Brenda Barnes was a high-powered CEO of PepsiCo, and later Sara Lee Corp., who sought balance between her career and home life. Barnes died Tuesday. She was 63. | Sun-Times Library

Editorial: A role model for career-minded women — Brenda Barnes

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Before Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, there was Brenda Barnes.

Barnes, who died Tuesday at 63 years old, taught a generation of future female executives about aiming high in the corporate world. She worked her way up to the job of CEO at PespiCo. But in 1997, the Chicagoantook the bold step of leaving her post to focus on raising her three children, which made headlines.

“It brought up the whole debate of, ‘Can you have it all?’ ” Barnes told the Chicago Tribune years later. “I was the poster child for having quit my job.”

Not many women return to the highest ranksafter taking time off, but Barnes made a corporate comeback with Sara Lee Corp. In 2005, shebecame its CEO. A year later, Forbes magazine named her one of the most powerful women in the world, ahead of media mogul Oprah Winfrey.


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Barnes served as CEO and chairman of Sara Lee Corp. until she suffered a stroke in 2010. She suffered a second stroke Sunday, her family said.

Sherelaunched her career marvelously becauseshe had kept one foot in the business world after leaving PepsiCo, an important lesson for moms and dads who want to leave their careersto raise kids. Don’t turn your back completely on your profession.

After leaving PepsiCo, Barnes was appointed to boards for Staples, Sears and the New York Times — to name some. But sheput her children first.

“Every morning she refuses to leave before all her kids are out the doorbecause she says she would rather spend time eating with us than on a conference call,” Barnes’ son, Brian, told the Sun-Times in 2005.

Shetaught a new generation of female leaders to not be afraid of seeking balance between the workplace and home.Over time, men have picked up on that, too.

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