Mary Dillon says she didn’t know much about business when she was a kid and never imagined she would grow up to be a CEO. But today, she is one of the rare breed of female CEOs running a Fortune 500 company. As the CEO of Ulta Beauty (ULTA) she also stands out for successfully transforming the cosmetics retailer into a money-making machine. Revenues have been on a tear with an annual growth rate of 22 percent over the past three years. And Ulta’s stock has more than tripled since Dillon took the helm in 2013.
So it’s no surprise that Fortune placed Dillon on its 2018 list of Businesspeople of the Year and ranked her ahead of notable business leaders like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon.
“I’ve worked really hard for over thirty years,” she says about the key to her success. “I’m driven.”
The daughter of a Chicago steelworker, Dillon worked odd jobs to pay her way through the University of Illinois. After graduating with a marketing degree she started at Quaker Oats and then moved on to executive positions at McDonald’s and then as CEO of U.S. Cellular, a Chicago telecom company.
“If you’re somebody who shows up, and is curious, and is good to people, and you’re ambitious, embrace that,” Dillon advises ambitious, young women. “Too often women are told not to express that. But if that’s what you want, I think anything is possible. It’s as simple as that.”
There are certainly job opportunities at Ulta. 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.
Dillon says gender diversity has been a driving force behind Ulta’s success. “Having people with different experiences in industries, different ethnicities, different life experiences are important for all businesses,” she explains. “So for us, it only made sense that we needed to start with having more women in senior positions. I think that’s just the beginning.”
Watch the video above for more from my interview with Dillon.