He wields a half-billion dollar budget, with $186 million earmarked for advertising, and leads 1,100 of the company’s 140,000 employees. He is also a champion of corporate diversity and a tireless catalyst in moving African Americans up the ranks at Bell Atlantic. With a track record too impressive to ignore, Bruce S. Gordon has been selected as the 1998 BLACK ENTERPRISE Executive of the Year.
BRINGING IT HOME
Gordon stands calm, smack dab in the middle of one of the most volatile industries during one of its most tumultuous times. His steadfast demeanor was honed in Camden, New Jersey, in a close-knit family of five, headed by two educators. Bell of Pennsylvania seemed as good a choice as any for the college football wide receiver and “liberal arts kid” who graduated from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania in 1968.
“I picked a company that offered the most money and would allow me to get back to Philly. I planned to stay only a few years and then move on,” recalls Gordon, who joined the company as a management trainee. His cavalier attitude didn’t last for long. “Soon after I came into the Bell system, there were talks to convert the monopoly into a competitive business. The whole energy level picked up.” Perhaps more influential was the fact that out of the 850 people in the company, only one black person was in a director position. Surely, he reasoned, there was room for him at the top. If not, then he would make room.
“I wasn’t a traditional person. Being a child of the ’60s, I had a natural resistance to the status quo,” says Gordon. In 1970, he had already established a reputation as outspoken, even militant. A weekly column in a suburban Philadelphia paper, Today’s Post, became his bully pulpit for speaking out on race relations and other controversial subjects.
Watching Gordon from the sidelines was a sales general manager named Carl Nurick. “He was Jewish and felt that he had also been a victim of discrimination. He liked that I was a black guy who had a lot to say about the business, and we connected on those terms,” notes Gordon. When the buzz around Bell of Pennsylvania was to fire the young business office manager, Nurick said “send him to me,” and Gordon was moved from customer service into sales. Under Nurick, Gordon’s unconventional wisdom and bravado were nurtured.
But he would eventually consider leaving, at least for a moment. Bitten by the academia bug in 1971, Gordon turned in his resignation one Friday to take a job as director of a Philadelphia urban school for academically challenged students. Over that weekend Gordon had second thoughts: he didn’t want to bump heads with his father, who was working on a similar project as dean at a local community college. Recalls Gordon, “I called my boss on Sunday and told him I wanted to come back to work.”
A MARKETING ORACLE
After regrouping, Gordon sailed through management assignments in operations, personnel, sales and marketing. All the