SMU alumnae named among world’s Top 10 Servant-Leader CEOs

SMU alumnae Melissa Reiff ’77, CEO of The Container Store, and Brittany Merrill Underwood ’06, founder and CEO of the Akola Project, were named among the world’s Top 10 servant-leader CEOs by

SMU alumnae Melissa Reiff ’77, CEO of The Container Store, and Brittany Merrill Underwood ’06, founder and CEO of the Akola Project, made’s list of the world’s Top 10 servant-leader CEOs.
Underwood, No. 5 on the list, was cited as a “clear example of a servant leader practicing conscious capitalism to transform the lives of impoverished women and families.”
Her commitment to that cause was sparked by a summer she spent in Uganda while an SMU undergraduate. In 2007 she established the Akola Project, and over the last decade, it has blossomed into a thriving social business.
The nonprofit offers jewelry-making jobs that provide a living wage to women living in poverty in Uganda and Dallas.
When the jewelry was introduced in Neiman Marcus last fall, the “full impact brand” became a bestseller. The luxury retailer has since doubled its Akola business.
Underwood, who received SMU’s Emerging Leader Award in 2013, plans to build on Akola’s success in the luxury market after winning the top prize of $75,000 at the United Way GroundFloor’s OneUp the Pitch contest in April.
Reiff, No. 8 on the list, was commended for “continuing the company’s commitment to ‘conscious capitalism’ and its servant leadership-driven culture.”
Reiff joined The Container Store in 1995 as vice president of sales and marketing. She was promoted to executive vice president of stores and marketing in 2003. She served as chief operating office and president before being elevated to CEO in 2016.
She is credited with improving The Container Store’s approach to launching new stores and has played a critical role in enhancing and strengthening the retailer’s “employee-first” culture, a philosophy that has led to 18 consecutive appearances on Fortune’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
Reiff received an SMU Cox Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013 and has served on the school’s executive board and been active on the Cox Associate Board.
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