15. Arthur G. Gaston Sr.
Named black enterprise’s Entrepreneur of the Century in 1992, the late Gaston built a conglomerate in segregated Birmingham, becoming one of the nation’s first black multimillionaires and a financial supporter of the civil rights movement. In the 1980s, he was still a force to be reckoned with, operating several businesses including two be 100s financial services companies.
14. Ursula Burns
The Corporate Innovator
A 30-year veteran of Xerox Corp. who was named CEO in 2009—she assumed the role of chairman in May—Burns has become the first African American woman to lead one of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. She’s now taking the $22 billion company to the next level by integrating its largest acquisition, Affiliated Computer Services, into the Xerox fold.
13. Ed Lewis/Clarence Smith/Susan Taylor
The Voice of Black Women
For 40 years, Essence has celebrated the beauty and potential of African American women. Lewis and Smith, among the original founders, handled finance and operations and generated sales while Taylor, the face of the publication, maintained the editorial direction after becoming editor-in-chief in 1981. It was a perennial on the be 100s until Time Inc. acquired a majority interest in 2005.
12. Thomas Burrell
The Dean of Black Advertising
Burrell broke barriers in the media industry when he launched his Chicago-based ad agency in 1971. For decades, he fought for industry diversification and the opportunity for black agencies to gain general market accounts. When he left the firm, 49% owned by French agency Publicis Groupe, he sold the majority stake to his managers, retaining its African American ownership.
11. Herman Russell
The Master Builder
As Chairman of H. J. Russell & Co., he has changed the skylines of American cities and international hubs, developed business and political opportunities for African Americans, and broken barriers in the construction industry. One of the largest minority contractors, Russell has served as an advocate of and mentor to legions of black business owners nationwide.