The Fortune 500 is due to get a new female CEO.
Gap Inc. (GPS) announced Thursday that it is spinning off its successful Old Navy brand into its own publicly-traded company. With annual revenue of some $8 billion, Old Navy is likely to land on the Fortune 500 list once its spinoff—pegged for 2020—is complete. That means Old Navy’s CEO Sonia Syngal, who’s expected to stay on at the new company, will join the all-too-small club of female chief executives in the Fortune 500. At present, there are 27 female CEOs in the Fortune 500, meaning women lead just 5% of the U.S.’s top firms by revenue.
So who is Sonia Syngal? She has been president and CEO of Old Navy since 2016, when she took the reins from Stefan Larsson, who left the clothier for what turned out to be a brief stint as Ralph Lauren’s chief executive. Syngal first joined parent Gap Inc. in 2004 as the vice president of sourcing strategy. Later, she served as senior vice president of Old Navy’s international business and executive vice president for Gap’s global supply chain and product operations.
Before joining Gap, Syngal worked at Sun Microsystems for almost a decade, where she was senior director of manufacturing, and as a product manager at Ford Motor Co. (F) before that. She earned degrees in manufacturing systems and mechanical engineering from Stanford and Kettering University.
Syngal’s eventual transition to the retail industry was fitting, since she’s been interested in fashion and design since her teenage years, she told ABC News‘ Rebecca Jarvis in 2018. Yet she credits the diverse experience she gained earlier in her career for her success as a CEO. “I’ve been able to move around industries and types of roles within companies, but I will say, all of my jobs have been core line jobs,” she said. “Meaning core to creating the value that is essential to a company.”
Her transition from Sun Microsystems to Gap Inc. was a challenge at first, not only because of it represented a change of industry but because she joined the company at a such senior level. “Not only do you have huge expectations of yourself to sort of hit the ground running, but also there’s expectations of the environment you’re going into,” she told Jarvis. “So coming in that first year, oh my God, I don’t think I slept a wink. You’ve got to be willing to take some risks and put in what can be seen as personal sacrifice.”
Syngal is set to join the small group of women leading the U.S.’s top companies that shrunk to 27 in January when Geisha Williams stepped down as CEO of PG&E. The share of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 is often cited as an example of men’s lasting hold on corporate power. But it’s also a nod to corporate America’s failure to diversify its leadership ranks. Williams was the only Latina member in the group, which includes zero African-American women. Syngal is the daughter of immigrants from India.