FOF Brenda Barnes is one of a handful of American businesswomen to rise to the tippy top of a Fortune 500 company. She was the first female CEO of PepsiCo. Then, as chairwoman and chief executive of food maker, Sara Lee, Brenda spent the last five years leading the organization through an arduous restructuring. She shed unprofitable plants, business units and jobs so Sara Lee could focus on its core business. At one point, the company owned underwear brand, Hanes.
Brenda, 56, recently had a stroke and was on temporary medical leave until yesterday, when the company announced she would step down permanently to focus on improving her health. She also is resigning her spot on Sara Lee’s board.
I’m no doctor (although sometimes I act like one), but I’ve got to believe that intense work pressures contributed to Brenda’s illness. Public companies judge their executives’ “worth” by the level of their stock and Sara Lee’s shares dropped 21 percent since the restructuring began. Brenda earned millions of dollars, even while her company fired thousands. I don’t expect executives to work for nothing, but I’m not sure I approve of that scenario, either. I’d have a hard time justifying it for myself.
I wish Brenda well.
Actress Patricia Neal, who suffered three strokes in 1965 when she was 39 (a year after she received an Oscar for best actress in Hud), died on Sunday at 84. Before becoming ill, Patricia lost her first child and an accident left her infant son with brain damage. Following her strokes, she was in a coma for three weeks and then semi-paralyzed and unable to speak. She learned to walk and talk again and went on to be nominated for an Oscar.
I remember following the Patricia Neal story when I was 18. It affected me deeply that such a young woman had to endure such tragedy. I was excited as she became better and better.