The titans of corporate America came out to celebrate with BLACK ENTERPRISE as it launched its Registry of Corporate Directors in the February 2008 issue last night at the Park Café in New York City’s Time Warner Center. The event, co-hosted by Ariel Mutual Funds, honored the business prowess and the diversity that African American corporate board directors add to America’s 250 largest companies .
The cover story, “Power in the Boardroom,” featured influential executives such as Richard D. Parsons, chairman of Time Warner; John W. Rogers Jr., chairman and CEO of Ariel Capital Management L.L.C./Ariel Mutual Funds; and Joyce M. Roché, president and CEO of Girls Inc., all of whom were in attendance for the evening’s festivities.
Rogers, who sits on the boards of McDonald’s, Exelon, and Aon Corp says “The only ways to gauge the progress is to have regular discussions in the board room and there need to be measurements. You have to measure not only corporate spending with minority firms, but it must be broken down by category so that no area—whether it’s advertising, procurement, or supply management—is left out .”
These guardians of shareholder value, as the feature coins them, who are charged with protecting trillions in assets, don’t go on unchanged by the tremendous responsibility that they carry. Vernon E. Jordan Jr., senior managing director of investment bank Lazard Frères & Co. L.L.C. and a 35-year boardroom veteran who serves as a director of Xerox and American Express, reveals, “It’s been a process where I have been able to grow, develop, and mature in terms of understanding not only the system but how human beings react to situations.”
More than 150 people gathered for the intimate event with BE CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr.; Chairman and Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr., Executive Editor Derek Dingle, and Rogers giving brief speeches to explain the methodology of the list and the importance of diversity on corporate boards.
Said Graves Sr., “BE’s exclusive registry of African American corporate directors is not merely an impressive list of names; it is first and foremost a challenge to the men and women in this room and to every African American who has or ever will reap the rewards of success in corporate life. That challenge is to both meet and exceed the responsibilities inherent in board service.”
He charged each officer with fulfilling an activist role that both serves the interest of the company shareholders and helps to make a better, fairer, more just place for people of color. He added, “The idea that black people who succeed have no responsibility beyond their own self-interest won’t do. Remember you didn’t get invited to the board you serve on because they ran out of smart white people.”
J. Gary Cooper, chairman and CEO of Commonwealth National Bank and a member of United States Steel board, said, “I’d like to think that I’ve added some sensitivity to the importance of diversity to the board … diversity across the board in hiring, purchasing, and even within