Veuve Cliquot has named Gail Rebuck, chair and CEO of publishing group Random House, as its latest Business Woman of the Year. The champagne maker said Rebuck was chosen not only for her success in guiding Random House through a turbulent period for the industry, but also for her ‘passionate’ efforts to promote literacy. It’s the 36th time the award has been presented (in the UK anyway) – and as MT learned this month when we spoke to Rebuck and five previous winners, she’s following in some illustrious footsteps…
Rebuck became the first woman to head a major publishing group when she took the top job at Random House in 1991 (long overdue, given how female-dominated the industry is), and has since led its development into new geographical areas (including India and South Africa) and the brave new world of digital. She’s also a trustee of the National Literacy Trust, and a non-exec for satellite company BSkyB. So we can see why she held off some stiff competition from designer Cath Kidston, Premier Farnell’s Harriet Green, Kate Bleasdale of Healthcare Locums and MITIE Group CEO Ruby McGregor Smith.
When MT spoke to Rebuck after winning the award (for which our esteemed editor was one of the judges), she told us that she never expected to reach such dizzy corporate heights. 'Women in my days didn't have ambitions,’ she told us. ‘We basically kept our heads down. When people came to me and said "Would you do this?", it was always a surprise.' But she says gender has never been an issue for her. 'I would rather - like most women - get on with the job in hand than waste a lot of time having anxious moments as to whether or not we're there either because we are women, or in spite of it.'
Still, the fact remains that women are few and far between at this level of UK plc. Rebuck thinks we’re still looking at the problem the wrong way. 'It's not the glass ceiling, it's the sticky floor,' she argues. 'Women don't particularly want to progress onto the next stage - it doesn't look very pleasant, because it is full of stress or because it might interfere with other aspects of their lives.’ After a fortnight in which her 22-year-old daughter Georgia has been caught up in a storm of press criticism, since it emerged that she’s being groomed for a safe Labour seat (though we can’t imagine why she wants one, at her age), Rebuck will certainly have been reminded of the downside of her high profile.
We also caught up with five former winners of the Veuve Clicquot award: Guardian Media Group boss Carolyn McCall (2008), Alexander Mann CEO Rosaleen Blair (2007), Barefoot Living chief Dawn Gibbins (2003), ex-BT payphones director Patricia Vaz (1995) and Pineapple Studios founder and MD Debbie Moore (1984). You can read what these high-achieving women had to say about women in the boardroom right here.
In today's bulletin:
Suck it up, Darling tells top-rate taxpayers
Wheels about to fall off at LDV
O'Leary weighs in to swine flu debate
'It's not the glass ceiling, it's the sticky floor,' says Rebuck
SMEs give big thumbs-down to Budget