You have to hand it to the women of Forbes’ 2017 30 Under 30. When we asked them to name their dream mentors, they dreamed big.
Each year, Forbes sends the 600 rising stars on our annual list of exceptional young entrepreneurs a brief questionnaire to get to know them better. Among the questions, alongside go-to karaoke number and most overused emoji: who’s your dream mentor? We ask them to stick to a living person, but that’s the sole criteria.
This year, as in 2016 and 2015, billionaire SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk grabbed the number one spot. Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and former President Barack Obama nabbed the second and third spots overall.
But when we filtered our data to show only women’s top picks, Musk fell to number three. The millennial and Gen Z women entrepreneurs of the 2017 30 Under 30 list favored powerful, successful female leaders from both the business and political realms.
Here are their top five choices.
The Facebook COO, ‘Lean In’ author, and self-made billionaire has spoken often of her own mentor, her former Harvard professor Lawrence ‘Larry’ Summers, who went on to become U.S. Treasury Secretary.
Sandberg was a standout in his public sector economics class, and turned to him when she founded a student group called Women In Economics and Government during her junior year. After a stint at the World Bank, a Harvard MBA and a gig as a management consultant, Sandberg found herself reunited with her early mentor, working for Summers at the Treasury as his chief of staff.
In the years since, Sandberg climbed the ranks first at Google and then at Facebook, where she’s helped boost revenues 66-fold since becoming COO in 2008.
Her 2013 book ‘Lean In’ evolved into something of a movement for women in the corporate world. In a video on her accompanying LeanIn.org site, she spoke of the importance of mentorship and sponsorship for women in the workplace, calling on senior-level women to help those who are just starting out — and for men to step in when there aren’t enough women in leadership roles to act as advocates.
2. Michelle Obama
During then-President Barack Obama’s first year in office, the First Lady — a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer — launched a mentorship program for high-school aged girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn life and career skills from accomplished White House women including Second Lady Jill Biden, a longtime educator, and advisor Valerie Jarrett, a lawyer prior to entering politics.
“In every part of government, there are women who are hungry to help bring you guys up,” the First Lady, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, said at the time. “I always wanted to be a bridge between kids like me and the possibilities that can propel them to greatness.”
In a 2012 magazine interview, she spoke of mentorship as a way “to open a secret door for others that hadn’t been opened for me.”
3. Elon Musk
The brash billionaire with plans to colonize Mars never had a mentor himself — at least, not one he’s publicly acknowledged. But he does solicit feedback from business leaders he admires, including Google cofounder Larry Page, according to a 2013 interview.
A lack of a formal mentor of his own didn’t stop him from stepping in to advise Bryn Mooser, cofounder of video newsgathering startup RYOT, according to a recent CNBC interview.
4. Oprah Winfrey
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. A mentor is someone who allows you to know that no matter how dark the night, in the morning joy will come. A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.”
Winfrey has described her 4th grade teacher Mary Duncan as her own mentor during what was a tough childhood in Tennessee. She even invited Duncan, of Nashville’s Wharton Elementary School, to be a guest on the final episode of her daytime talk show, such was her impact.
Besides being a dream mentor for Forbes’ Under 30 women, Winfrey is an actual mentor — and more — for the hundreds of students and graduates of her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. That many of the girls call her ‘Mom-Oprah’ is a testament to her influence on their young lives.
Read Forbes’ cover story on Winfrey’s school, and her $400 million-plus philanthropic commitment to education, here.
5. Hillary Clinton
The trajectory of Clinton’s career cannot fail to impress even those who did not vote for her in the 2016 Presidential election. The 1969 Wellesley College graduate parlayed her skills as a lawyer into a lifetime of public service, from her time advocating for women’s rights as First Lady of the U.S. to her two terms as a Senator to her stint as the most-traveled Secretary of State in the country’s history.
It should come as no surprise that many of the women on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list chose Clinton, who put 65.8 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling, as their dream mentor.
As for Clinton herself, she’s described the youth pastor of her Park Ridge, Ill. Methodist church as a mentor. “Don opened up a new world to me,” Clinton said of the man who took her to Chicago to see Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, “and helped guide me on a spiritual, social and political journey of over 40 years.”