Business

12 female entrepreneurs who changed the way we do business

Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT) April 12, 2013
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By Catriona Davies & Lauren Said-Moorhouse, for CNN

From Weight Watchers to Chanel to China's largest recycled paper company, smart women have been behind many of the great businesses of the last century.

We've joined with America's National Women's History Museum -- who've just opened an online exhibition in partnership with Microsoft, charting the achievements of female entrepreneurs over the last hundred years -- to celebrate some of the many women who changed the way we do business.
Elizabeth Arden (1884-1966)
Beauty products
Started: 1910

In an age when it was rare for women to wear make-up or run a business, Canadian Elizabeth Arden opened her first spa in Fifth Avenue, New York, in 1910, hiring chemists to develop her skincare products. By 1922, the company became one of the first global brands, and in 1946, Arden was the first woman on the cover of Time magazine.

At the time of her death in 1966, more than 100 Elizabeth Arden Salons were in business worldwide. The company was sold in 1971 for $38 million. Still going strong, the brand took $1.238 billion in revenues in 2012.
L: Library of Congress/R: Katy Winn/Getty Images/file
Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
Fashion designer
Started: 1910

From an inauspicious start, raised in a Catholic orphanage where she learned to be a seamstress, Chanel went on to become one of the world's best-known fashion designers. She opened her first millinery store in Paris in 1910, according to The Biography Channel, and by the 1920s was known as a style icon.

In 1922, she launched her most famous fragrance Chanel No. 5, which remains a a favorite for millions of women. Chanel worked up until her death in the Ritz Hotel at the age of 88, and her name is still carried on fashion, fragrances, jewelery and watches.
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/file
Joyce Chen (1917-1994)
Chinese food
Started: 1958

Chinese restaurants were still a rarity in the United States when Joyce Chen opened her hugely successful restaurant in 1958 in Massachusetts. Chen, who had left China with her husband in 1949, is credited with introducing Americans to Mandarin food through her PBS series "Joyce Chen Cooks" and several cookbooks.

She developed a flat bottom wok and her name still appears on a range of kitchenware through a business run by her son. Her business was worth $9 million in its heyday.
Joyce Chen family collection
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
SoleRebels footwear
Started: 2004

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu came up with her business idea after watching her friends and neighbors in the Ethiopian village of Zenabwork, near Addis Ababa, struggling to make a living. She wanted to put their artisan skills to use, and so set up a footwear brand based on a traditional recycled car tire soled shoe.

Her company SoleRebels now makes sandals, slip-ons, lace-up shoes and boots, all made from traditional local materials from koba plant fiber to recycled tires, organic cotton to jute. SoleRebels is now one of Africa's most recognizable footwear brands and is sold in 30 countries worldwide.
AARON MAASHO/AFP/Getty Images/file
Carrie Crawford Smith (1877-1954)
Employment Agency
Started: 1918

Shortly after moving from Tennessee to Illinois, Carrie Crawford Smith, an African American woman, set up an employment agency to help find work for the huge number of black migrants who were moving from the South to the North.

Her business helped both black and white clients, but mainly focused on African American domestic helpers. Smith's business was about more than just jobs -- she also saw her venture as a way to promote racial advancement and dignity.
Illinois Digital Archive
Sara Blakely (1971- )
Spanx underwear
Started: 1998

Sara Blakely was working as a sales trainer by day and a stand-up comedienne at night before she started Spanx. She had no business training and knew nothing about the underwear industry, except that she didn't like the way her bum looked in white pants.

So, at the age of 29, Blakely used her $5,000 savings to develop a line of shapewear to make women look slimmer. The result: her company, Atlanta-based Spanx, became one of the best selling body shaper lines worldwide, with 2011 sales estimated at $250 million dollars and an estimated corporate value of $1 billion.
L: David Shankbone/R: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images/file
Margaret Rudkin (1897-1967)
Pepperidge Farm
Started: 1937

Rudkin began making stone-ground wheat at her family's farmhouse in Connecticut for her son, who suffered with asthma and food allergies. Soon her son's doctor, initially skeptical, was prescribing her bread to other patients and her husband was carrying loaves on the train to New York to be sold at specialist grocers.

By the end of 1939, Rudkin had sold more than a million loaves and featured in Reader's Digest. In 1940, she moved her business from her garage to its own factory, adding cookies to her range a decade later.

She sold the business to Campbell Soup for $28 million in 1961, and was the first woman to serve on Campbell's board of directors.
L: Library of Congress/R: Pepperidge Farm
Giuliana Benetton (1937- )
Benetton Group
Started: 1965

Now 75, Giuliana Benetton is still a director of the clothing retailer Benetton Group that she founded in Treviso, Italy, with her brothers Luciano, Carlo and Gilberto. In the early days, Giuliana knitted sweaters that her brother Luciano would sell from his bicycle, according to Forbes, who estimated her personal wealth at $2 billion in 2013. The clothing was sold under a variety of labels before becoming United Colors of Benetton.
Giuseppe Pino
Anita Roddick (1942-2007)
The Body Shop
Started: 1976

Environmental activist and entrepreneur Anita Roddick opened her first beauty products store in the English seaside town of Brighton in 1976 to create an income for herself and her two daughters while her husband was trekking across the Americas. She claimed she chose the color green simply to hide the mold on her first shop, but The Body Shop soon became known for its green ideal.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said when Roddick died of hepatitis C at the age of 64: "She campaigned for green issues for many years before it became fashionable to do so and inspired millions to the cause by bringing sustainable products to a mass market."

The Body Shop was sold to L'Oriel in 2006 for $988million, and now has 2,500 stores in more than 60 countries worldwide.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images For The Body Shop
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (1953-)
Founder of BioCon, India's first biotech company
Started: 1978

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw's qualified as India's first female master brewer, but became an entrepreneur after failing to find a job in brewing. At the age of 25, she started Biocon in a garage with the equivalent of less than $200 in today's money.

As a woman and one of the first pioneers of biotechnology in India, she found it difficult to obtain both staff and funding. Mazumdar-Shaw persisted and Biocon, one of India's leading drug companies, is now worth $800 million and employs more than 6,000 people at its vast campus in Bangalore.
L: Biocon/R: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images/file
Cheung Yan (1957- )
Paper recycling
Started: 1995

In 2006, with a personal fortune of $3.4bn, Cheung Yan became the first woman to top China's annual Huran Report rich list, making her the richest self-made woman in the world. It was a fortune built entirely from paper.

Cheung, the daughter of a Chinese army officer, started her first paper recycling company in Hong Kong in 1985. After a stint in the United States shipping waste paper to China for recycling, Cheung returned to China and started Nine Dragons Paper, of which she is chairlady, with her husband.

Nine Dragons Paper now describes itself as the world's largest environmentally friendly paper manufacturer and, according to Forbes, has 18,000 full-time staff.
MN Chan/Getty Images/file
Jean Nidetch (1923- )
Weight Watchers
Started: 1963

Jean Nidetch, now 87, had failed with diets for many years and weighed 214lb when she went on a diet recommended by the New York Department of Health in 1961. Worried she might "cheat," she invited friends for coffee and asked if they'd like to join her in weekly meetings to discuss how they were getting on.

Within a year, Nidetch lost 72 pounds, which she never regained. To share her success, she opened her first Weight Watchers in New York in 1963 and a year later began franchising the concept. Nidetch sold the company to Heinz in 1978 for $1 billion.

The company now estimates that more than one million people around the world attend a weekly Weight Watchers meeting. This week, Nidetch's granddaughter, Heather (pictured above) helped celebrate Weight Watchers 50th anniversary with a dedication to the company's founder.
Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Weight Watchers