In Honor of Juneteenth, Let’s Meet Some Successful Black CEOs.
In a constantly changing world, people of diversity and color have had more opportunities to represent in higher positions. For the Black community, there has only ever been 19 out of 1800 black CEOs that ran Fortune 500 companies. Last year, there were only four companies that had a black CEO on the Fortune 500 list. Even outside the U.S, there are no Black CEOs on the UK’s FTSE100. I think we can all agree that number is way too small. Companies today do try to incorporate diversity however they fail to follow through with higher up positions. However, let’s not get into the politics of that but instead celebrate some of the people that are trailblazing the path for other people of color to follow.
Rosalind ‘Roz’ Brewer, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Starting off strong, Rosalind Brewer became the first ever female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in March 2021. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she was the youngest of five children and was the first generation in her family to go to college. Brewer graduated from Spelman College with a bachelor’s in chemistry then later graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Stanford Law School. Finally, she did the advanced management program at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It goes without saying, she has been building up to having a CEO title for years. Before Walgreens Boots Alliance, Roz Brewer served as Chief Operating Officer and Group President at Starbucks from October 2017 to January 2021. Then, she was the President and CEO of Sam’s Club along with holding several executive positions at Walmart from 2006. Prior to joining Walmart, and from where she first started, Brewer served as President of Global Nonwovens Division for Kimberly-Clark Corporations and also held different leadership roles there as well.
Aside from all of her wonderful leadership roles, Rosalind Brewer has other titles as well. She currently serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for Spelman College, and she is a Board Member of VillageMD, World Business Chicago, Business Roundtable and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Brewer also was the only Black woman to sit on Amazon’s Board of Directors. Along with that, she held a position as a BOD for Starbucks, Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Molsons Coors Brewing Company. She is currently ranked #6 on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and was named one of the 25 most influential women by the Financial Times in 2021. That is such a long and impressive list!
Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s
Marvin Ellison was also one of the four black people who made it to the Fortune 500 company list last year. However, his life was not all peaches and rainbows. He grew up in a small town in Tennessee with seven siblings in extreme poverty. In fact, his family didn’t get indoor plumbing until he was six years old! One of the greatest memories from his childhood is his mom taking their family to J.C. Penney’s twice a year. Moving onto his college years, it actually took him about five and a half years to graduate due to working full-time.
Currently, Marvin is the Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Lowe’s Companies Inc. He has more than 35 years of retail leadership including being a chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney Co and is the only black CEP who led two different Fortune 500 companies. Ellison also held high level operation roles with Home Depot for 12 years. One of his biggest positions was serving as Executive Vice President of U.S. stores from 2008 to 2014. Before he worked at Home Depot, Ellison held a variety of operational and leadership positions at Target for 15 years.
In addition to his leadership accomplishments, Marvin Ellison serves on the Board of Trustees for The University of Memphis. He also serves on the board of directors for FedEx Corporation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Due to his many accolades, he was named Barron’s “Top CEOs” in 2021 and 2020, “2017 Father of the Year” by the National Father’s Day Council, Fortune’s 2016 “ World’s Greatest Leaders,” and “Corporate Executive of the Year” in 2016 by Black Enterprise.
Kenneth C. Frazier-Merck
Kenneth C. Frazier was another black CEO who landed on the Fortune 500 company list. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he is the son of a mother who died when he was 12 and a father who had an equivalent of a third grade education. However, he did not let these circumstances hold him back. Frazier went on to graduate high school at 15, then he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and immediately enrolled in Harvard Law School and graduated with a Doctorate degree. He currently is the Executive Chairman of Merck’s board of directors after retiring from a decade long position as CEO. Under his leadership, Merck delivered multiple life-saving medicines and long-term value to their shareholders. He also led the formation of philanthropic and humanitarian initiatives for the company and made the company focus on research,launch, and growth of key products. In 2017, he withdrew from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council after comments were made about white power. Soon after many people followed which led to the council’s disbanding. Prior to that role, he also held titles such as Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, and Vice President of Public Affairs. Frazier started his career at Drinker Biddle & Reath as a lawyer for 14 years. There he worked with Merck and Company as one of his clients then later worked for them as one of its corporate attorneys.
Frazier currently sits in the boards of Weill Cornell Medicine, Eikon Therapeutics, the National Constitution Center and Cornerstone Christian Academy in Philadelphia, PA. He is also the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of OneTen, a group of leading organizations who pledged to hire one million Black Americans into sustaining jobs. Furthermore, Ken is the Chairman, Health Assurance Initiatives, at the venture capital firm, General Catalyst. There, he advises on investments and mentors companies to transform the healthcare industry. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, The Business Council, the Council of the American Law Institute, the American Bar Association, the Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and Co-Chair of the Legal Services Corporation’s Leaders Council.
As if that list wasn’t long enough, he has also received many accolades. Ken was named one of the World’s greatest leaders by Fortune magazine and made Time’s 100 Most Influential People two years in a row. Impressive right?! Well, that’s not all, Frazier also became the recipient of the Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award for Healthcare. In 2021, Columbia Business School honored him with the Deming Cup for Operation Excellence, and even his peers named him Chief Executive magazine’s CEO of the Year. As an advocate for social justice and inclusion, he obtained many awards like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund National Equal Justice Award and the National Minority Quality Forum’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rene Jones- M&T Bank
Rene Jones is another black CEO whose company was on the Fortune 500 list. He grew up in Ayer, Massachusetts to his Father who was a Sergeant first class and his mother who was Belgian, making him biracial. Growing up, he was very aware of the stereotypes and how that limits people. He eventually went on to graduate from Boston College in Management Science and a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance Organization and Markets from the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business. While getting his Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he worked at Ernst & Young, in which he offered various services with an emphasis on Financial Services. In his final year of grad school, he received a letter from M&T bank about an opportunity in which he then joined the company. His first job was through an associates executive program in which he claims to solve many different banking problems each year. From then, he held numerous titles such as M&T’s chief financial officer and he was appointed to the management committee where he was named vice chairman.
He currently serves on the boards of The Jacobs Institute and the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Rene is also a member of the ACV Auctions, Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Federal Advisory Council and Massachusetts Historical Societies Council of Overseers. Jones also serves on the COuncil for Inclusive Capitalism and on the Aux 21 board, a firm investing in the future of global commerce that focuses on companies led by immigrant founders. Some of his accolades include being recognized by the Canisius College as Outstanding Accountant in Westerns New York and listed as “All-American Executive Team: Best CFOs’ by Institutional Investor.
WOW! Going through these stories really shows how a person can come from anywhere and make it to a C-suite office. These four are an inspiration to many due to their drive and determination to make it to the top despite all of their unique hardships. May they lead the way into a future of diversity and inclusion for all.
I am not a financial advisor and my comments should never be taken as financial advice. Investments come with risk, so always do your research and analysis beforehand.