At the height of her career, Brenda Barnes famously quit her big job at Pepsi to be with her kids. Years later, a massive stroke nearly killed her--and her daughter returned the favor.
Ever since I interviewed former Sara Lee (HSH) CEO Brenda Barnes and her daughter, Erin, at this year's Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, people have been urging me to publish the video of our on-stage conversation.
I'm happy to share this exclusive interview here, during the holidays, because Brenda and Erin offer wise advice about where we super-strivers should place our priorities.
Brenda Barnes was the most powerful woman in the consumer packaged-goods industry in the '90s when she quit her senior post at PepsiCo (PEP) to go home to her family. She famously sparked the having-it-all debate--and went on to raise three great kids. Then she became a role model for dropping out and coming back successfully. She did it by joining a slew of prominent boards--Avon (AVP), the New York Times (NYT), Sears (SHLD), Starwood Hotels (HOT), and Lucasfilm, now part of Walt Disney (DIS). Stacking up that board experience, Barnes attracted the favor of recruiters and snagged the top job at Sara Lee, which she led for five years until 2010.
This was when a massive stroke ended Barnes' corporate career. And it could have ended her life. But something amazing happened. Barnes' daughter Erin, who had been nine years old when her mom quit the Pepsi job for her, graduated from Notre Dame the very week her mother had her stroke. Erin decided to quit the job she had lined up at Campbell Soup (CPB) so she could help her mom recover. Barnes came back to life beyond anyone's expectations. Together, Brenda and Erin redefined power and success.
You can read my exclusive story, The Rehabilitation of Brenda Barnes. And over this holiday season, cheers to our families and everyone who is there for us when we really need them.
The former CEO of Sara Lee was one of the most powerful women in business before she suffered a stroke that curtailed her career - but gave her a life.
FORTUNE -- In May 2010, Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes was at a Tuesday-night training session at a gym in suburban Chicago. She stepped away from the bench press, dragged her left foot, and collapsed to the floor. She couldn't get MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 24, 2012 5:00 AM ET
Brenda Barnes, who suffered a stroke in May, is permanently stepping down from her CEO role at Sara Lee (SLE).
Today's announcement resolves part of the deep mystery that has swirled around Barnes' recovery and Sara Lee's future. As for the latter, the board has begun a search for a new CEO -- and reportedly retained Egon Zehnder International to lead it, though the company hasn't confirmed the recruiter's identity. As MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 9, 2010 3:52 PM ET
Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes delivered the news herself this morning: "I suffered a stroke a few weeks ago, and I am now in the process of recuperating," she said in a statement released by the company.
The news is shocking, not just because Barnes is only 56 years old. She has always looked and seemed younger than her years. And while she always has taken her job seriously, she has MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 14, 2010 3:33 PM ET
We've spent the last three months slicing and dicing the accomplishments and career histories of the most powerful women in business -- far too many facts and figures to fit into our Most Powerful Women package in the magazine. Here are 10 intriguing facts that we couldn't find space for in print:
Youngest woman to ever appear on the list: Marissa Mayer, VP of Search and User Experience at Google (GOOG). MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Sep 30, 2008 12:11 PM ET
"My advice to young people is set your own course, do great work, actively manage your career to meet your personal ambitions, and make the tradeoffs that are right for you. Remember that no one will care about your career more than you."
- Brenda Barnes, chairman and CEO of Sara Lee (SLE), told me this in an email on Monday, as we prepared to send Fortune's Most Powerful Women in MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 23, 2008 12:11 AM ET
"You need the truth to make the right decision. So what I've done is always go three, four, five layers deep in an organization. Get people comfortable talking to you."
- Brenda Barnes, chairman and CEO of Sara Lee (SLE), which announced a $695 million fourth-quarter loss this morning. Annual revenues rose 10% to $13.2 billion, but Sara Lee got hit by writeoffs and rocketing wheat prices in the latest quarter. MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 7, 2008 11:33 AM ET
Here's the fourth and final criterion for making the Fortune Most Powerful Women List: social and cultural influence. It's certainly more difficult to measure than revenues or profits, the health of a business, or even the arc of a woman leader's career. But vast social and cultural influence is precisely why Oprah Winfrey ranks No. 8 on our list. Her company, Harpo, is privately held and nowhere near the size MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 17, 2008 12:03 PM ET
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