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

market. He asserts: “We must create strategically innovative solutions to meet the needs of our customers.”

In fact, John W. Thompson, chairman, president, and CEO of Symantec Corp., has been successful in plugging into such opportunities. For example, the Cupertino, California, Internet security firm has developed gateway software to protect e-mail and Web traffic from malicious computer viruses and worms. Thompson, whose company’s Norton AntiVirus recently won its 15th Virus Bulletin 100% award, believes Symantec will show profits in the coming year with the increased need for comprehensive security solutions.

Chairman and CEO Franklin D. Raines’ company, on the other hand, has been flooded with activity as a result of current economic conditions. Low interest rates and high demand for housing and mortgage refinancing gave Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, a banner year. In October, Raines announced that the company had made commitments to purchase a record $33.6 billion in mortgage loans, surpassing the previous high of $30.2 billion in October 1998. The amount represented a dramatic increase from the $16.4 billion Fannie Mae bought in September when loan production dipped due to terrorist attacks.

What’s driving the activity? Fannie Mae is reaping the benefits from a boom in housing and refinancing spurred by 11 interest rate cuts from the Federal Reserve in 2001, which lowered the 30-year mortgage rate to a record low of 6.45% in early November. Raines doesn’t expect such activity to stop soon. “This decade could well be the greatest decade in history for housing,” he told U.S. Chamber of Commerce members in November, as he announced that mortgage debt would more than double by 2010 to as much as $14 trillion.

In viewing the upcoming year, these BE executives are eagerly awaiting a rebound, hoping for a strong economic current instead of stagnant waters. In any event, most have sufficiently battened down the hatches, just in case storm clouds may still be on the horizon.

A Wave of Departures Among the Top 50
Along with the changing tide in corporate America there has also been a wave of departures in the executive suite. A number of skippers recorded among BE’S list of the Top 50 most powerful executives in corporate America two years ago decided to end their corporate voyages. Some retired. Others pursued entrepreneurial ventures. And at least one of them because of boardroom intrigue.

The most notable departures were the CEOs of major corporations. Lloyd Ward, 51, rose to become CEO of Maytag and one of the few blacks to ever hold the corner office in a Fortune 500 company. He quit about nine months after making our list. He left after battling the board of directors over the strategic direction of the appliance maker. Following a quick stint running an Internet venture, the athletic exec vaulted from the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds to become head of the U.S. Olympics Committee — the first African American to hold the post (see “From Boardrooms To Snowboards,” Newspoints, this issue).

Last January, A. Barry Rand, 56, resigned from his

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