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

right managers in key operational positions,” he says. At UPS, 59 district and nine regional managers report to Darden. They are each responsible for an average of $300 million in revenues. Since UPS has an internal policy of promotion from within, he monitors the careers of scores of employees. “I want to help ensure this team represents UPS’ commitment to diversity.”

In an effort to reduce expenses and boost profits, Merrill Lynch’s O’Neal has initiated an aggressive austerity program. Recently, he slashed its investment banking staff by 15%, reduced the network of regional trust centers from 30 to five, and offered voluntary buyout packages to all of its 66,000 employees — about 4.4%, or 2,900 employees, opted out the company. Moreover, O’Neal recently shuttered the firm’s Canadian brokerage unit as well as considered downscaling its 18-month online banking venture with HSBC. The moves appear to be meeting investors’ approval: In early December, Merrill’s shares jumped 58%, from its 52-week low of $33.50 to $52.94.

In embarking on a strategy that he started two years ago as head of private client services, the silver-manned exec has earned the reputation of an ax wielder. O’Neal told BE in a recent interview: “I’m not a cost cutter solely. I do believe…we have to be disciplined in our use of all resources, including human resources. But that’s just a label people want to hang on me.”

Others have adopted innovative strategies to bolster the bottom line. For example, Todd C. Brown’s focus changed when Kraft Foods went public last year. (On June 13, Kraft spun-off from its parent, Philip Morris.)

As executive vice president of Kraft Foods North America and president of the food and beverage giant’s e-commerce division, Brown is responsible for all Internet marketing. One of his charges is the creation of Websites that provide activities consumers are interested in and, in turn, drive sales. As a result, his team developed Kraft Interactive Kitchen, which supplies information about recipes and usage for Kraft products through the Web. “We’re bringing millions of consumers every month [to Kraft] through these sites, and we know they’re spending quite a bit of time after they get there,” he says. “But we’ve not been able to do the kind of direct measurement [on the Internet] that we do in some of the other areas.” One of his projects for the upcoming year is developing a system to accurately measure Internet-related sales.

Over the past year, no sector has received more press about being in the doldrums than technology. Executives such as Al Zollar, general manager of Lotus Software, IBM Software Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, however, continue to push technology as a driving force in business — despite the sluggish economy. (Zollar was president and CEO of Lotus Development Corp. until the company restructured the software group.) In his current capacity, he oversees one of Big Blue’s four major software brands within the $12.6 billion division.

These days, Zollar’s agenda is the identification of new revenue streams within the

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