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On a day the US presidential election field was reduced to three white men, America’s largest apparel retailer Gap Inc. named Indian-American Sonia Syngalas its new CEO, marking a rare elevation of a woman in the white male-dominated corporate world.
The India-born Syngal, 49, who moved to Canada and later to the United States with her family when she was a child, is the only Indian-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company after Indra Nooyi stepped down as PepsiCo head in 2018. Gap Inc, which has revenues of $18 billon, is ranked 186th in the Fortune 500 list. It is largest specialty retailer in the US, with approximately 135,000 employees and 3,727 stores worldwide, including 2400 in the US.
Syngal has worked in many Fortune 500 companies, including 10 years at Sun Microsystems and six years at Ford Motor Co. before she joined Gap Inc in 2004. She went on to become CEO of Old Navy, Gap’s value chain, after leading the portfolio’s global supply chain and product-to-market model, and serving as managing director of Gap Inc. Europe.
Sonia Syngal to make path for more female CEOs of immigrant origin?
Robert Fisher, the son of Gap’s founders who has served as interim CEO while the company looked for a permanent replacement, said Sonia Syngal will “deliver value from our portfolio of brands over the long term”. GAP owned brands include Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, and Hill City. She once boasted that Gap has “put more slogans on people’s chests than any other company”.
Syngal’s elevation at this time was particularly striking, coming amid a debate over diversity and gender issues after an assorted Democratic field vying for the White House in 2020 was whittled down to two old white men (Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders) duking it out to challenge another old white man (Donald Trump) in a nation that has become increasingly multi-cultural and multi-racial.
Although the number of women heading of Fortune500 companies is now at a record high at 33, they constitute less only 6% of female CEOs. Female CEOs of immigrant origin are even rarer. From Adobe to We-Work, with Mastercard, Micron, and Microsoft in between, there are now some two dozen CEOs of Indianorigin in global firms with over $5 billion in revenues. But they are mostly men.
Syngal, who earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kettering University in 1993 and her Master’s in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Stanford University in 1995, is the mother of two children, now 17 and 20.