The Most Powerful African Americans In Corporate America

Meet 75 executives who hold tremendous clout in the world of business, including the 18 who earned CEO positions

Consider them the corporate elite—an exclusive club of high-powered black executives who determine the billion-dollar bottom lines and market values of the world’s largest corporations.
Just who are these dynamos? BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Most Powerful Blacks in Corporate America. These 75 men and women represent the highest-ranking executives from the 1,000 largest domestic and international corporations publicly traded on U.S. equities markets. All are either within striking distance of the CEO’s chair or operate a major revenue-generating subsidiary or unit. Most manage thousands of employees and control billion-dollar budgets. (See box for selection criteria.)

For 17 years, BE has identified members of this exclusive club. In 1988, our first list of the 25 Hottest Corporate Managers was devoid of black chief executives. In 1993, among the 40 African Americans we found at the top tier, there were 12 presidents and two CEOs: Richard D. Parsons, then the CEO of Dime Savings Bank of New York, and Clifton R. Wharton Jr., CEO of TIAA-CREF and the first African American to head one of the 1,000 largest publicly held corporations. On our 2000 list of the Top 50 Blacks in Corporate America, the number of black CEOs grew to six. On this year’s register, the number of African Americans who broke into the CEO ranks has risen to 18—a phenomenal 300% increase—with 26 presidents waiting in the wings.

Their stock as leaders is almost as valuable as their company’s market value. Take E. Stanley O’Neal, CEO of Merrill Lynch & Co. since 2003. He transformed a stagnant financial services monolith with gargantuan debt and bloated overhead into a lean profit machine. With a laser beam focus and ruthless cost-cutting, O’Neal boosted Merrill Lynch’s share price from its nadir of $36.25 to $64.89—a whopping 79% increase.

Other corporate chieftains have worked similar magic. John W. Thompson, CEO of Symantec, was named BE’s 2004 Executive of the Year for good reason. Company shares more than doubled in the past year, giving the computer software juggernaut a market value of nearly $19 billion. And over the past few years, others such as American Express CEO Kenneth I. Chenault and Time Warner CEO Richard D. Parsons have produced ample shareholder value and revenue growth in the face of brutal competition, market volatility, and the economic malaise that followed 9-11. Observers await the performance of newcomers like Clarence Otis, CEO of the $4.6 billion Darden Restaurants, and Alwyn Lewis, president of the $55 billion Sears Holdings Corp.

Recently, a number of executives have been wrestling with major challenges or structuring colossal deals. For example, at press time, Fannie Mae CEO Franklin D. Raines, who had to contend with federal regulators investigating the $53.8 billion mortgage company’s accounting and management practices, was in danger of losing his job. Oracle Co-president Charles Phillips Jr. recently closed a $10.3 billion merger with PeopleSoft Inc., and high-tech deal maker Thompson orchestrated Symantec’s $13.5 billion bid for VERITAS Software.

This year’s list reveals more women at the top. For example, Young & Rubicam Brands CEO Ann M. Fudge

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