50 Most Powerful Black Women In Business

From the executive suite to the BE 100s, these dynamos are changing the direction of American business

table in that transformation.”
Sykes, who was named CFO in 2002, oversees fiscal operations inside — and in connection with — the $16.5 billion space exploration program. In recent years, the Department of Treasury has been critical of the program’s accounting practices. After auditing NASA’s books, it found a $1.7 billion discrepancy. Sykes has been spending the last couple of years reconciling the program’s finances.
Under Sykes’ leadership, the entire agency converted to one accounting system, and all regional CFOs now report directly to her — sharing accountability. Although the books have yet to be balanced, Sykes has managed to close the gap from roughly $1.7 billion in 2003 to $46 million in 2005.
Reversing NASA’s finance woes, such as achieving its space initiatives, won’t happen overnight, but Sykes is confident it can be accomplished. “We are in the middle of a long process of transforming our financial management,” says Sykes of the magnitude of her department’s task. “Recognizing that financial management was going to be at the forefront of leading this charge for a new exploration vision, there needed to be some structure and some rigor as we moved forward in our processes.”
— Tennille M. Robinson

The First Ladies of Black Enterprise
Billionaires Oprah Winfrey and Sheila C. Johnson are a testament that African American women not only have keen business sense but they can flex their financial muscle like the men. Winfrey heads the 14th largest black-owned business in the nation, Harpo Inc., which amassed approximately $275 million in sales. In addition to being the only female talk show host to produce and own her own television program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey publishes O, The Oprah Magazine, which has a circulation of about 2.7 million and is a top revenue generator.

Though she might be one of the most highly profiled, Winfrey isn’t the first black businesswoman to garner a prominent place in history. Black women have been carving out significant niches in a wide range of industries as financiers, haircare distributors, restaurateurs, and advertising mavens.
In fact, the first female bank president in the U.S. was Maggie Lena Walker. In 1903, she developed the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Eventually, it merged with two other black-owned banks to form Consolidated Bank and Trust, which today ranks No. 20 on the BE BANKS list with $87.3 million in assets. It is the longest surviving black bank in the country.

America’s first female self-made millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker, not only built wealth for herself but also devised ways for other black women to achieve financial success through the Walker College of Hair Culture. Those who attended the college were instructed on how to style hair, sell Walker’s products, and open their own salons. By 1917, Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co. raked in revenues of about $500,000.

Black women have also been pioneers in the insurance industry. Ernesta Procope opened her firm, E.G. Bowman & Co., in 1953. Procope’s company was so successful that she became the first female CEO included on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list when it premiered

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