The 25 Most Powerful Women in Chicago

Hillary Clinton after nomination

Hillary Clinton just became the first woman ever nominated by a major political party to be our next president. Michelle Obama just delivered an emotional, moving speech that will go down in history, bringing the crowd to its feet at the Democratic National Convention. As we watch these two Chicago women breaking ground and inspiring our entire nation, and will soon be watching American women dominating on the global stage in Rio, there is no better time to shine a spotlight on the phenomenal women making an impact at home.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce also made history this spring when it exclusively featured women as host, award winner and featured speaker on the dais at its annual breakfast meeting. And Women Power is on the rise throughout our community.

In honor of all of this, and just because it’s a good idea, Make It Better proudly presents to you our inaugural list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Chicago. These are our city’s movers and shakers — women who control multi-million-dollar budgets, powerful media or other public platforms, and have created transformational models worthy of wide replication.

They have also shared their best advice to help others realize their full potential.

1. Melissa Bean, Chairman of the Midwest, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Photo courtesy of JP
Photo courtesy of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Influenced by her father’s engineering firm, Bean knew at a young age that she wanted to pursue business as a career. Her untraditional path has included serving six years as the U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 8th congressional district where she served on the Financial Services and Small Business committees. Three years as CEO of the Executives Club of Chicago, the city’s premier resource and forum for business leaders, followed. Then JPMorgan Chase tapped her to become their chairman. Bean boasts involvement in various Chicago organizations — including The Chicago Club, The Chicago Network and the University Club of Chicago.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “If you focus on driving measurable impact, the results will speak for themselves.”

2. Anne Burke, Illinois Supreme Court Justice, First District

Anne Burke
Photo courtesy of Anne Burke.

Due to her struggles with dyslexia growing up, Burke’s lifelong mission is to help children with disabilities. Feisty Burke is truly always looking to serve children and fight for justice. She has been a teacher and special counsel for child welfare services, and has five children, including one adopted, with her husband, Alderman Edward Burke. Burke also founded the Chicago Special Olympics, which eventually evolved into the International Special Olympics. In 2006, she was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court’s First District. Burke always finds time to mentor women too, including her keynote speech at Make It Better’s Re:Work V.

3. Debra Cafaro, Chairman & CEO, Ventas, Inc.

A founding member of Chicago business firm Barack Ferrazzano LLP, Cafaro, named one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, has decades of experience in real estate and law, much of it at the side of Chicago billionaire financier Sam Zell. Cafaro received the Aiming High Award, Legal Momentum’s effort to honor women who have demonstrated outstanding work in their professions. Legal Momentum is a national nonprofit that advocates for the legal rights of women. Cafaro’s civic involvement includes serving on the Executive Committee of the Economic Club of Chicago, and membership in the Executives’ Club of ChicagoChicago Symphony Orchestra and World Business Chicago, among other organizations.  She also served as an adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “Work hard for your clients, your colleagues and yourself. Staying happy and grateful are acts of will and habit. Practice them daily.”

4. Deborah DeHaas, Vice Chairman, Chief Inclusion Officer & National Managing Partner, Deloitte

Photo courtesy of Deloitte
Photo courtesy of Deloitte.

At Deloitte, DeHaas works to create an inclusive environment while fostering diversity in the workplace. Previously, she was the Chairman of the Board of Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. DeHaas serves as a trustee at both Northwestern University and the Museum of Science and Industry, and leads Deloitte’s Women’s Initiative. Additionally, she supports the arts and is a treasurer and trustee for the Northlight Theatre.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “Aside from words of wisdom to push beyond my comfort zone, constantly reinvent myself, and never miss an opportunity to build a relationship, the people here modeled the kind of behavior that good leaders are made of. They gave me confidence to pursue what was important to me, not just what was expected of me, and they generously opened doors for me when they recognized I was ready. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today, and I wouldn’t be the leader I am today, without the advice and examples of those who came before me, and I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to pay it forward particularly for women and people of color rising up through the profession.”

5. Mary Dillon, CEO, Ulta

A photo posted by Ulta Beauty (@ultabeauty) on

A Chicago native and the first from her family to attend college, Dillon sees the big picture, knows how to unify disparate needs and steers a wise course with focus and empathy. She joined Ulta after serving as President, CEO and Director of U.S. Cellular. Before that, Dillon worked for McDonald’s Corporation, PepsiCo and CTIA. She serves on the board of directors for numerous organizations, including NorthShore University HealthSystem and the Executive’s Club of Chicago. She’s also a passionate athlete, philanthropist and parent. Under her leadership, Ulta has donated more than $3 million toward supporting K-12 schools, teachers and nonprofits. Dillon lives in Evanston with her husband and four children.

6. Tammy Duckworth, Representative (D-IL 8th District), nominee for U.S. Senate


Ladda Tammy Duckworth’s story should inspire everyone. She was the first Asian-American woman elected to Illinois Congress, the first disabled woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Thailand-born member of Congress and the first female double amputee of the Iraq War. In November 2003, while serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, Duckworth’s helicopter was shot down. She lost both legs and partial use of her right arm. This experience mobilized Duckworth to speak out and advocate for veterans, eventually leading her to serve as Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, where she was known for her work reducing veteran homelessness and helping those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Duckworth was elected to the U.S. Congress from the 8th District of Illinois, in 2012. Duckworth famously and recently made history by participating with other Illinois Democratic Representatives in a sit-in on the House floor, taking off her prosthetics and secreting her cell phone in one of them, so that it wouldn’t be confiscated.  If she wins the Senate race, Duckworth will become one of the most powerful women in the country too. If she loses, she will hold no office at all. But we’re confidant that she will find other ways to help and inspire.

7. Jeanne Gang, Founder & Principal, Studio Gang Architects

Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects.


A MacArthur Fellow, alumna of Harvard Graduate School of Design and the founder of Studio Gang, architect Jeanne Gang’s work just keeps getting better and better, as evidenced by the newly opened Writer’s Theatre in Glencoe. She brings her elegant, sleek, problem-solving sensibilities to large projects and small including Chicago’s Aqua Tower, a Chicago Park District Boathouse and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Her current work includes an expansion of the American Museum of Natural History and a new zero-carbon-footprint campus for Make It Better’s 2015 Philanthropy Award winner the Academy for Global CitizenshipArchitectural Review named her the 2016 Architect of the Year. She serves on the Economic Club’s Executive Committee and has been a visiting professor at various universities including Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

8. Margo Georgiadis, President of the Americas, Google

Photo courtesy of Google
Photo courtesy of Google.

Margo Georgiadis undertook extraordinary challenges and started breaking ceilings at an early age because that’s how her parents raised her in Chicago’s North Shore. This led her into the traditionally male fields of math and consulting,with an eagerness to tackle really hard problems that shot her to success at Harvard College and Harvard Business School, McKinsey Consulting, Discover Financial Services and Google, where she led global sales operations before becoming President of The Americas (North, Central and South America). She also serves on the Board of Directors of the McDonald’s Corporation, NorthShore University HealthSystem, on the Executive Committee of The Economic Club of Chicago, and as Board Chair of the Ad Council. She passionately champions nurturing girls in STEM education, knowing from her own experience how empowering this can be. She also believes that future technology will be better when women substantially participate in its design, and passionately supports initiatives to this end. Georgiadis and her husband have three children and homes in Kenilworth and Silicon Valley. Best advice she received on her way to the top: “Successful people aren’t lucky, they make their own luck. One of the fastest paths to creating your own luck is to focus on people and passions. Seeking out people who inspire you, who push you to think bigger and outside of your comfort zone, enables faster development and growth. It also creates increasingly wider circles of connections, people who will become mentors, friends and relied-upon advisors with expertise different to your own. I try to prioritize spending a few hours each week to meet people not in my immediate industry or network and I am always delighted to discover shared interests and creative solutions to unlocking challenges. Seeking out passions, to me, means deliberately putting yourself in paths of opportunity. This is key to making your own luck and does not necessarily mean merely a path to promotion. I think we can too easily get siloed in our thinking and there is danger in staying too narrowly focused. Just as seeking out new and interesting people can broaden your exposure and learning, following passions and interests allows you to create expanding concentric circles in your own opportunity network, encourage risk-taking and uncover new opportunities you might not have otherwise seen.”

9. Ilene Gordon, CEO, Ingredion Incorporated

Ilene Gordon’s love for math growing up led her to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She originally intended to be a math teacher, but felt an early call from other women in business to follow their lead. She worked at Boston Consulting Group before jumping into corporate employment. As Ingredion’s CEO since 2009, Gordon grew the company onto the Fortune 500 list. Gordon is not only the first CEO of Ingredion, she is also the first female chairman of the Economic Club of Chicago. Other affiliations include Executives Club and Council Of Global Affairs memberships. She has previously been the first female director of five public companies: Arthur J. Gallagher & Company, United Stationers Inc., Outboard Marine Corporation, Sunstrand Corporation and Zenith Electronics. In June 2016, she was elected to the Lockhead Martin board. Gordon is married and has two children.

10. Lori Healey, CEO, Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority

As CEO of the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority — which includes McCormick Place, Navy Pier and Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Healey oversees activities that generate over $10 billion annually and employ over 66,000. She earned this powerful position by serving in multiple prior roles where she strategically aligned public and private interests to create great community synergies. This includes serving as president of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic Bid and organizing the 2012 NATO and G8 summits; Healey knows how to get things done. She intended to be a veterinarian, but as she explains in her LOVE WINS 2016 Human First Honoree video, the lessons she learned in large animal veterinarian medicine work very well in government. As part of Healey’s current civic involvement, she is also a board member for several organizations including Local Initiatives Support Chicago, World Business Chicago, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Loyola University Health System and Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago, The Commercial Club of Chicago and Chicago Network First.

11. Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments


Hobson is president of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based firm managing $10 billion in investments. She is also wife to Hollywood legend George Lucas and mother to their young daughter, good friend to the politically powerful — think Barack Obama and Rahm Emanual — and a regular financial commentator for CBS. Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and recently photographed for the famed Pirelli’s Calendar, Hobson is a Chicago Wonder Woman, a hometown girl who grew up to attend Princeton and returned to become one of our most extraordinary success stories. She also is the chairman of the board of directors of Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc. and serves as director of Estée Lauder Companies Inc. and Starbucks. According to Vanity Fair, powerful people adore Hobson. Sheryl Sandberg credits Hobson as her inspiration to write “Lean In.” Passionate about educating all children well, Hobson furthers this mission through her support of the Chicago Public Education FundAfter School Matters and the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Other civic commitments include Sundance Institute and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

12. Julie Howard, CEO & Chairman of the Board of Directors, Navigant Consulting, Inc. (NYSE: NCI)

Julie Howard takes her commitment to help other women succeed so seriously that she helped found the Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Alliance in 2005 and was honored by the Metro Chicago YWCA earlier this year, where she declared that the Y’s purpose was perfectly aligned to her leadership agenda, “to provide the support and tools to women, needed to transform their lives, be confidant in their decision and make valuable contributions to their communities.” A University of Wisconsin graduate with 30 years experience in the professional services and consulting, Howard joined Navigant in 1998, rising rapidly through the ranks to become CEO in 2012. Howard also serves on the Board of Directors of InnerWorkings Inc. and is a member of the Medical Center Board for Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the Economic Club of Chicago, the Commercial Club of Chicago and the Council of Economic Advisors of Cook County. Howard proudly notes that being a mother of three has prepared her for the demanding nature of her job at Navigant too.

13. Linda Johnson Rice, Chairman, Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.

Linda Johnson Rice knew from an early age she wanted to work with her parents, Eunice and John H. Johnson, at the company they founded in 1942, Johnson Publishing. For decades, Johnson Publishing was the leading voice of the black experience in America with publications that included Ebony and Jet, which captured the horror of  Emmett Till’s murder with open casket photos, creating fashion experiences and selling beauty products. Her father, the grandson of slaves, rose to become the first African-American on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest individuals in the country. Rice proudly worked her way up through the ranks while earning a Kellogg MBA to become president and chairman.

Part of the Johnson era ended in June though, when Ebony and Jet were sold to a private equity firm in Texas.

Rice credits her mother, who founded the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fundraiser that raised money for schools across the nation, as a great inspiration too, noting her early support of gay marriage.

In addition to serving as chairman of the Chicago Public Library, Rice is a trustee for the Art Institute of Chicago and co-chairs a council overseeing the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. She also serves on the After School Matters board. When she is not occupied by work, she says enjoys horseback riding with her daughter.

14. Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, State of Illinois

The first female Attorney General of Illinois, the longest serving female Attorney General in the country and the first Attorney General in more than 25 years to personally argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Lisa Murray Madigan proves time and again that she relishes her work. “I went to law school to help people. I’ve always wanted to be an advocate. Being Attorney General has truly allowed me to be a voice for justice for the people of Illinois and oftentimes the country — and I love it,” she explained in Roll Call. Madigan never shies away from a fight, including filing a motion with the Supreme Court to remove then Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office in 2008. She’s known for determined work to protect consumers from fraud and unsafe products and for creating a model to protect communities from sex offenders and predators. She oversees the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children task force and hosted the first Cyber Safety Summit to protect youths online. Likely she inherited her steely will from her father, Illinois Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan. Raised in Chicago, where she also earned her JD from Loyola University, Madigan is now raising her own family here too.

15. Anne Pramaggiore, President & CEO, Commonwealth Edison Company

Miami University theater and communications major, who worked in retail before earning a law degree from DePaul University, Anne Pramaggiore started in Commonwealth Edison’s legal department and rose to be the renamed firm’s first female president and CEO. She attributes her success to this eclectic, circuitous career development. She’s just as passionate about being a soccer mom as she is about leading the massive energy company into a preeminent future by being as helpful as possible while pushing her company and Chicago towards most energy-efficient status. As she told Crain’s Chicago Business, when named one of their most powerful women, “I believe the cities or states or countries that get their energy system right are going to be cleaner, leaner, more reliable, more resilient and more secure. The winner on the energy front is also going to be the winner on the economic front.” Pramaggiore’s extensive commitments include serving on the boards of the Chicago Federal Reserve BoardMotorola Solutions, Babcock & Wilcox Company, Chicago Urban League, Lincoln Park Zoo, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the Art Institute of Chicago and DePaul University and the Economic Club of Chicago.

16. Toni Preckwinkle, President, Cook County Board of Commissioners


That Preckwinkle should now claim greater power than Mayor Rahm Emanual became obvious to the world during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She sat next to Bill Clinton while Michelle Obama spoke; Emanual was invisible. Preckwinkle arrived in Chicago in the 1960s to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University Of Chicago. She stayed to marry, teach and help her community. She lost her first two elections, but persevered to a third-time’s-the-charm win to become the 4th Ward Alderman. In 2010, after serving 19 years in that role, Preckwinkle became the first woman elected as Cook County Board President. Mother of two, Preckwinkle is known for standing up to the status quo and vested interests. This includes questioning the Olympic Bid, sponsoring living wage ordinances and working hard to provide affordable housing for her constituents. She is a six-time recipient of the IVI-IPO Best Alderman Award, as well as a two-time winner of Leon Despres Awards.

17. Penny Pritzker, 38th U.S. Secretary of Commerce


Born into a fabled family; earner of Harvard BA, Stanford JD and MBA degrees; net worth estimated at $2.4 billion by Fortune magazine; 38th U.S. Secretary of Commerce; decades-old friend to the president; and happily married mother of two, Penny Pritzker’s life could look like a fairy tale to outsiders. Really though, it reflects the quintessential American values of working hard and overcoming challenges. Her father helped build their family business, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, into an international success with his brothers, but died young. Pritzker helped raise her younger brothers while having to prove herself in a famously chauvinistic work environment. Accused by many in her extended family of improprieties while managing the complex family finances, she had to oversee a cantankerous unwinding of those affairs too. But, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Pritzker is a serial entrepreneur, successful National Finance Chair, extreme sport enthusiast, determined philanthropist and widely respected civic leader. Her impactful civic work includes chairing Aspen Institute’s Skills for America’s Future, the Chicago Public Education Fund and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, as well as serving on boards for the Pritzker Traubert Family FoundationCouncil of Foreign Relations and Economic Club of Chicago.

18. Diana Rauner, President, Ounce of Prevention Fund

Photo courtesy of Ounce of Prevention Fund
Photo courtesy of Ounce of Prevention Fund.

Diana Rauner is a Democrat running a big budget social service agency, famously married to billionaire, fiscally conservative, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.  Her agency — Ounce of Prevention Fund — joined others in Illinois in filing a lawsuit against the State of Illinois and its governor. Few could navigate these tensions with as much grace, conviction and respect as our first lady. But, Rauner passionately believes that early childhood intervention is the fastest and least expensive route to fixing most of the expensive problems which arise in underserved communities. She believes that the unique private-public organization of Ounce is the least expensive way to identify and amplify best practices in this field too. So she stands her ground at work, while serving at Rauner’s side and co-parenting the six Rauner children (three from his first marriage). Her work as first lady includes overseeing a privately funded $15 million renovation of the Governor’s Mansion, scheduled to be completed in 2018. Rauner always has overachieved. A champion fencer at Yale, she earned her MBA from Stanford and PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Chicago. She tried the Wall Street work world, but felt her true calling after interacting with illiterate adults while doing volunteer work: “The idea that an adult couldn’t read was just devastating to me,” she explained in a recent Crain’s article.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “Your reputation is your greatest asset.”

19. Laura Ricketts, Co-owner and Chair of Cubs Charities, Chicago Cubs


A photo posted by cubs (@cubs) on

Growing up with three brothers as the only girl in a hard-working, Catholic, conservative, originally middle-class family in Omaha, Laura Ricketts dreamed of becoming president. However, the spectacular success of the business her father founded and grew while working 80-hour weeks — TD Ameritrade — changed their family dynamics and her plans. When her family bought the Chicago Cubs in 2009, Ricketts became the first openly gay major league owner in history. She now serves as a team owner and as the Chairman of Cubs Charities. She’s also made history by founding and serving as the chair of LPAC, the first lesbian super pac, which aims to elect strong female candidates who stand for LGBTQ and women’s rights. She was inducted into the Chicago Gay And Lesbian Hall Of Fame in 2013. Ricketts credits her family with unconditional and loving support when she first came out. “I think that it really couldn’t of been a better experience. They were all immediately supportive.,” she told Windy City Media Group. She earned a BA from the University of Chicago and JD from the University of Michigan. Instead of being president, she bundles for them — including serving on the Democratic National Committee and hosting a recent event in her Wilmette home for the woman likely to be our next U.S. President. Recently married, Ricketts is also involved in charities such as Housing Opportunities for Women and the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.

20. Jo Ann Rooney, President, Loyola University Chicago


Jo Ann Rooney becomes the 24th president of Loyola University Chicago and its first female president August 1, 2016. She is no stranger to leadership roles in higher education; she served previously as the president of both Spalding University and Mount Ida College. But she has also excelled in other leadership settings — including serving as a principal deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense, responsible for thousands of employees and a $70 billion budget. She was honored with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 2012. Immediately prior to being named Loyola’s 24th president, Rooney was Huron Consulting Group’s managing director in Chicago. But, she was attracted to a return to academia at Loyola by the universal praise she heard for the school’s supportive culture. Also, she felt a divine intervention. Rooney gave a speech at Loyola where she said, she prayed in the campus’ chapel and asked for a sign. As a response, she says “she felt a surge of excitement and peace come over her,” which sealed her decision.

21. Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman & CEO, Mondelez International

Irene Rosenfeld also grew up in a hard-working, middle-class family wanting to become president (like Laura Ricketts).  A talented student and athlete, she found her way to Cornell University to play basketball, but injured her leg.  Nonetheless, she stayed for a decade, earning a BA, MBA, and PhD in analytical studies. She met and married her first husband, with whom she had two daughters, there too. With her competitiveness, laser focus and attention to detail, Rosenfeld excelled in marketing and climbing corporate ladders.  She largely credits family for her successes, saying her parents taught her about the values of working hard, and that being a mother has taught her much too. “Parenting is one of the best management training programmes there is,” she told the Independent. Unfortunately, Rosenfeld had to learn this in spades when she was left a solo parent when her husband died young. Remarried and residing in Kenilworth, Rosenfeld held numerous roles at Kraft before becoming CEO in 2006. She led the Mondelez spinoff from Kraft, then left to become its CEO and board chair. Repeatedly named one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbes, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal, she enjoys a lower profile in Chicago. Nonetheless, Rosenfeld is involved in the Economic Club of Chicago, while serving on Cornell University, Consumer Good Forum and the Grocery Manufacturers Association boards.

22. Jana R. Schreuder, COO, Northern Trust

Likely Jana Schreuder didn’t envision herself as the third-ranking executive at one of the world’s leading banks for wealthy individuals and institutions when she was a freshman at Southern Methodist University, dreaming of being a famous actress. But she must be a hard-working pragmatist, because she gave up on that dream when she realized she likely would never earn much money in that career. Northern Trust must have known a winner though when she paid the bank a cold call and they hired her as an employee benefits accountant. This rarely happens in the über-vetted Northern Trust world.

As the first female COO of Northern Trust, Schreuder is responsible for overseeing the company’s operations and increasing banking technology. Prior to this her myriad roles with the bank have included being president of wealth management and running and opening new operations overseas. A Lake Bluff resident, Schreuder is at her Chicago desk each day by six. She credits her husband’s decision to be the primary caretaker for their daughter as helpful to her success.

Schreuder aslso serves as director, Entrust Datacard Corporation; director and treasurer, Chicago Public Education Fund; director, Lyric Opera; member; Committee of 200 (C200); and co-chair; Chicago Chapter of Women Corporate Directors (WCD).

23. Joanne C. Smith, M.D., President and CEO, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC)

Photo courtesy of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
Photo courtesy of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Dr. Joanne C. Smith is one of those rare visionaries who also is kind, compassionate, and charismatic.  These traits certainly help her generate the support that allows the hospital that she leads — known for decades as the best in the country — to be rebuilt, reimagined and renamed. Her vision and determination to transform the fields of brain research, rehabilitation and prosthetics are an inspiration.

As the leader of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Smith wanted to place researchers alongside practitioners and patients to create greater synergies for all. She tested this idea in RIC’s AbilityLab Patient Recovery Unit, which was established in 2012 and is a colorful, light-filled space, full of positive messages. The results from this and other leading-edge research were so spectacular that the board decided to build an entirely new hospital around this concept. The new $550 million facility will open in March 2017 and be named the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

“We are investing in science and technology more than any other place of our kind on the planet,” says Smith. “A new era in physical medicine and rehabilitation, perhaps a whole ‘new category’ in medicine, starts today.” The seventh of nine children, Smith quickly learned responsibility and the importance of confidence. She relies strongly on her personal faith too. Smith resides in Hinsdale with her husband and two children.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “I see leadership as calling people toward a better future — helping the team to see that better future and take the actions necessary to move toward it.”

24. Julia Stasch, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Julia Stasch
Photo courtesy of MacArthur Foundation.

How cool would it be to be to surprise the best and brightest in the world by giving them a MacArthur Genius Grant? As president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Julia Stasch does that and more. Donating over $220 million each year, MacArthur is the largest foundation in Chicago.

Stasch has enjoyed a long history creating the maximum public good with private and public dollars in Chicago and the United States. She designed and negotiated the $1.3 billion plan to transform Chicago’s public housing situation during her term as Commissioner of the Department of Housing. Additionally, as president and CEO of Shorebank Chicago Companies, as well as the Deputy Administrator of the General Services Administration during the Clinton administration, Stasch worked hard to improve public housing and the economic development in challenged neighborhoods. A summa cum laude alumna of Loyola University Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago alumna, Stasch has served on the board of directors of the Women’s Business Development Center, and she is the founding president of the board of the Women’s Issues Network. She’s a woman in a hurry to do good too. Also named to the Chicago Magazine 50 list this year, Stasch declared, “The sooner we tackle things, the sooner the people affected by negative conditions can find relief.”

25. Marty Wilke, President and General Manager, WBBM-TV/Channel 2

Photo Courtesy of Marty Wilke
Photo courtesy of Marty Wilke and the Alzheimer’s Association.

With her can-do, positive attitude and outgoing personality, it’s easy to understand how Wilke climbed the Chicagoland media sales ranks so high in such a challenging climate. When others wring their hands and worry, Wilke responds with “This is a great opportunity to think outside the box and grow!”

The youngest of six children, Wilke grew up in Downers Grove, graduated from DePaul, went to work for the Tribune and never left town after that. She’s worked at numerous advertising agencies as well as at CLTV and CBS. Wilke intends to nudge WBBM-TV’s powerful media platform towards providing more solutions and inspiring news, as opposed to the standard gloom-and-doom fare. Wilke is a board member of the Illinois Broadcasters Association and a passionate supporter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Best advice she received on her way to the top: “Pay less attention to the words and more to the actions of leaders you admire and respect. Studying those actions inspired me to work harder, always be my true self and to fight for what I believe is right — even when it upsets the status quo.”


Editor’s Note: A reader brought to our attention some wording regarding beauty which we agree should not factor into any discussion about a woman’s power and success. The exterior appearance of the women on this list did not play any role in their inclusion and those references have been removed. We thank that reader for their fair criticism.