SHE-E-O FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Mary Dillon

How have female CEO’s risen to the top? What was their journey? Let’s explore…

I’m empowered. I have the skills. I’m ready to take on the world. Now, if I could just figure out tangible steps to get there. This series has two purposes: to celebrate women’s accomplishments in business, and to research their path to success.

Notable things you should know about Mary Dillon:
1) CEO of Ulta since 2013
2) Under Dillon's leadership Ulta stock has more than tripled and revenues have doubled.
3) Dillon repositioned the brand, putting new stores closer to urban centers and invested in technology to deliver online orders more efficiently. One of her first big moves with Ulta was to invest in 2 new distribution centers that improved e-commerce processing times.
4) Dillon changed the in-store experience to include a salon, samples, demo tools, and reviews all of which contributed to increasing retail store success.

5) More than 90 percent of Ulta’s 24,000 employees are women. Half of the executive team is women and 50 percent of the directors on Ulta’s board are women.

Mary was born in Chicago and is the fourth of six siblings. Her father is a steelworker, and her mother is a housewife. She grew up working in retail stores.

Dillon was the first to go to college in her family and went to University of Illinois and graduated with BS in marketing and Asian studies. She worked 3 jobs as a waitress, house cleaner, and bank teller while attending university.

After graduating college she was accepted in an executive training program at Quaker Oats which led her from a marketing associate for aunt Jemima to Marketing Director in 1996.

She took on a variety of leadership roles across different brands including Snapple Natural Beverages’ director of product offerings from 1995 to 1996 and Gardenburger, Inc.’s senior vice president of marketing from 1996 to 2000. She also became the vice president of marketing at Gatorade and Propel Fitness from 2000 to 2002 and at Quaker Foods from 2002 to 2004 and the president of the said segment until 2005.

From there she landed the role as global CMO and EVP at McDonald’s where she supervised the company’s global marketing and brand strategy.

Almost five years later, Dillon then served as the CEO and president of U.S. Cellular. The telecommunications company focused on developing more products under her administration and services. At the same time, it also strove to secure its distribution channels, maintain customer satisfaction on the positive side, and donate over $3 million to schools for K-12 educational support.

3 years later in 2013 she accepted the role as CEO of Ulta.

My takeaways about her path to CEO: 1) She put in the years and moved up the ranks in PepsiCo. Also seems like PepsiCo is great at promoting from within. 2) U.S. Cellular sourced a main reason why they selected Mary Dillon for CEO was due to her experience and intense focus on the customer. 3) Mary has attributed in interviews that her success was due to embracing that she was ambitious, working hard, asking a lot of questions, and being curious.

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