automaker. The job caps a career spent at General Motors — a career that has seen the largest car company in the US endure a government bailout and subsequent bankruptcy, a return to its market-leading position, and a costly recall scandal that hit as soon as Barra became chief executive.
Barra’s highest priority as GM CEO has been to keep the 100-plus-year-old industrial giant from being blindsided by the technological disruption currently sweeping through the industry. To that end, she has presided of a substantial investment in ride-sharing service Lyft; the acquisition of Cruise Automotive, a self-driving car startup; and the creation of Maven, a separate division at GM exclusively focused on the mobility solutions of the future. According to Barra, GM under her leadership is seeking to disrupt itself.
Barra is also revamping GM’s infamously hidebound corporate culture, bringing levels of accountability to the automaker, pushing for steady profitability and growth over the chase for market share, and refusing to accept excuses for the failure to innovate. Working for her is a daily challenge, but if you talk to her executives, they’ll tell you that her energy and vision are highly motivating, and that she’s preparing GM to not just compete, but win for another century. That’s good news for American consumers, as well as the more than 215,000 GM employees.
Global Brand President, Aerie
An offshoot of the teen retailer American Eagle, Aerie focuses on intimates and swimwear for teens and young women. But Aerie has one big difference that makes it stand out from competitors: It was the first major brand to ban Photoshop in ad campaigns and deviate from the prototypical model in favor of average women proudly displaying their curves and flaws. Though it launched in 2014, the #AerieReal campaign surged last year, boosting sales 21%.
Aerie’s president, Jennifer Foyle, attributes the 10-year-old brand’s success to its commitment to body positivity — and the results speak for themselves. Despite going against the norm of the fashion industry, especially within the lingerie niche, Aerie saw sales jump while other industry stalwarts suffered, and executives expect the growth to continue, potentially doubling the company’s size.
Aerie also took its dedication to body positivity a step further through a partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association, an organization Aerie model Iskra Lawrence is an ambassador for, earlier this year. Throughout NEDA’s National Eating Disorders Week, Aerie donated 100% of sales from a specific shirt to the organization.
Cofounder, Clif Bar
Husband and wife team Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford launched Clif Bar in 1992 after Erickson, during a 175-mile bike ride, found the only prominent energy bar on the market was practically inedible. He wanted to create a bar that the fitness industry was desperately lacking — one that was wholesome and nutritious but also tasted good.
Immediately a hit with cyclists and hikers, Clif Bar and its wheelhouse of appealing energy bars in flavors like crunchy peanut butter and chocolate chip saw rapid growth throughout the 1990s. The company has since ballooned into a global brand that brings in an estimated $500 million in revenue annually.
But it still remains true to its roots. Above all, Clif Bar strives to place an emphasis on organic ingredients, sustainable farming practices, and healthy living. More recently, those strides have included earning LEED Platinum certification, the highest standard available, in 2012 for the company’s headquarters, which are outfitted with solar panels that generate a majority of its electricity. The company also has a “reduction, recycling, and composting” initiative that has trimmed their local landfill impact by 85%.
Erickson and Crawford encourage employees to live by these tenets of wellness and sustainability as well. Clif Bar will reimburse employees up to $6,500 for purchasing an eco-friendly vehicle and offers similar rewards for biking, walking, or using public transportation to get to work. The company also offers subsidized meals, an on-site gym, free fitness classes, and paid six-week sabbaticals every seven years.
Cofounder and co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill Gates made his name and fortune as the cofounder of Microsoft, where he served as CEO until 2000, helping him build a net worth of more than $90 billion. Gates now spends the majority of his time working alongside Melinda, his wife, on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the charitable organization the couple founded in 2000. It issues grants for initiatives and programs across the globe, with a focus on global health and education and alleviating poverty.
The largest charitable organization in the world with an endowment of about $40 billion, the foundation focuses heavily on curbing the devastation caused by HIV, malaria, and other infectious diseases. Its reach is already tangible: Since 2000, four countries have eradicated malaria with the foundation’s help. And in 2014, India became polio-free. The couple is also working on a plan to bring mobile banking to the 2 billion adults who don’t have a bank account.
Not only are Bill and Melinda Gates the wealthiest couple in the world, they’re also the most generous. They have pledged to give away more than 95% of their own fortune, and they have already donated more than $27 billion to to charitable causes.
Together with billionaire investor Warren Buffett, the couple cofounded The Giving Pledge in 2010, a promise by wealthy individuals to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. The pledge has already attracted more than 150 affluent members, including Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Elon Musk.
Can you guess the one I adore? Leave your answer below 🙂