TOC first contributed the following for the website move-on-up.org for Black History Month, 2012
As Black History Month draws to a close, TOC wanted to take a moment and recognize people that are making history today. Throughout this month, we hear of past heroes that changed our nation and world and fought for equality. While those heroes deserve the attention they receive and so much more, we should also look to congratulate those of us who are making history today. Today, there are five African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in the US. These five are the cream-of-the-crop in Corporate America, proving not only that Corporate America does not have to be at odds with Black America, but also that both Corporate America and Black America can thrive together. These African-American CEOs show that we should reject the notion that government must be the provider for our people – a stereotype perpetuated by so many. Instead, if we focus and face our headwinds, we can achieve monumental things working within the private sector and free markets to achieve great things.
Kenneth Frazier just took over the title of CEO, President and Chairman of the Board at Merck in January 2012. He joined Merck in 1992 as a Vice President. He climbed the ladder at Merck, taking a number of positions before being named Merck President in 2010. Frazier graduated from Harvard Law School with a JD in 1978. Merck reported sales in 2010 of $46 billion.
Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express. Chenault has held the position of CEO for over 10 years, beginning his reign in 2001. In addition to guiding American Express through the rough waters of two recessions, Chenault also has been appointed to sit on President Obama’s jobs council. Under his reign, American Express went from $22 billion in annual revenues (as of the end of 2000) to $30 billion.
Ursula Burns was named CEO of Xerox effective July 1, 2009. She added the title Chairwoman of the Board in May 2010. Burns is the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company in history. For the full year 2010, Xerox’s net income rose 25 percent to $606 million and revenue rose 43 percent to $21.6 billion. Additionally, like Chenault, Burns was appointed to serve on the President’s jobs council.
Rodney O’Neal is the CEO and President of Delphi Corporation, an international automotive parts supplier. O’Neal’s tenure has seen a lot of headwinds. He took over the company in the midst of bankruptcy. He guided the company out of bankruptcy through a $530 million IPO. Even more astonishing is the fact that the IPO took place in 2009, during the heart of the most recent financial crisis and a near-stagnant M&A market. O’Neal’s time in the automotive industry began in 1971 while he was a student at GMI (currently Kettering). He rose through the ranks at GM and became a part of Delphi while it was a part of GM in 1997. Delphi reported $14 billion in sales in 2010.
Clarence Otis, Jr. is the lead of Darden Restaurants, Inc., the largest publicly traded casual dining restaurant company in the world, based on market share and revenues from company-owned restaurants. Darden employs nearly 170,000 people and serve more than 350 million meals annually at 1,700 restaurants in the US and Canada including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. Otis has been the head of Darden since November 2004 – successfully guiding the company through the heart of the recession in an industry that is very susceptible to economic downturns. Darden reported $7.5 billion of revenue from June 2010 through May 2011.
These five leaders are collectively responsible for almost $111 billion in sales. That exceeds the total GDP of Iraq or 156 other nations. The critical message here is that, with perseverance and hard work, African Americans can do whatever we want. We live in a time when the world believes all we can do is hoop and hip-hop. Clearly, this is not true.
We cannot allow politicians to convince us that the free market is our enemy and not our opportunity. Therein lies the challenge. Only 1% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are African-American, but the potential is in so many more.
Let’s push to change the story. Let’s push to tell the story of these five. Let’s show our people that only through determination, self-reliance, and hard work can so many more join the heights of these five.