The “Fortune 500” is a list of the 500 largest companies in the United States as compiled by Fortune magazine. Unfortunately, less than 1% of these companies are led by African American CEO’s. As a matter of fact, of all the CEO’s within the Fortune 500, there are fewer African Americans than any other minority group. This is really sad, considering we comprise nearly 14% of the U.S. population but less than 1% of positions of power in Corporate America.
Although there has thought to have been up to 15 African American CEO’s in the Fortune 500 since its inception, for this post I thought I’d concentrate on the few remaining African American CEO’s.
It is also worthy to not that there are currently no African American majority owned company in the Fortune 500. rankings.
Let’s take a look , shall we? –
Rosalind Brewer worked for 22 years at Kimberly-Clark before becoming a regional vice president at Walmart in 2006. When she landed the job of Sam’s Club CEO in 2012, she became the first woman and first African-American to lead a Walmart (Fortune #1) division. Sam’s Club banks $58 billion in revenues and its 100,000 employees work in the warehouse club’s 648 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. To make up for competition from Costco and lagging sales to small businesses, she has introduced a suite of services including a private health insurance exchange and access to payroll systems and legal services through a Sam’s Club membership. She is also integrating the company’s digital offerings, introducing Club Pick-up, where members can order goods online and fetch them at the store the next day. She serves on the board of Lockheed Martin and she chairs the board of trustees for Spelman College, her alma mater.
Kenneth C. Frazier has served Merck (Fortune #71) in various positions since joining in 1992 as vice president, general counsel and secretary of the Astra Merck Group. In 2011, Frazier was promoted to CEO and chairman–making him the first African American to lead a major pharmaceutical company. Frazier is the son of a former sharecropper and janitor who instilled the belief that a person can be anything they want to be with hard work. Growing up in impoverished North Philadelphia, Frazier went on to earn degrees from Pennsylvania State University and Harvard Law School. He practiced law from 1978 until 1992 before transitioning to business after representing Merck as a partner in the litigation department of the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath.
In 2001, Kenneth Chenault became CEO of American Express (Fortune #88) after holding several positions within the company since 1981, where he started in the merchandising department. He was named President of the Consumer Card Group in 1989, and in 1993 he became President of Travel Related Services (TRS), which encompassed all of American Express’ card and travel businesses in the United States. In 1995, he assumed additional responsibility for the company’s worldwide card and travel businesses and also was named Vice Chairman of American Express. Mr. Chenault became President and Chief Operating Officer in February 1997. He assumed his current responsibilities as CEO on January 1, 2001, and as Chairman on April 23 of that year.
Mr. Chenault serves on the boards of American Express and several other corporate and nonprofit organizations, including IBM, The Procter & Gamble Company, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the Smithsonian Institution’s Advisory Council for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation. He also is on the boards of the Partnership for New York City, The Business Council and the Business Roundtable and serves as Vice Chairman of each of these organizations.
A wide variety of civic, social service and community organizations have recognized Mr. Chenault for his public service leadership. He has received the Phoenix House Public Service Award, the Corporate Responsibility Award from the International Rescue Committee and the Wall Street Rising Leadership Award, among others. In addition, he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Mr. Chenault holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA in history from Bowdoin College, and he has received a number of honorary degrees from several universities.
Roger Ferguson is President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA-CREF (Fortune #92). Mr. Ferguson is the former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. He represented the Federal Reserve on several international policy groups and served on key Federal Reserve System committees, including Payment System Oversight, Reserve Bank Operations, and Supervision and Regulation. As the only Governor in Washington, D.C. on 9/11, he led the Fed’s initial response to the terrorist attacks, taking actions that kept the U.S. financial system functioning while reassuring the global financial community that the U.S. economy would not be paralyzed.
Prior to joining TIAA-CREF in April 2008, Mr. Ferguson was head of financial services for Swiss Re, Chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, and a member of the company’s executive committee. From 1984 to 1997, he was an Associate and Partner at McKinsey & Company. He began his career as an attorney at the New York City office of Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Mr. Ferguson is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and co-chairs its Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. He serves on the boards of General Mills and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. and on the advisory board of Brevan Howard Asset Management LLP.
He is Chairman of The Conference Board and a member of the Business-Higher Education Forum’s Executive Committee. He serves on the boards of the American Council of Life Insurers, the Institute for Advanced Study, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He is a member of the Economic Club of New York, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Group of Thirty.
Mr. Ferguson served on President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness as well as its predecessor, the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and he co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Long-Run Macro-Economic Effects of the Aging U.S. Population.
Dr. Ferguson holds his B.A., J.D., and Ph.D, from Harvard University. He credits his parents — a schoolteacher and an Army veteran with a knack for investing — for his passion for finance, even as a child.
In May 2010, Ursula Burns became the first African American woman to become a CEO for a Fortune 500 company – Xerox Corporation (Fortune #143). During her tenure, she has helped the company transform from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes. Ursula joined Xerox as an intern in 1980 and during her career she has held leadership posts spanning corporate services, manufacturing and product development. She was named president in 2007, chief executive officer in 2009 and chairman in 2010. Shortly after being named CEO in 2009, she spearheaded the largest acquisition in Xerox history, the $6.4 billion purchase of Affiliated Computer Services.
Today, Xerox is the leader in diversified business process services with its Services business representing over 50 percent of the company’s total revenue. Its Document Technology business remains the market share leader in the industry and continues to grow in key areas including graphic communications. Ursula, who regularly appears on Fortune’s and Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women, is a board director of the American Express Corporation, Exxon Mobil Corporation and the Ford Foundation. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Ursula to help lead the White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and she was appointed chair of the President’s Export Council in 2015 after service as vice chair since 2010. She also provides leadership counsel to several other community, educational and non-profit organizations including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the National Academy Foundation and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), among others.
Ursula holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University and a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University.
Marvin Ellison has nearly 30 years of experience in the retail industry. As the President & CEO of J.C Penney (Fortune #250) he has spent the last 12 years at Home Depot. As executive vice president of U.S. stores since August 2008, he has been the senior-most operations leader for Home Depot’s approximately 2,000 stores. Prior to that, he was president of the Northern Division, a role in which he had responsibility for the sales and operations of more than 700 stores in 21 states and led a team of more than 150,000 associates. Previously, he was senior vice president of global logistics, with oversight of all domestic distribution, transportation, store and appliance delivery, import distribution and international logistics throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, China and more than 35 other countries. Before joining Home Depot, Mr. Ellison spent 15 years with Target in a variety of operational roles, including Corporate Director of Asset Protection.
Mr. Ellison serves on the board of directors of FedEx. He is actively involved in philanthropic efforts including inner-city school renovations, as well as mentoring programs aimed at developing inner-city youth. He earned a business administration degree in marketing from the University of Memphis and a Master of Business Administration from Emory University.
Carnival‘s Arnold Donald is not a typical cruise line executive. He’s not white; he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth; and he’s not arrogant.
He was born in New Orleans. His parents didn’t finish high school. They raised him and his three siblings in the Ninth Ward (which is now largely destroyed due to Hurricane Katrina). He achieved great success in the segregated south due to his commitment to education, hard work and the confidence instilled in him by his parents and teachers at St. Augustine High School.
Mr. Donald has given back to New Orleans and has awarded over two dozen scholarships to his college and business school alma maters. He also donated funding to build a new wing at St. Augustine, named after his mother and father Warren and Hilda Donald. He’s now the top executive of Carnival, the largest cruise line in the world.
*While Carnival is the #1 cruise line in the world, it is not technically on the Fortune 500 list because it was incorporated outside of the United States.