Wednesday, March 3

Female CEOs are scarce, but history shows they can produce big returns

The biggest outperformer of female-run S&P 500 companies is health-care-focused real estate investment trust Ventas, which has generated a cumulative total return of 2,559 percent since CEO Debra Cafaro took over in March 1999. The S&P’s cumulative returns for the same period is roughly 215 percent.

Other companies that handily beat the S&P’s performance include Advanced Micro Devices under CEO Lisa Su, with a nearly 427 percent return; Lockheed Martin under Marillyn Hewson, which has returned 293 percent to shareholders; Ulta under Mary Dillon, who has driven returns of nearly 226 percent; and Ross Stores under Barbara Rentler, with 175 percent returns.

Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass, Anthem CEO Gail Boudreaux, Progressive Group Tricia Griffith, Alliant Energy CEO Patricia Kampling, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic, American Water Works CEO Susan Story, Arista Networks CEO Jayshree Ullal and Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden have also produced higher cumulative total returns than the S&P.

“We see more companies led by women perform really well,” said Darden, the S&P Global researcher. Still, she hopes that, “at some point, we’ll stop having the conversation of, ‘Do companies do better if they’re led by a man or a woman?'”

“I’m looking forward to seeing more representation not just numerically, but in terms of the industries where these women are leading companies,” she added, noting that in sectors like industrials and materials, female representation is very low or, plainly, “zilch.”

Darden’s research in partnership with Kensho also found that investors tend to balk when companies elevate women to chief executive positions, with underperformance hitting 1.8 percent after three months.

“On the day of the announcement, it seemed that companies announcing new female CEOs actually outperformed somewhat, not by huge amounts, but somewhat, and then lagged a bit,” Darden told CNBC. “But […] once you get about 3 months out, you’re looking at some noticeable underperformance by companies that announced an incoming female CEO.”


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