Arnold W. Donald knows well the challenges of making it to the C-suite. He achieved that goal at a time when companies that embraced diversity did so as a mark of corporate citizenship but without making the connection to bottom-line results. As Donald served in high-powered positions, including president of Monsanto Co.’s agricultural sector and president and CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International over the past two decades, the Executive Leadership Council, the premier leadership network of African American corporate business leaders, broadened its influence as a membership organization for the most senior-level corporate executives.
At the annual recognition gala in New York in October, ELC ushered in a new era by naming Donald its president and CEO. “I am excited to work with the membership of the ELC to accelerate African American inclusion in corporate America,” he says of his appointment. With increasing access to global experience on its agenda, as well as expanding the pipeline and preparing members to serve as corporate directors, the ELC board believes Donald represents the right leadership to direct the organization in the critical years ahead.
The organization’s new thrust was reflected in two separate daylong events: its 16th Annual Mid-Level Managers’ Symposium, “Maximizing Your Success in Uncharted Territory,” in which roughly 800 African American managers attended sessions on topics that included leadership development and negotiation skills; and the CEO Diversity Summit, attended by some of the nation’s leading chief executives and ELC-member executives who engaged in instruction and open dialogue about corporate diversity strategies. The conference brought together senior executives from more than 30 major corporations as well as those within three levels of the C-suite.
In exclusive interviews, Black Enterprise Editorial Director Sonia Alleyne talked with CEOs and top ELC members at the conference to understand their perspective on corporate inclusion and to glean advice for C-suite aspirants.
On the business commitment to diversity:
Chairman and Senior Partner
“Some of the key learnings that have come out of the CEO Diversity Summit are around making sure that diversity is part of the business imperative. We have accountability [to] the businesses [we serve] to make sure diversity is part of their agenda. It’s not just an HR issue. It’s not just a growth issue. We’re looking forward to taking [what we learned] from the session back to our organization and changing the way we do business. No matter what you think about the recession, 97% of the CEOs we surveyed [recently] actually talked about the fact that talent management was still the No. 1 issue for them. Through diversity you get better answers to questions and concerns, better opportunities for people, and a better profile of your organization out in the public marketplace.”
On developing African American talent in global business:
Lawrence M. Drake II
Former ELC Interim President
Co-founder and CEO Hope 360o
“This year’s summit is really around the intersection of global talent and diversity. As we continue to expand the concept of diversity to a global perspective, we have to make sure we don’t marginalize the talent that African Americans can bring to that global landscape. [We] obviously have to engage CEOs in a way where we challenge them to think broadly about how they’re utilizing talent, and where African Americans fit into that intersection as well.
[Young professionals] have to think of themselves as global citizens. They have to look for opportunities not just in America but around the world to demonstrate that they understand the global economic output and impact that their company is having on this planet. When you understand that and you take assignments that give you that kind of responsibility, you’re going to be more valuable to the organization and, frankly, to many organizations.”
On the pursuit of innovation within your company:
Jerri DeVard / Principal
DeVard Marketing Group
Former Chair, Executive Leadership Foundation
“There’s usually no shortage of great ideas in organizations. Can you bring this idea from concept to execution, and what do you need to do in between thinking of the idea and making it work? That really comes down to knowing that the idea is feasible, that it fits within the strategy of your organization, that it can be profitable, and that you can operationalize it. The first tip is to be clear and concise around the innovation that you’re looking to present to the organization. Part of that is to demonstrate how the organization is going to be better as a result of this idea’s [implementation]. Then you have to be able to build a team that can pull it off. So, it’s [also] being very persistent and knowing who the stakeholders are that will make it a success.
Sometimes you have to accept that the organization may not be ready for your innovation. You sometimes have to retool it and hear what they’re saying in terms of why it doesn’t work, and make the idea stronger and better.”
On the value of diverse corporate boards:
L. Kevin Kelly / CEO
Heidrick & Struggles
“We want to make sure that we as an organization are very supportive of promoting diversity on boards. So, in conjunction with the ELC, we’re creating a database of ELC members and working on assessing them to see if they’re board-ready. And if they’re not, we’re working on development plans to help them become great board members down the road. Historically there’s been an excuse that there’s a lack of candidates, which we all know isn’t true. I think it’s making sure that the CEO and chairman of the organization make it their priority. You must have the patience to look at a number of candidates. If they’re not the candidate that’s diverse and has the background and skill set that you need, continue to say no until you find that person.”
On managers dealing with fear and opportunities in today’s economic environment:
Rick Frazier/Vice President,
Supply Chain The Coca-Cola Co.
“Some people can call this an environment of fear. This is an environment of opportunity. You can’t waste this crisis. So you have to understand where the opportunities are in the environment in terms of making sure you have the right people with the right capabilities in place—that you have a clear strategy in place, and you have clear metrics and ownership. This is a leadership moment and the companies that step up from a leadership perspective and provide the direction will come out of this in a better position in the future.”