Women CEOs: Business Leaders, Inspiring Stories

Corporate leadership is an area where women are making a vital contribution to private sector driven growth throughout the developing world.

Many IFC client firms have women leaders who used a special combination of industry knowledge and management skills to make it to the top—setting strong examples for others.  These women often bring unique perspectives to the table. And they provide diversity in insight and experience that can enhance a discussion, strengthen a firm, and set a strong course for business and development in the future. 

Yara Argueta is the CEO of Guatemala’s LAPCO Corporation, Central America’s market leader in the production and distribution of paint and related products. On her watch, the firm has grown more than twice in size to achieve strong regional power, selling affordable construction materials that help low-to-medium income consumers carry out home improvements. Her company also enables more than 6,000 SMEs to grow their hardware stores and 3,000 Honduran farmers whose sustainable forestry projects supply it with pine sap. IFC’s $10 million in financing is helping her move LAPCO ahead.

Li Qi is the chairwoman of Bank of Deyang, a city commercial bank in China’s less-developed Sichuan province. Respected wOmEN CEOs business leaders,inspiring Stories global for her strategic vision and commitment in promoting the local economy, she works closely with IFC through equity investment, trade finance, gender finance, and sustainable finance. Her bank’s contribution to Sichuan’s post-earthquake reconstruction efforts earned her honors as China’s Woman Banker of the Year in 2008. 

We finance and advise women-led firms in a wide range of industries and regions, not only strengthening their businesses, but raising their profile on the regional and global stage as well.


Some lead big firms, like Chanda D. Kochhar, Managing Director and CEO of India’s largest private sector bank, ICICI Bank—our local partner in the SME Toolkit, an online resource for small-scale entrepreneurs with a targeted website for women entrepreneurs. Starting her career as a management trainee in 1984, she has headed all the bank’s major functions at different points and now ranks high on the Financial times list of the Top 50 Women in World Business.

Sara Akbar, CEO of Kuwait Energy, is one of the few women chiefs in the global oil and gas industry, and “a role model for women around the world,” according to the arab times. Overcoming strong social barriers, she gained initial employment as an engineer with the state oil company, working day and night in Kuwait’s oil fields for 18 years. “There were 800 wells, and I knew every single one like the back of my hand,” she says. “I loved it.” 


In 2005 she set up Kuwait Energy with other investors. It has been consistently profitable since,  and with IFC’s support continues to grow as one of the leading independent oil and gas exploration and production companies in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq. 

In Tunisia, Essma Ben Hamida is managing director of the country’s leading microfinance institution, Enda InterArabe—an entity she co-founded in 1990 and now has more than 170,000 clients, roughly three quarters of them women.


Women business leaders in smaller firms are no less significant a positive market force, like Elena Moiseenko, a leader of RTL-Holding, owner of the Rubliovskiy grocery store chain and other consumer goods wholesaling business in one of Europe’s most challenging markets, Belarus. 

Or Ghana’s Florence Adjepong. She opened a six-student preschool in her home in 1988, then built it into Alpha Beta Education Centres. It now operates schools in Ghana at every level, working to raise up “leaders of tomorrow who will be part of the solution to our nation’s developmental challenges.” Large, small, or somewhere in between, all are making their mark in the world.


Related link: Telling Our Story