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Trailblazing CEOs Representing The LGBTQ+ Community

The odds of becoming a Fortune 500 CEO (possessing an MBA) are roughly 1 in 135,000; the chances of holding one of these sought-after positions as a member of the LGBTQ+ community are even slimmer. With Pride Month celebrations now in full swing, we want to show our solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community by profiling and recognising three of the most inspirational business leaders on the planet: Apple CEO Tim Cook, Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford and United Therapeutics Corporation CEO Martine Rothblatt. As with any chief executive officer, these three individuals climbed the ladder to the very top and reached the pinnacle of their respective fields — but did so in a world that is yet to fully accept and embrace the LGBTQ+ community wholeheartedly (as disappointing as that is). The lingering stigma surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (plus other) orientation created by backward-looking people makes Cook’s, Ford’s and Rothblatt’s respective achievements all the more impressive, and it’s time to shine a light on how these three are blazing a trail for other LGBTQ+ individuals to follow.

Tim Cook

The man at the helm of the largest technology company on the planet, Tim Cook has been the CEO of Apple Inc. for the best part of a decade. After succeeding Steve Jobs in August 2011 (who initially stepped down from the position due to ongoing health complications, sadly passing away due to pancreatic cancer thereafter), the Auburn University graduate has continued the legacy of the late co-founder admirably. Even offering Jobs a portion of his liver in 2009 as his predecessor’s health continued to decline, Cook’s courageousness has been evident throughout his tenure at Apple — never more conspicuous than in 2014: some four months after attending San Francisco’s gay pride parade alongside a delegation of company staff, the then 53-year-old came out as gay in an editorial for Bloomberg Business, stating “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” In doing so, Cook became the first chief executive of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay, and has embedded an LGBTQ+-supportive culture at the technology giant ever since. Apple’s annual Pride Edition Apple Watch bands have proven immensely popular year-on-year since being first released in 2017, the company has received a perfect 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)’s Corporate Equality Index every single year since the report first began, and regular donations to a number of charities and organisations that are supportive of LGBTQ+ orientations further elucidate Apple’s significant continued commitment to these communities. On being awarded the GLSEN Champion award in 2019, Cook said “Innovation depends on openness to new ideas, a culture of curiosity and a climate free from shame and stigma — that’s true not only for Apple, I believe it’s true for everyone.” The CEO has also publicly thanked LGBTQ+ people who had fought for their rights before him, saying that this paved the way for his success. Hoping his openness could provide LGBTQ+ people struggling with homelessness and suicidal thoughts their own hope that their situation could improve, Tim Cook serves as an inspiration to us all; his continued commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ communities while leading the Fortune 500’s third-highest revenue-generating organisation on the planet is a refreshing beacon of hope that LGBTQ+ orientations will receive increasing acceptance across the world for years to come. iLoveIt.

Beth Ford

As the first openly gay woman to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the term ‘trailblazer’ is barely sufficient to describe Beth Ford’s admirability as a business leader. After graduating from Iowa State University and gaining experience in supply chain management at ExxonMobil, Pepsi and Scholastic among other companies, Ford joined premier agribusiness Land O’Lakes in 2011 as the firm’s chief supply chain and operations officer. And over the course of the next decade, would make history time and time again. After just seven years and a promotion to COO to boot, Ford was appointed CEO by an all-male board in 2018 which made her one of just 25 women leading Fortune 500 companies, just the ninth person to hold the position of Land O’Lakes CEO, and the first-ever openly gay women at the helm of a Fortune 500 firm. Following the appointment, Ford “made it a priority to share the message that everyone benefits when we bring our authentic selves to all aspects of our lives, including work.” And do that she did: the company’s employee resource groups (ERGs) honour employees’ diverse experiences and celebrate the organisation’s inclusive culture, one of which exists to provide a safe environment for LGBTQ employees and their allies — the Land O’Lakes Pride Alliance. Embedding a culture that recognises and values employees’ contributions and backgrounds is so vitally important — regardless of industry — and this is something that Ford has certainly not failed to implement during her short tenure as CEO to date. Receiving further individual accolades such as an inclusion on the Fortune Most Powerful Women List in 2020 for the third consecutive year and the Fast Company’s 2021 Queer 50 list, slowly but surely the now 58-year-old is getting the recognition that she deserves — and acts as a true role model for young, ambitious businesspeople everywhere regardless of gender or sexual orientation. A trailblazer, a record-breaker, and an industry-wide inspiration; Beth Ford’s competencies as a leader know no bounds, and it will be exciting to see Land O’Lakes’ continued success over the coming years with her at the helm — all whilst promoting and enjoying an inclusive culture for all members of the LGBTQ+ community, proudly flying the rainbow flag.

Martine Rothblatt

One of the most high-profile, if not the most high-profile, transgender CEOs in the world, Martine Rothblatt’s work at United Therapeutics and the company’s origin story are both nothing short of inspiring. Upon graduating from UCLA with a joint J.D./M.B.A. degree in 1981, she spent the following 15 years as an attorney in the broadcasting industry, simultaneously creating Sirius Satellite Radio as she began to make a name for herself. But both Rothblatt’s personal and professional lives were about to change significantly. In 1994, the then 40-year-old came out as transgender and has ever since been a vocal advocate for transgender rights, saying on her transition that “more than half of my creativity was unleashed when I didn’t have to spend like 90 per cent of my energy pretending I was male” — a powerful statement that highlights what Rothblatt was able to accomplish over the next decade. After her young daughter was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension the same year as Martine transitioned, the UCLA graduate founded United Therapeutics some two years later in a bid to find a potential chemical that could be a medicine for the fatal orphan disease. And, much like in all of her professional endeavours to date, she succeeded: Orenitram — which is MartineRo spelt backwards — received FDA approval in 2013 in pill form and now provides widespread treatment for others with the disease, contributing towards United Therapeutics’ annual revenue exceeding $1.4 billion year-on-year. But it’s not just financial performance that the firm has excelled in over the last quarter-century; Martine’s strong leadership and commitment to supporting underrepresented minorities is conspicuous in the organisation’s powerful focus on Diversity & Inclusion — this culture has been key to the company’s vast success and all stems from the CEO’s admirable and ambitious mindset. From her legal background as a regulatory attorney to founding a company whose work saved her daughter’s life while simultaneously turning over billions of dollars each year, Martine’s journey has been an incredibly inspiring one. And to achieve all of this while transitioning as one of the true trailblazers of the LGBTQ+ community in the business world makes this feat all the more remarkable. Saving lives and providing hope to millions across the world: Mrs Martine Rothblatt.

Summary

Business leaders representing the LGBTQ+ community such as Tim Cook, Beth Ford and Martine Rothblatt and their respective stories provide inspiration and courage to millions of people across the globe; each of them have enjoyed incredibly flourishing professional careers to date, all while successfully embedding a culture of diversity, inclusion and community. Recognising what they’ve achieved both before and after they came out as gay, lesbian and transgender respectively is so, so important — they’ve truly blazed a trail for others to follow in their footsteps, and it’s exciting to see who the next success stories from the LGBTQ+ community in the business world will be. Watch this space… 

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Sebastian Kennedy-Compston

Campaign Executive

Hi! I’m Seb. As the only England fan on the Web Marketer team, I’m normally the quietest when the Six Nations rolls around. When I’m not creating ads, you can find me hosting my sports podcast ‘Seb Talks Sports,’ listening to music or preparing for my return to the rugby field.