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The Women of Berkshire Hathaway: Lessons from Warren Buffett's Female CEOs and Directors

ISBN: 978-1-118-18262-8
320 pages
May 2012
The Women of Berkshire Hathaway: Lessons from Warren Buffett
A fascinating look at the top women at Berkshire Hathaway and how they got there

Although proportionally women continue to lag far behind men as CEOs and board members at major institutions, there has been a marked uptick in the number of female business leaders in recent years. Looking at the changes that have happened at Berkshire Hathaway—Warren Buffett's holding company, The Women of Berkshire Hathaway: Lessons from Warren Buffett's Female CEOs and Directors provides a unique look at the gradual shattering of the glass ceiling at one of America's top firms.

An influx of female leadership over the past few years—today there are four female CEOs, up from just one a decade ago—has invigorated Berkshire Hathaway with energy and unique female insight. Profiling these remarkable women, the book provides motivational and management information for a wide range of readers, from business students to Buffett fans.

  • Looks closely at the female board members of Berkshire Hathaway and the female managers who run Berkshire Hathaway companies
  • Follows the paths that brought these women to their current positions
  • Explores their working relationship with their employees and Warren Buffett, and how they balance work and their private lives

The only book focusing on eight of the most powerful women at Berkshire Hathaway, The Women of Berkshire Hathaway is an inspirational read about the triumph of a group of remarkable women within a company once dominated by men.

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Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction xv

Chapter 1 Rose Blumkin—Magic Carpet Ride 1

Chapter 2 Susan Jacques—Puttin’ On the Glitz 27

Chapter 3 Doris Christopher—Kitchen Counter Culture 65

Chapter 4 Cathy Baron Tamraz—Distribution Evolution 97

Chapter 5 Marla Gottschalk—Consuming Passion 121

Chapter 6 Beryl Raff—Precious Mettle 145

Chapter 7 Charlotte Guyman—Impact Creator 167

Chapter 8 Susan Decker—Desire to Inspire 193

Chapter 9 Katharine Graham—Capital Publisher 213

Chapter 10 Women at the Top and at the Table 235

Notes 253

About the Author 277

Index 279

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Karen Linder is the founder and CEO of Linspiration, a corporation that supports entrepreneurship, creativity, and education. She is a sponsor of the annual technology conference Big Omaha, an experienced author and editor, and a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder. Linder is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, and a member of the Board of Directors of two nonprofits, the Museum of Nebraska Art and KANEKO, and SkyVu Entertainment, a for-profit company.

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May 09, 2012
Karen Linder Profiles Warren Buffett's Female CEOs and Directors in The Women of Berkshire Hathaway

Although women continue to make up only a small minority of CEOs and board members at major companies, there has been a marked increase in the number of female business leaders in recent years. Nowhere is that more evident than among Berkshire Hathaway's holdings. An influx of female leadership over the past few years has invigorated Berkshire Hathaway with new energy and refreshing insights. In The Women of Berkshire Hathaway: Lessons from Warren Buffett’s Female CEOs and Directors (Wiley; May 2012; $24.95; 978-1-118-18262-8; Hardcover, Ebook), Karen Linder discusses the trials and success of nine remarkable individuals, while examining the changing role of women in big business.

From Rose Blumkin, who left Eastern Europe for America in 1917 and later founded the legendary Nebraska Furniture Mart, to Susan Decker, the youngest member of Berkshire's board of directors in the company's history, this collection of stories spans generations, nations, and industries. Linder, founder and CEO of Linspiration, follows the paths that brought these women to their current positions, explores their working relationship with their employees and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett, and how they balance work and their private lives.

 

THE WOMEN OF BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY

Rose Blumkin, who immigrated from a poor Russian village when she was 24 years old, became the first-ever female Berkshire Hathaway manager when Nebraska Furniture Mart was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 1983. Blumkin was just shy of 90 years old at the time and still working 60-plus hours per week in the store. She was already a successful executive, having founded the furniture store in Omaha in 1937, and growing it to a business with an annual profit of $15 million. She continued to work for more than a decade longer, 12 to 14 hours each day, seven days a week, until she reached age 103. Warren Buffet, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, later joked that he would have to alter the company’s mandatory retirement age of 100. “Good managers are so scarce I can’t afford the luxury of letting them go just because they’ve added a year to their age.”

Susan Jacques is President and CEO of Borsheims Fine Jewelry and Gifts in Omaha, Nebraska, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. Raised in war-torn Zimbabwe, Africa, Susan came to the U.S. to study gemology.  She joined Borsheims in 1982 as a $4-per-hour sales associate, was promoted to jewelry merchandise manager and buyer in 1986, and became a senior vice president in 1991 before Warren Buffet appointed her President in 1993 and CEO in 1994. With over 100,000 items in inventory, Borsheims is second only to Tiffany’s in terms of the range and volume of merchandise sold from a single location.

Beryl Beth Raff, is the most recent female addition to the Berkshire Hathaway “All-Star” manager roster, having joined Helzberg Diamond Shops, a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, as its CEO and Chairman in 2009. Raff began her career with R. H. Macy & Company in 1975 as an executive trainee, starting in the housewares department and holding positions as buyer, merchandise manager, and store manager over the course of 19 years. She became President of the Zales Jewelry division in November of 1994 and was promoted to CEO of Zale Corporation in 1999, becoming the first woman to lead the company. In February 2001, after 18 months as CEO and six months as Chairman of the Board, the board forced Beryl out. She quickly rebounded, holding senior positions at the fine jewelry division of J.C. Penny Company until she joined Helzberg.

Doris Christopher is an entrepreneur who founded The Pampered Chefs in 1980 and currently serves as chairman emeritus of the board. Educated as a home economist, Christopher created The Pampered Chef with the intent making some money for her family while spending her days at home with her two children when they were not in school. The Pampered Chef utilizes independent consultants to sell its kitchen accessories at home-cooking shows. The company has 60,000 consultants selling approximately 300 kitchen items in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Mexico. Berkshire Hathaway acquired The Pampered Chef from the Christopher family in 2002 for an estimated $900 million.

Marla Gottschalk was named CEO of The Pampered Chefs in 2006, after having been COO of the company for the previous three years. Christopher remained chairman, working in close partnership with Gottschalk and both reporting directly to Warren Buffett. While previously working at Kraft Foods, Gottschalk gained valuable diverse experience, having nine different job titles in her 14-year tenure. Since joining The Pampered Chefs, Gottschalk has implemented numerous strategic initiatives to take the already successful company to the next level. She simplified the business for the sales field and focused on the fundamentals.

Cathy Baron Tamraz has seen major changes in the process of press release dissemination in her 32 years with Business Wire. Lorry Lokey, the company’s founder, hired Tamraz as an editor in 1979. She quickly ascended through the executive ranks, including promotions to New York newsroom manager in 1980, senior vice president in 1994, chief operating officer in 2000, president in 2003, and CEO in 2005. That Business Wire is part of the 79-member Berkshire Hathaway family is due in large part to Tamraz’s initiative. Business Wire had been quietly on the block for four years, and while many prominent media firms had taken a look, none had offered a high enough price. After reading an article about Warren Buffett, Tamraz quickly wrote a letter and faxed it off to Buffett, offering him the business. Within the month, Buffett, Lokey, and Tamraz were lunching together in San Francisco and the deal for an undisclosed purchase price of the company, appraised at $600 million, was done. The acquisition closed on February 26, 2006.

Charlotte Guyman, former Microsoft manager, is a director of Berkshire Hathaway, serving since 2003. She was the first female non-Buffett family member of the Board of Directors. Guyman was invited to join the board by Warren Buffett himself, with whom she had become acquainted through Bill and Melinda Gates. From 1987 until 1999 she was an employee of Microsoft, where she held several marketing and general management positions, including general manager of MSN Internet Sales and Marketing, general manager of Kids and Games Software, director of Consumer Division Marketing, and director of International Marketing. Guyman retired from Microsoft in 1999 to spend more time with her children. Since then, she has participated in philanthropic and governance board activities.

Susan L. Decker is one of two female members of the 12-member Board of Directors of Berkshire Hathaway and is also the youngest director, at 49 years old. She’s been a member of the board since May 2007, and is also a member of the Governance, Compensation, and Nominating Committee and the Audit Committee. At the time of her recruitment to the board, she was president of Yahoo!. Decker now also serves on the boards of Costco, Intel, and LegalZoom.com.

Katharine “Kay” Graham was the first-ever female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and for many years, she was the only one. From 1963 to 1991, she served as publisher, and then chairman of the board of The Washington Post Company. The Washington Post Company is not a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, but Berkshire is the largest minority shareholder of the Post, and Kay Graham and Warren Buffett had strong and lasting business and personal relationships.

Profiling incredible women who have profoundly shaped Berkshire Hathaway’s success through their hard work and business savvy, the book tells the tales of some of the business world's greatest pioneers. 

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