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Business ExcellenceLeadership

Why First Woman CEO in the United States Anna Sutherland Bissell was so Successful?

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Anna Sutherland Bissell was a Canadian-American businesswoman who was the first woman CEO in the United States as the executive board member of the Bissell Corporation which was known for its carpet sweepers and vacuum cleaners. Anna was a successful businesswoman in the era when business was done by men only.

Anna married Melville R. Bissell at 19, and they became a joint partner in their crockery and china business. The Bissell Sweeper website recounts that Mrs Bissell complained to her husband about sawdust that was collected in their carpets and was difficult to remove, whereupon he made great improvements to a new invention called the carpet sweeper. Melville R. Bissell invented the Bissell carpet sweeper in 1876 and Anna took care of the sales of the sweeper.

Why Anna theFirst Woman CEO was unique-

  • After Melville Bissell invented the carpet sweeper in 1876, Anna became a star salesperson. She used to go from town to town and sold the popular carpet sweepers for the price of $1.50.
  • Credit goes to Anna Bissell who organized the details of making, assembling, and delivering orders for the sweepers. She was known for her efficiency, after-sales service, general professional conduct, and customer care system which helped in creating a vast market base for the product.
  • Under Anna’s leadership, the Bissell Company became the largest manufacturer of carpet sweepers globally.
  • When a fire struck the first manufacturing plant in 188, Anna sought loans from local banks to keep the business going. Her good name helped and she was successful in securing funding that helped in starting the production again within 20 days of the fire.
  • During her long tenure as president (1889-1919) and chair of the board (1919-1934), Anna Bissell was known for her familiarity with all aspects of the business. Credit goes to Anna who started progressive labour relations policies, including workmen’s compensation insurance and pension plans, long before these practices were widespread in the industry in that period.
  • Anna’s business mind and entrepreneurial abilities turned her to the pinnacle of benchmarking in the carpet sweeper industry. It was once said that she studied business the way other women studied French.
  • Ann also served as a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church board and the Blodgett Children’s Home and Memorial Medical Center. She was active in social clubs focused on women’s empowerment. The Ladies Literary Club, Women’s City Club, Zonta, and the Clark Memorial Home, were all associations with which she worked. Her impact was so much felt in society that she got admission to the National Hardware Men’s Association as the only female member.
  • At the time of Anna’s death, newspaper reports wrote about her as “a business executive without peer, a respected and beloved philanthropist, and a true matriarch in her family.” The tribute was well earned by a lifetime of dedicated work.

Anna Sutherland Bissell’s story should be read by every woman entrepreneur in present times. Anna was a successful entrepreneur without any business degree in that era when there were hardly any resources available for wannabe entrepreneurs. We are blessed with so many technological advancements and resources in present times and have to just unleash the entrepreneur within.

(Inputs in the article are sourced from ‘Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council‘ and ‘ai-bees.io‘.)

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