5 real and inspiring stories about successful women in business

There are more and more women each year holding significant positions in the world of business. You can often hear stories about women building their businesses from scratch, having major roles in companies and occupying top positions in Forbes list. Yet it is too early to talk about total gender equality. Women still have to overcome challenges and stereotypes on their way to making a career and leading the businesses.

successful business woman

This is why every woman, who wants to build a spectacular career in business, needs support and a constant source of motivation. This motivation can come from stories about outstanding women’s successful businesses.

Storist have prepared real stories of five women entrepreneurs, whom you can’t help but admire. In this article, you will find out what helped them struggle through all the challenges and what useful tips you can take away from their experience.

Coco Chanel. The woman, who revolutionized fashion.

Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel was an iconic French designer, business woman and the founder of the Chanel fashion house.

The things she had created and sold had a tremendous influence on the world of fashion of the 20th century and remain classic to this day. Tweed jackets, the Little Black Dress, Flap Bag and Chanel No. 5 – these are just some of her creations.

Gabrielle Chanel had a tough childhood. Her mother died when she was just 11 years old. Her father decided to send Gabrielle and her sisters to the convent of Aubazine. This event has probably influenced Gabrielle’s future choice of her profession. She learned to sew at the orphanage and started working as a seamstress as soon as she was eighteen. In her time off, she sang and entertained the crowd at the cabaret between the main show acts. It is believed that the name “Coco” was given to her by the crowd because she often sang the song “Who Has Seen Coco?”. The young and charming Gabrielle impressed the crowds, but her singing voice was not good enough for building a career as a performer. After several try outs Gabrielle has decided to go back to what she did best – sewing and design.  

When she was about 20 years old, Chanel met Etienne Balsan, who was the heir of a textile factory. Etienne helped her in building a business. A couple years later, Gabrielle left Etienne for his wealthier friend Arthur Capel. Both men played a huge role in the opening of her first boutique shop in Paris in 1910. They helped her to find the first clients and consequently her elegant hats and small fashion line became extremely popular.

After her beloved Arthur died in the car accident in 1919, Chanel continued to work hard, despite the fact that it was such a terrible blow for her. In 1922 she presented her legendary Chanel No.5, which was created by the perfumer Ernest Beaux. In 1925 she came up with a legendary costume consisting of a collarless jacket and skirt, and in 1926 the world saw the Chanel Little Black Dress.

In 1939 she had to close all her shops because of World War II and came back into the world of fashion only when she was 70. Despite the first negative critic reviews, Chanel didn’t give up and her simple feminine items became hugely popular once again. 

Business secrets of Coco Chanel:

  • “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Chanel always preferred simple and optimal solutions. She was known to use jersey fabric, which had been used before in men’s underwear. In the beginning of her career, she chose it because of its low cost, but later, when the business became lucrative, she stuck to it because of its high quality. Jersey was perfect for creating practical and elegant things.
  • “In order to be irreplaceable one must be different”. Coco Chanel had a unique ability to create simple and elegant items, which met her clients’ needs. Yet she wasn’t afraid of making unorthodox decisions and breaking current fashion rules. Coco Chanel has always encouraged making your own way, and staying confident without spending the energy on unimportant stuff. It probably helped her in building a successful business, which is famous even after decades.

Learn to create products which actually meet your clients’ needs with Storist interactive summary  “How to find out what clients really want?”.

Oprah Winfrey. Incredible African-American woman, who has changed history.

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential and wealthiest women in America. Starting her career as a talk-show host, she gradually built her own successful media network. Currently she owns a production company, a cable network OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, O, The Oprah Magazine and popular web resource Oprah.com

Oprah had a childhood dream of becoming a TV star and despite the fact that this kind of idea was considered to be insane for a black person at the time, she never gave up. Her life has taught her to never give up. Since her birth, she spent the early years with her grandmother and was kept on a short leash. However, her grandmother taught her to read early and took her to a local church, where she earned her nickname “The Preacher” for the ability to recite passages from the Bible. From the age of seven she started to live with her mother and where she was abused and molested by the male relatives. It carried on until she rebelled, started stealing money from her mother and eventually ran away from home. At 14 she became pregnant, but the child died soon after birth. After that she was sent to live with her father. It was a turnaround point in her life. Her father was strict but encouraged her education. Winfrey became an honors student and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, finishing second in the national contest in dramatic interpretation. 

Her determination and great oratory skills helped her to become a news anchor at CBS at the age of 19. She was the first ever African American woman in this position. At 22 she was a co-anchor at an ABC show in Baltimore. The real success came when she was a host of a local low-rated talk show “People Are Talking” in Baltimore. Just after a month the ratings went up and it was not left unnoticed. Winfrey was hired to “save” the morning talk-show AM Chicago by Chicago’s ABC branch. As expected, a month later it became the most popular show in the city, outrunning best competitors. Since 1986 AM Chicago has been broadcasted nationwide under a new name “The Oprah Winfrey Show”.

What is the secret of Oprah Winfrey?  

  • Be yourself. Oprah Winfrey is free about being herself. She shares her problems and failures with the audience. She teaches the audience to look for opportunities in failures and challenges by her own example. Despite her harsh childhood, Oprah did not close down, but continued to move towards her dream.
  • Spectacular oratory skills. Oprah Winfrey has an unmatched charisma and great communicative skills. She is not shy of discussing sensitive and even taboo topics and is always sincere with her guests and audience. She creates the atmosphere, which provides an open talk with her guests. Yet she does not do it for publicity, but to actually help a person with his problems and to show the audience that a problem can be discussed and solved. For example, AJ McLean from the Backstreet Boys first opened up about his drug addiction in the interview with her in 2003.

It is useful to develop communication skills, even if you are not a talk show host. Capture the audience, get your point across to any person, present your business idea. You can learn this and other things with interactive summary “How to make others fall in love with your idea and acquire necessary support?”

Ruth Handler. The woman who revolutionized the world of toys.

Ruth Handler was a famous woman entrepreneur, President of Mattel and inventor of the Barbie doll.  

Handler started her career as a secretary in Paramount Studios, while her husband Elliot Handler was designing furniture. After Elliot began using two new types of plastic (Lucite and Plexiglas) for making book holders, picture frames and other gift goods, Ruth saw the potential for starting entrepreneurship. They founded a company Elliot Handler Plastics, which was renamed as “Elzac” after their partner Zach Zemby had joined them in 1941. The business was focused mainly on manufacturing pins and jewelry from unorthodox materials for that time. The popularity of “Elzac” reached its peak in 1942-44, when the use of many materials was limited due to war. Designers’ creativity and alternative materials for manufacturing jewelry allowed the company to prosper through this difficult period of time and emerge as one of the most successful companies in the world of jewelry.

In 1945, along with Harold “Matt” Matson, the Handlers started a new company. The name “Mattel” came from combining the names of the founders. Soon Matson sold his share of the company. Ruth and Elliot Handler received full control and focused on producing plastic toys, gradually expanding their line of products, which quickly became popular.  

There is a version, that the idea of creating an “adult” doll came to Ruth Handler, when she saw her daughter playing with paper dolls at home. Children used to play with “baby” dolls at that time, so the company was skeptical about the idea. Yet Ruth Handler pushed her idea forward and convinced the company to produce the doll. It became probably the best decision they have ever made. In 1959 the world saw an 11.5-inch doll named after Handlers’ daughter – Barbara.

Ruth Handler the mother of the Barbie doll

The doll immediately became a hit as 300000 dolls were sold during the first year. It has made Mattel the pioneers in the toy industry and Ruth Handler is now known as the mother of the Barbie doll. 

More than a half a century later Barbie remains an immortal hit, not only in the toy industry. Fashion influencers still wear pink in Barbie style. The 2023 Barbie movie has not yet been released, but it has already become mega-popular and is receiving high marks from critics. 

Business tips from Ruth Handler:

  • Use innovative marketing technologies. In 1955 Handler revolutionized marketing when she decided to advertise their plastic toy gun directly to children. The toy was shown in “Mickey Mouse Club”, and afterwards thousands of kids started asking their parents to buy them the toy.  
  • Tell stories. When promoting their products, Handlers used storytelling to lure new customers and keep the old ones. For example, the doll’s name was Barbara Millicent Roberts, she was born in Willows, Wisconsin and was a model.
  • Look for an empty niche in the market. Be observant and inventive. Few people know that, but apart from the legendary Barbie, Ruth Handler has also created a breast prosthesis for women who have undergone mastectomy. The idea came to Ruth after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through the procedure herself. Witnessing how women lose their confidence, she created a prosthesis called The “Nearly Me”. The distribution of the product was carried out by eight women, who had also undergone mastectomy and were trained by Ruth personally.

Beyonce. The woman who rules the world of show-business.

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is undoubtedly one of the most influential stars in the world of show-business. She was nominated for a Grammy more times than any other woman, winning the award 23 times. 200 million of her records were sold worldwide both as a solo performer and as a member of R&B group Destiny’s Child.

Beyonce is worth admiring not only as a musical performer, but as a successful business woman. She owns the company Parkwood Entertainment Beyonce, which produces films, clothes and her music. Besides, Beyonce is the ambassador of Pepsi and L’Oreal and is engaged in numerous projects as a model. Having a business acumen and brilliant marketing strategies, Beyonce is a living example of how to be successful in business:

  • Never give up your dream. Beyonce had a turning point in her life when she participated in the popular TV talent show Star Search and lost. This moment had a huge influence on her. Despite losing, she started working even more hard. Failures can be short and if you make the right conclusions, this experience will help you become successful in the long run.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Beyonce is never afraid of experimenting, always trying to come up with innovative concepts. Like the one when she wrote the song “Hold Up” in collaboration with fifteen different artists. It seemed impossible to predict what it might come to, combining so many stars together. Yet she continued to work smoothly with different colleagues, getting excellent results in the end. The song turned out to have an unprecedented sound and deep lyrics.  
  • Be unpredictable. Beyonce sticks to an unusual strategy: she does not promote her upcoming events and albums and then surprises her fans with a sudden breakaway. This kind of a strategy in show business often leads to success. It is rarely used in other areas of business, but you can try it as an alternative marketing strategy, if you think through all the details.

Do you want to come up with unusual and innovative solutions like Beyonce?

Take a look at our interactive summary “How to come up with outstanding ideas and find unusual solutions to any problem” based on Michael Michalko’s book “Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques”.

Marissa Mayer. The first female engineer in Google.

Marissa Mayer is another great example of a professionally successful woman.

From the early years, Marissa excelled in STEM disciplines, participated in numerous extracurricular activities: she was the president of her high school Spanish club, the captain of the debate team and was into dancing ballet. After graduating high school, she enrolled into Stanford university to study for a pediatric neurosurgeon, but later changed her major to symbolic systems. Graduating as a Bachelor in symbolic system and with the Master of Science degree in computer science, Marissa joined Google as the 20th employee and the first woman engineer in the young company. Mayer worked at Google for 13 years and had a key role in developing many of the company’s products. In her late years at Google she was a vice president of Google Search Products and User Experience.

On July 16th 2012 Mayer was appointed president and the CEO of «Yahoo!». Marissa came into the company during tough times. She made quick management changes and during the first year of her work the shares of «Yahoo!» went from $15,74 to $28 in August of 2013. Unfortunately, despite her five years’ work, the company has not been saved. After Yahoo was sold to Verizon in 2016, Mayer resigned from the position of the CEO and left the board of the company.  

Her professional and business activity did not stop after that. In 2018, along with Enrique Muñoz Torres, Mayer founded the app developing company Sunshine. The company concentrates on creating products that save your time, improve your daily routine and help to be more focused.

What you can learn from Marissa Mayer:  

  • Learn – that’s how you grow. In order to move the company forward, you need knowledge. It can be technical knowledge about the product, about the clients, market data or analysis of the competitors. Marissa admits that when she became in charge of Yahoo, she had to learn a lot of things by herself.
  • Break stereotypes. STEM disciplines, math, and programming are not for girls. Marissa Mayer has proven the opposite.
  • Be engaged in your job. If you are passionate about your job, your attitude will pass on to your team.
  • Stay composed after failures. Even if things don’t go your way, it is no use to give up. Analyze your experience and move on.


Life’s journey of each of these women is unique and their paths were full of challenges they had to overcome. However, every one of them was determined, confident and had passion in what they do. Surely, good communicative skills, professionalism, a gift to feel the vibes and the needs of the market and ability to find something new helped them to become successful. Good news, all those skills can be developed without spending too much time. Join Storist and practice the skills you need with our interactive summaries based on the best business books. 


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