Just 8.4% of board seats in Australia are held by women. A paltry figure, yet it towers above the number of female CEOs, Managing Directors or even Owner/Managers. The 'glass ceiling' seems as impenetrable as the windows in a presidential limousine. But a handful of women inspire others to keep hammering away at that thick glass.
Therese Rein as Prime minister? Many in the Labor Party caucus would prefer to work with Rein than her husband Kevin Rudd. But she's busy enough, as managing director of Ingeus, an employment and business psychology services company. Ingeus has made Rein a wealthy woman; in 2011 she was worth more than 200 million dollars. It's safe to say she earns more than your average prime minister
Therese Rein received an honours degree in psychology from the University of Canberra, where she met Kevin Rudd. They married in 1981 before Rein started working as a counsellor, specializing in helping people re-enter the workforce.
In 1988, she established her own company, now known as Ingeus. The company is now a international concern, specialising in employment placement. In 2007, Rein sold the Australian arm of the business to avoid a possible conflict of interest while her husband was prime minister In 2011, Ingeus returned to the Australian market when the company acquired Assured Programs.
Therese Rein says she was inspired by her father who suffered a crippling injury following a plane crash, but worked his way through university and enjoyed a solid career. It's a good story, one that would go down well on the hustings. Of course, Rein might not want to be prime minister, but you never know. Politics is unpredictable. Just ask her husband.
If you were to open a business during a time of downturn, you'd be considered loopy. But if you were to open that business and only make it accessible to half the available market... you'd be laughed out of town. But that's exactly what Diana Williams did in 1989.
That was the year Williams launched Fernwood, the health and fitness centres just for women. Fernwood has become a 100 million dollar goldmine with around 70, 000 members. But at the time of launch, fitness centres were doing it hard. That Williams saw the 'women only' concept as an opportunity rather than restrictive is nothing short of inspired.
Williams sought permission from Equal Opportunities and Human Rights commissions to make Fernwood a gender-exclusive fitness centre. Williams is obviously persuasive and her vision for a space where women could exercise with some degree of privacy was accepted by authorities.
The first Fernwood was opened in her home town of Bendigo and soon there were branches around the country.
Fernwood now follows a franchise model, and is a personal triumph for Williams. In 2005, she was named Telstra's Australian Business Woman of the Year, and was the first woman inducted into the Franchising Council Hall Of Fame. Those who chortled at Williams in 1989 are silent. It's Williams who's laughing now.
Westpac CEO Gail Kelly has a corporate profile as high as an Australian interest rate circa 1990. She's well known in the public domain too. It is rare for a woman to lead a big corporation, so Kelly really does stand out.
Kelly's education suggests she would be better suited as a person of letters. She studied history and Latin in Cape Town, South Africa, and taught Latin while her husband Alan served in the army and studied medicine.
In 1980, Kelly said 'vale' to teaching to become a bank teller. She climbed the corporate ladder quickly, becoming head of Human Resources in 1990 and before long, she had filled a variety of General Manager positions.
The Kelly family emigrated to Australia in 1997 after Gail was employed in a senior role with the Commonwealth Bank. As in South Africa, the only way was up and in 2002 Kelly was appointed CEO of St George Bank. In 2007 she left St George to become CEO at Westpac.
Last year, Kelly reportedly took home nine million dollars. A nice nest egg. Maybe she'll need it. In recent months, after a disappointing profit result, there has been scuttlebutt that the good ship Westpac may soon have a new skipper at the helm. After years of 'upwards and upwards' in the banking sector, has Gail Kelly finally gone as high as she can go?
Many a parent has told many a child that if you don't study diligently, you'll end up flipping burgers. Those parents might need a re-think after reading about Catriona Noble, the CEO of McDonald's Australia.
Noble started with McDonald's at age 14, serving fries and, yes, flipping burgers. This was no short-term after school job. There were long-time goals to be funded, such as tertiary study. Noble did enrol to study commerce and law but soon saw the light. Or, to be exact, the light emanating from those Golden Arches. Noble dumped her studies in the way a fussy eater disposes of the gherkin in a Big Mac, and at 19 she was the restaurant manager of McDonald's in Thornleigh – the youngest manager in the company's history.
McDonald's Thornleigh was situated right across the road from company headquarters. Noble had every chance to impress with McDonald's executives being so close they could smell that famous special sauce from their desks. Noble did impress, being promoted into McDonald's upper-management, and eventually becoming managing director. In this role, Noble was largely responsible for steering the company in new directions including the introduction of the healthier options range.
In 2010, Noble replaced CEO Peter Bush. Today, her company has more than 800 restaurants, 80, 000 staff and billions in annual turnover. Not bad for someone who started off by flipping burgers. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Who said the great outdoors is a man's world? Jan Cameron, co-founder of the Kathmandu adventure wear company, would say you're out of your tree for suggesting such a thing. After all, Cameron has sent millions of people into the outdoors equipped with her gear.
Jan Cameron and John Pawson established Kathmandu in 1987 after Cameron sold her first company Alp Sports. In 1991, Kathmandu acquired Alp Sports, then Cameron and her ex-husband bought out Pawson's share. In 1996, Cameron bought her ex-husband's share in the company. By 2008 she had sold the company, for several hundred million dollars. All this wheeling and dealing, buying and selling, ex-husbands and ex-partners would be enough to have most people looking for the sanctuary of a sleeping bag. Not Cameron. She had bigger billies to boil.
Cameron now owns Retail Adventures, and with brands including GO-LO, Sam's Warehouse and Crazy Clark's it is Australia's largest discount variety retailer with annual revenue of one billion dollars. Cameron also has interests in Pumpkin Patch, Macpac and Postie Plus Group. For all this success, Cameron is down to earth. A philanthropist, a supporter of animal rights and keen to preserve the environment in her home of Tasmania, Jan Cameron comes across as someone who would gladly forego a five-star hotel and instead go shopping for a bloody good tent.
For regular updates, Like BigPond Money on Facebook.
Images: Gail Kelly - Torsten Blackwood FP/Getty Images, Therese Rein - Brendon Thorne Getty Images AsiaPac, Diana Williams - fernwoodfitness.com.au, Catriona Noble - asb.unsw.edu.au, Jan Cameron - shareinvestornz.blogspot.com.au