Stroke and handicaps, but we’re not talking golf

Brenda Barnes

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.

Gorgeous Patricia Neal, photographed by Michael Conti

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.

“I can’t see from one eye,” she said in 1988.  “I’ve been paralyzed. I’ve fallen down and broken a hip.  Stubbornness gets you through the bad times. You don’t give in.”

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5 Responses to “Stroke and handicaps, but we’re not talking golf”

  1. Diane Ledford says:

    So how much are actresses paid? Is their pay OK?

    • Geri says:

      Hi Diane,

      I’m not sure what your question means in relation to the blog. Many actresses are paid well. Many are struggling.


      • Diane Ledford says:

        I didn’t explain my comment well at all, did I? I wasn’t responding to whole blog. Hard work is hard work, takes a toll, and often pays off. Your blogs are spot on which is why I read them. Thank you very much. I was responding to your criticism of the woman executive who made millions making the company under her care profitable. Her decisions caused people to loose their jobs. The other woman you wrote about is an actress. In the entertainment industry, some “stars” make millions while others make little or are jobless. Are you offended by the “stars” compensation as you are the woman executive’s compensation?

        • Geri says:

          Hi Diane,

          First off, thank you for your lovely compliment about my blogs. Now to your question: I am only offended when people make oodles of money and don’t bring anything to the table, such as when an executive earns millions and his/her company is failing, the stock is going down and people are being fired.

          The only justification for the ridiculous salaries of many actors is their ability to make money for the movie studios. I’m offended most by their lack of talent in relation to their income.


  2. Toby Wollin says:

    “She shed unprofitable plants, business units and jobs so Sara Lee could focus on its core business…”
    No one can tell me that the stress of basically ruining people’s lives had no effect on Brenda. Women are supposed to be the ‘nice’ ones in business. Remember when all the talk was that having women in business was going to humanize things, would make work life better? And then women found out, on the way up to the top that they had to be tougher, nastier, more numbers oriented, in order to gain any respect at all? Yep. Brenda paid.


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