Power. It transforms industries, moves organizations forward, and breathes life into new ideas. It’s why diversity at the highest rungs of an organization is so important to the growth and evolution of industry. A Harris Interactive survey conducted for The Executive Leadership Council in 2008 of 150 senior corporate executives showed that 82% of them believe that having minorities in senior roles is good for business, and 75% believe that diversity at that level also drives innovation. Unfortunately, access to such power has eluded many women in corporate business—women who undoubtedly have the talent and the training, but perhaps missed important cues, operated in isolation, or lacked the necessary mentorship and sponsorship to help highlight their achievements. These challenges, among others, have kept black female representation to a mere 1% of C-suite executives and corporate officers.
The watershed event in July 2009, however, may have signaled the beginning of a new era. Ursula M. Burns was named CEO of Xerox Corp., becoming not only the first African American woman to run one of the largest publicly traded companies, but also being placed among the world’s most influential chief executives, male or female.
Now Burns has achieved another distinction. She headlines Black Enterprise’s latest roster of movers and shakers: the 75 Most Powerful Women in Business. Although in a class by herself, Burns is in good company with top corporate executives who control billion-dollar budgets and manage thousands of employees at leading public and private companies, as well as BE 100s CEOs who lead some of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses. As such, the women featured on the following pages have done more than shatter ceilings—glass and concrete—in male-dominated industries. These executives and entrepreneurs are positioned to change global commerce, from revolutionizing technology and media to transforming retail and finance. Their emergence represents the dawning of a new day.
When Ursula M. Burns was promoted to senior vice president at Norwalk, Connecticut-based Xerox Corp. in 2000, she received a grave diagnosis from her doctor. He told her to enjoy the new position because it was going to be temporary. “You’re going to kill yourself,” he warned the overweight, out-of-shape executive. Recalling her death sentence, Burns remarked, “He didn’t have to say it twice.” Immediately, she changed her diet and started running, eventually becoming competitive enough to race in 5K runs.
Burns is quite adept at fixing problems and changing the course of dire situations. An engineer by training, she thrives on such challenges. Over the last two decades, she developed a reputation at the