American Express. Xerox. Sam’s Club. McDonald’s. What do these iconic American companies, with globally recognized American brands, have in common? Each of these multinational corporations has an African American CEO, respectively: Kenneth I. Chenault, Ursula Burns, Rosalind G. Brewer, and Don Thompson. You’ll find these outstanding leaders among others on our latest list of the 100 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America, featured in this issue.
It’s easy to forget that, not so long ago, the prospect of an African American CEO at a multinational corporation was as remote as a black president in the White House—especially now that both are realities today. In February 1988, when we published our first list of top black corporate executives, the list comprised just 25 people—there were no CEOs of large public companies, and no women—many of whom were not even aware of each other’s existence before we published that issue. Notables on that first list: AARP CEO A. Barry Rand, who was then president of Xerox’s U.S. Marketing Group and would go on to become the CEO of Avis Group Holdings; recent GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was then president of Godfather’s Pizza; and Chenault, then executive vice president and general manager of AMEX’s Platinum Card/Gold Card division and, at 36, the youngest executive on the list.
Back then, with African Americans having experienced the historic 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the editors and executives of Black Enterprise would debate which barrier to racial progress would take the longest to buckle: the one blocking the CEO’s office or the one blocking the Oval Office. Now that the
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