20 Black Women Of Power & Influence

These African American female corporate executives are shaping the way business is done

–Keisha Anderson

BRENDA LAUDERBACK President, Wholesale and Retail Group, Nine West Group
Brenda Lauderback has a passion for shoes. And as group president of wholesale and retail for Nine West Group Inc., she is turning her passion into profit, to the tune of $608 million, 38% of the company’s 1996 revenues.

Lauderback’s brands–Easy Spirit, Amalfi, Evan-Picone, Bandolino and Selby–employ over 1,200 workers across four continents. With almost 220 retail outlets nationwide, she is responsible for guiding the strategic direction, design and sales of the Stamford-Connecticut-based company. Despite Easy Spirit being the largest non-athletic wholesale producer of women’s footwear in the U.S., Lauderback says “Comfort and energy have become increasingly important to women, and we’ve yet to really tap the full potential of the market.”

In 1996, Lauderback increased revenues in her area by 20%, including a 160% increase in two lines given to her because of underperformance. “I have the ability to quickly identify opportunities for increased profitability,” explains the Pittsburgh native.

Turnaround is nothing new to Lauderback. Prior to Nine West, as president or wholesale footwear for U.S. Shoe Corp. (which was acquired by Nine West in 1995), she took her segment of the business from a $9 million loss to a $32 million gain in 18 months.

It was a 10th grade marketing class that inspired Lauderback to go into the retail field. With a marketing degree from Pittsburgh’s Robert Morris College, Lauderback climbed from sportswear buyer in 1976 to vice president and general merchandise manager at the Dayton Hudson Corp. in 1980. “The one thing I’ve always believed,” says the 47-year old Lauderback, “is that if you can see it, you can be it.”
–Hal Karp

DEBRA LEE President and COO, BET Holdings
Debra Lee carries a torch. The one passed to her last year when Bob Johnson, founder and CEO of BET Holdings, made her president and chief operating officer. A strange twist for someone who moved to Washington, D.C., in 1983 hoping to land a government position creating public policy.

Disenchanted by the conservative leaning of the town under Ronald Reagan’s administration, Lee instead began practicing corporate law for Steptoe and Johnson in Washington, which handled BET’s legal account. Her work on the BET account eventually led Johnson to offer Lee the position of vice president/general counsel in 1986. The post gave Lee valuable insight into a wide variety of aspects of the Washington, D.C.- based, $500 million holding company, whose interests include cable programming, publishing and theme restaurants.

It also allowed the Greensboro, North Carolina, native to focus on more than legal issues. During her tenure, Lee oversaw construction of the company’s on-site broadcast studio, as well as BET’s publishing ventures: Emerge and YSB. In 1995, Lee, now 42, was promoted to head of business development, where she helped to orchestrate ventures such as a co-branded BET Visa card and the development of two BET SoundStage restaurants (the second of which will open in the Spring of 1998 at Disney World in Orlando, Florida).

“I wasn’t expecting Bob [Johnson] to give up the reins and

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