ROI Influencers: Women in Business 2021 — Top 50 (1-10)

1. Judith Persichilli
Commissioner of health
State of New Jersey

It’s hard to overstate her importance and influence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just ask any health care executive in the state. She is routinely praised for her steady leadership and even-keel executive skills: “She’s always willing and eager to listen to what we have to say, hear all sides of the story,” one top executive said. 

But, it’s her experience that may truly set her apart. As a longtime practicing nurse and a former hospital CEO, she understands the clinical care and the bottom-line aspects of the health care business as well as anyone in the state. “Tell me a situation, a problem, a crisis, an aspect of the health care industry that she doesn’t have some personal experience with,” another said. “I can’t tell you how comforting it is to know she brings that to the job — and brings that to her discussions with the governor.”

This is just the latest honor and acknowledgement for Persichilli, who already was No. 1 in the 2020 ROI Influencers: Health Care list last fall and No. 2 in our ROI Influencers: Power List last month.

2. Tammy Murphy
Founding chair
New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund
Her work advocating for and creating the Nurture NJ maternal and infant health strategic plan is enough to get the first lady on this list. But it is her work as the founding chair of the NJPRF — a group that has raised and distributed approximately $60 million — that gets her the No. 2 spot. It’s impossible to calculate how many people the fund has helped.

3. Amy Mansue
Inspira Health
She was one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s most trusted advisers during the initial outbreak of the pandemic, serving as the coordinator of the hospitals in Central Jersey. Now, the longtime health care executive — with her impressive history of public service — heads Inspira Health, where she is working to build and improve its already stellar reputation.

4. Kristin Peck
At last count, there are only 37 women running Fortune 500 companies. Peck, who took over at Zoetis just weeks before the pandemic struck the state, is showing why there should be more. Peck raised profits by 14% and stock price by 26% during 2020. Fortune later named her one of the Top 20 businesspersons — regardless of gender — for the year.

5. Thai Lee
SHI International
She runs one of the state’s biggest companies, SHI, the Somerset-based information technology solutions provider that earned a record $11.1 billion in revenue for 2020. Lee didn’t slow during the pandemic. In fact, she launched a scale-up subsidiary, Stratascale, last November. It’s her company that has its name on Rutgers’ football stadium.

6. Marie Blistan
New Jersey Education Association
There are two reasons why Blistan is an easy Top 10 pick — and both are enough to bring the honor on their own. New Jersey, which used to battle Massachusetts for the top spot on numerous education lists, is now the unquestioned leader. And, without question, the unions have determined how, when and where schools reopen for in-person instruction.

7. Cheryl Norton
Chief operating officer
American Water
Her promotion to the COO job with the national company in February is just one indicator of her talent. Formerly the head of New Jersey American Water, Norton made her mark by accelerating the pace of the state’s much-needed water infrastructure while serving on a variety of business groups, including Choose New Jersey and the governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission.

8. Ranjini Poddar
Co-founder and CEO
Artech, the full-service staffing firm Poddar started in 1992, is now the largest woman-owned IT staffing company in the U.S. Its more than 10,000 employees (in the U.S., Canada, India and China) serve nearly 100 Fortune 500 companies. The private company is believed to be nearing $1 billion in annual revenue.

9. Tammy Jones
Mack-Cali Realty Corp.
She’s the co-founder and CEO of Basis Investment Group, a multistrategy commercial real estate investment manager in New York City — but she gets this honor because she’s the new chair of Mack-Cali. She (and new CEO Mahbod Nia) will determine the direction of the state’s most important real estate investment trust.

10. Zakiya Smith-Ellis
Chief policy adviser
Governor’s Office
Insiders say the former secretary of higher education moved over to this job last summer for one simple reason: Murphy valued and trusted her input and opinions so much, he wanted her to have impact in every area of the state. She is a rising star who is widely respected inside and outside of the administration.

  • For the rest of the Top 50 (alphabetically), click here (A-HH), here (HI-P) and here (Q-Z). 

  • And click here for 10 legendary business figures.

  • For all of the ROI Influencers: Women in Business, click here.