Power in the Boardroom

Our exclusive list of black corporate directors at America's 250 largest companies

were entrepreneur Willie Davis; former Congressman and United Negro College Fund CEO William H. Gray III; former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson; and Jordan. Why so many boards? Billionaire Bob Johnson says that the same people keep surfacing “because high-powered white men only know 1.5 black people, so the same names are tossed around a small group of influential people.”

In early September 2007, more than 100 high-powered black entrepreneurs and professionals gathered at the three-day Black Corporate Directors Conference at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, California. For six years, John Rogers, chairman of Ariel Capital Management (No. 2 on the be asset managers list with $16 billion in assets under management) and Charles A. Tribbett III, a senior partner of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, have brought together black board members for networking and leadership coaching. (See BlackEnterprise.com for a video report from Black Enterprise Business Report.)

The Rev. Leon Sullivan and corporate chieftain Clifton Wharton, part of the first wave of black directors, drove the agendas of equality and supplier diversity while serving on the boards of General Motors and Ford, respectively. Rogers wants to use his
conference to help blacks become more adroit corporate directors as well as to serve as a catalyst for change within corporate America on a grander scale. “We want to make sure we are inspiring each other to get the civil rights agenda on the boardroom table,” says Rogers, who sits on the boards of McDonald’s, Aon, and Exelon. “When African Americans got on a board, we were finding that they were happy to be there but felt uncomfortable rocking the boat. They didn’t want to be typecast as a civil rights director. If the few of us who have this good fortune to be in the boardroom are uncomfortable bringing up race issues, they’re not going to be raised, and we won’t make a difference.”

At last year’s meeting, Rogers and Tribbett unveiled the #”Corporate Diversity Call To Action,” a manifesto for attendees to promote diversity “as a critical component of good governance and an overarching business imperative” that is “in the best interest of all shareholders.” The directors were urged to go back to their boards and push for greater minority representation at all levels of the organization; for an increase in procurement dollars spent with minority enterprises; and for greater philanthropic contributions to civic and charitable organizations. Conference attendees immediately embraced the initiative. Rogers also presented the declaration to the corporate-responsibility committee at McDonald’s and received a positive reception.

Jordan, however, is not keen on African Americans using board positions as bully pulpits to promote diversity. “I’m from a different school. There is nothing in the articles of incorporation of any company that says the role of a black director is #different from the role of a white director. You are a director,” he says. “No. 1, your first job is knowledge. You have to figure out who

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