Navigating Rough Waters

Steering their companies through an economic storm, america's leading black executives are facing their leading black Executives are facing their boldest challenges yet

as Coca-Cola to telecommunications companies such as Lucent Technologies — have been rocked by economic conditions. Just look at what companies have been forced to do. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, major companies have engaged in the following practices: 63% have cut costs through attrition; 49% have instituted hiring freezes; 21% have reduced contract workers; and 20% have forced their staffs to take vacations. And, in an unprecedented move, some, including Ford Motor Co., are reportedly suspending their 401(k) contributions to save bucks.

There’s also been a sea of change in the configuration of our 2000 Top 50 executives: 10 members have either taken early retirement or left their company to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, while an equal number have been promoted to higher-ranking positions. The rest of the pack still hold the same positions. There are now four black CEOs of major companies: Chenault, Franklin D. Raines of Fannie Mae, John Thompson of Symantec Corp., and Erroll B. Davis Jr. of Alliant Energy Corp. No longer in the corner office: Clifford L. Alexander Jr. of Dun & Bradstreet, A. Barry Rand of Avis Rent-A-Car, and Lloyd D. Ward of Maytag (see sidebar). But there will be a new addition soon: Richard D. Parsons will become CEO of AOL Time Warner by May (see “A Time for Bold Leadership,” this issue). And, as president and COO of Merrill Lynch, E. Stanley O’Neal is next in line to take the reins of the financial services giant.

Whether they have been promoted or remained in the same positions, these execs are using tactics ranging from cutting costs to employing the Internet to increase profitability and market share.

The biggest challenge has been operating in a post September 11 world. Look at what Cal Darden has had to deal with at United Parcel Service (UPS). The terrorist attacks had a profound impact on how parcels will be handled. As senior vice president of U.S. operations, Darden oversees 330,000 employees and nearly $30 billion in revenues, and ensures that the concern meets its daily commitment to deliver 13.6 million packages for roughly 8 million customers.

He has yet to determine how much of an impact anthrax-related fears surrounding the U.S. Postal Service have had on UPS’ increased business because, “there are so many variables involved.” In the weeks leading up to the terrorist attacks, however, UPS’ volume showed a decrease of 3% compared to the previous year. Darden says this performance was an improvement from September 12, when volume slid 10% as a result of the attacks. “The economy has played the biggest role in the overall decline and to what extent that will continue, is something that I can’t predict,” he says. “What I do know is the economy will recover; I just don’t know when.”

Darden, however, maintains the greatest challenge these days is actually not related to the economy. It’s the development of employees. “Although I’m not charged with hiring people, it is my job to ensure that UPS has the

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