Chicago’s 25 Most Powerful Women 2019: Debra A. Cafaro

Debra Cafaro Chicago Powerful Women

Debra A. Cafaro is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ventas, Inc., an S&P 500 company and real estate investment trust that owns more than 1,200 healthcare, life science, and senior living properties in North America and the United Kingdom and serves as the premier capital provider to leading care providers and research institutions.

A recognized industry leader, Cafaro set and oversaw execution of a longterm strategy that has driven Ventas’s market capitalization to $27 billion at its peak, from $200 million since her leadership began in 1999. The company’s compound annual total shareholder return (TSR) has exceeded 22 percent since Jan. 1, 2000.

Widely acclaimed for her strategic vision and enduring business success, Cafaro has received multiple professional recognitions. In 2017, Cafaro was named as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (Forbes Magazine), a list of global political, media, entertainment, and business leaders, for the second time; a Top 50 Best-Performing CEOs in the World, one of 23 executives selected for four consecutive years and one of only two women (Harvard Business Review); and as the top female executive in the commercial real estate industry (National Real Estate Investor). She has been recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare four times (Modern Healthcare); highlighted in The 70 Elite real estate executives who shaped the industry for the past 70 years (Real Estate Forum); and selected multiple times to the Top 25 Women in Healthcare (Modern Healthcare) and the All-America Executive Team (Institutional Investor). Cafaro was named a Top 50 Woman in World Business (Financial Times), one of the Bankable 21 CEOs in Jim Cramer’s book “Get Rich Carefully,” and one of nine Game-Changers in commercial real estate since 2000 ( She was also honored with the Industry Leadership Award by the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT), where she previously served as Chair.

In addition to her work at Ventas, Cafaro is broadly engaged across business, public policy, academic, sports, and nonprofit sectors. She is the Chair of the Real Estate Roundtable, and is a member of the Business Council. Cafaro serves on the executive committee of the Economic Club of Chicago and on the Boards of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC), The University of Chicago, Chicago Infrastructure Trust, Executives’ Club of Chicago, and World Business Chicago, and is on the Board of Trustees for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She is an owner and member of the Management Committee of the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 2016 and 2017.

Prior to joining Ventas, Cafaro was President and a Director of an NYSE-listed multi-family REIT, a practicing lawyer for 13 years, and a judicial clerk for the Hon. J. Dickson Phillips, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Cafaro received her J.D. cum laude from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was named its 2011 Distinguished Alumna, and her B.A. magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. She is married and has two children.

See our complete list: Chicago’s 25 Most Powerful Women 2019