Power in the Boardroom

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

the players are. Who are chairmen of committees and why? Who are the weak executives and the strong executives? Who are the most influential directors and noninfluential directors? You have to know how the company operates, and that takes time. No. 2, if you are black, it is assumed you know something about diversity. It is not assumed that you know some#thing about what goes on in the audit committee.”

Steven Rogers (no relation to John), professor of entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University and a director of SuperValu, maintains that “advocating diversity is not shunning your fiduciary responsibilities. If you’re not speaking out about diversity, then why have you on the board?” In fact, he maintains that his posture is no different from a director with specific expertise in, say, environmental affairs using his or her position to make it a part of the corporate agenda. And he is so passionate about this issue that he resigned as chair of the financial committee from the board of a Midwestern utility, because its management was “passive aggressive” in contracting black financial services firms.

Other directors see even greater synergy between diversity and shareholder value. “My personal belief is that it’s in the best interest of shareholders for there to be a high-performance culture for all employees, where every employee believes that he can be evaluated, rewarded, and promoted based on his contribution. So in that sense, diversity and inclusion is a shareholder value issue to me,” Hall says. “I’m very passionate about it, but I pursue it in the high-performance management team, high-performance #culture, and shareholder value context. And I’ve found that is an irrefutable argument.”

“There is a fair amount of evidence that having black directors has helped a number of companies broaden their perspectives about their business models and human capital. It’s no coincidence that organizations that seem to be doing better at promoting diversity in their managerial ranks tend to have more diverse boards,” says Harvard Business School professor David A. Thomas, citing the vital role of black directors in furthering corporate involvement in key social issues. “For example, in the University of Michigan affirmative action lawsuit some years ago, it was a group of black directors who took some leadership in getting companies to take a stand on the benefits of diversity for the society.”

High on the agenda in the Sarbanes-Oxley era is keeping the pipeline of black board members flowing. Says Tribbett: “Since the days of Leon Sullivan, we have made some progress but have a lot more to go. We have African Americans who are capable of becoming CEOs of Fortune 100 companies or presidents responsible for some of the biggest decisions of those companies. That places them in very critical positions to become really strong directors at some notable companies.”

As demonstrated by Parsons, a board seat can be the pathway to the executive suite. He joined the Time Warner board in 1991 as an independent director. During his tenure on the

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