The 2010s can be broadly defined in one word: Disruption.
The events, activities, trends, and platforms of the past decade spawned seismic shifts, heightened volatility, and produced breakthroughs. As such, these developments brought both promise and angst that reverberated throughout companies, industries, institutions, communities, generations, and cultures. The dichotomy of the times was evident as large numbers of African Americans spent the decade trying to recover from the devastation wrought by the Great Recession—the median net worth of black households stands at $17,100 versus $171,000 for white households—while others adroitly capitalized on financial gains from rampant technological innovation.
One constant: BLACK ENTERPRISE‘s role as chronicler, explainer, advocate, and guide for African Americans seeking wealth, power, and success in this era of ongoing foreboding and boundless opportunity. Here are five big stories of the decade from our unique perspective.
A LEADERSHIP MODEL FROM THE HISTORIC OBAMA PRESIDENCY
BLACK ENTERPRISE gained front-row access to cover a defining moment in history: The first African American President of the United States. From White House press conferences to exclusive interviews in the Oval Office and Air Force One, we shared how Barack Obama operated at the highest level in his role as “Leader of the Free World.”
During the two-term Obama presidency—marked by both achievement and tumult—we dissected presidential action and congressional dysfunction for our audience during one of the nation’s most financially and economically daunting times. Dealing with unresponsive, belligerent Republicans despite his overtures of collaboration, civility, and compromise, President Obama repaired the economy by placing the nation on the path to recovery after the brutal Great Recession; saved Detroit and millions of jobs after the forced bankruptcies and restructuring of GM and Chrysler; and implemented landmark reforms in financial services and healthcare, which provided access to 30 million uninsured Americans. In the process, he gave us a powerful model of global leadership.
Despite the surge of activity from this scandal-free Nobel Prize recipient, his presidency’s biggest casualty was the notion of a post-racial America. From the Trump-inspired birther movement to the alarming number of police shooting deaths of unarmed African Americans, these harrowing examples communicated our nation’s deep racial divide. Ironically, this discord came at a time when the nation celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the most notable civil rights milestones: the 1963 March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Among one of history’s most productive presidents, he demonstrated the effective use of executive orders to circumvent Republican resistance to policy initiatives as he and first lady Michelle Obama used the White House to promote technology, innovation, culture, health, and other vital aspects of American life.
In witnessing the shift in presidential leadership from Obama’s vision of hope and change to Trump’s embrace of fear and divisiveness, we now await the outcome of the 2020 election—and whether it will usher in a new political era.
HOW TECH ROCKED OUR WORLD
Digital technology has permanently changed the way we work, live, play, transact business, and relate to one another. Tech disruption could be found in the evolution of the internet, mobile apps, connectivity, social media, streaming content, the gig economy—and much more. With the advancement of the fourth industrial revolution, those who continued to embrace the ways of the Luddite were destined to commercial, financial, cultural and social extinction.
BLACK ENTERPRISE was at the forefront of this trend. In addition to our coverage of the altered state of companies and industries as well as the promotion of tech as “the great equalizer” for African American entrepreneurs, we, too, planted our flag in Silicon Valley, the center of tech innovation. As a means of connecting African American executives, professionals, and founders and bringing talent to Silicon Valley-based tech companies focused on diversifying their ranks, we launched our Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit—now called TCX—in 2015 to facilitate the “intersection of tech and opportunity.” From that point on, we would serve as a strong voice for African Americans within the ecosystem.
It was our intent to ensure that African Americans fully adapted to the rapidly changing, hyper-connected environment in which AI, VR, IoT, robotics, blockchain increasingly became the vehicles in which to conduct business and access consumers. Through conferences and content, our audience gained access to the industry’s most powerful leaders as well as prolific creators, including Microsoft Chairman John Thompson; TaskRabbitt CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot; former MetricStream CEO Shellye Archambeau; leading tech investor and Atom Factory CEO Troy Carter; former Brocade Communications CEO Lloyd Carney, to name but a few. And some of the innovative companies we discovered along the way like San Jose, California-based Overland Tandberg (No.56 on the Top 100 with $67 million in revenues) and San Francisco-based Rocket Lawyer (No. 60 on the Top 100 with $60 million in revenues) appear among the BE 100s—the nation’s largest black-owned businesses—while we continue to report on how entertainers and athletes —a group that includes Nas, Chamillionaire, Kobe Bryant, and Serena Williams—drive the industry as investors and VCs.
Moreover, we furthered the black talent pipeline through our BE Smart Hackathon. Designed to demonstrate the technical expertise of HBCU students and enable them to gain exposure, knowledge, and guidance from seasoned tech professionals, it has grown from five teams with 20 students to 15 teams of 60 students from schools such as Morgan State, Florida A&M, Fisk, Morehouse, and North Carolina A&T. In addition to taking tours of the Silicon Valley-based offices of AT&T, Salesforce.com, and Google, to name a few, participants have gained internships and job offers from an array of tech firms, financial services companies, automotive manufacturers, and retail giants.
GROWING INFLUENCE OF BLACK WOMEN OF POWER
The past decade demonstrated the inexorable expansion of the power and presence of women throughout all segments of society—most notably business and politics. Events also served to further expose decades of gender discrimination and intolerance that required immediate corrective action.
Through our Women of Power Summit, BLACK ENTERPRISE placed African American outstanding achievements and distinctive, intersectional challenges front and center. Although black women represent the most educated professionals and fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs, they remain among the lowest-paid employees in the corporate workforce and the least-capitalized group of business owners. That’s why we increased our coverage and content to enable black female corporate executives and entrepreneurs to continue their upward climb despite institutional racism and sexism.
At the beginning of the decade, our most prominent example of black female business achievement was our February 2010 cover subject: Xerox Corp. CEO Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to helm one of the nation’s 500 largest publicly traded corporations. Over the decade, we have witnessed the elevation of a cadre of African American women to corporate leadership positions. In fact, our October 2017 roster of the 300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America had 92 female executives or roughly 31% of the group. The conundrum continues to be, however, the fact that the numbers grow at a snail’s pace despite an abundance of available talent. And when a top female executive retires, she’s rarely replaced by another black woman leader. Since Burns’ departure from Xerox in 2017, not a single African American woman has ascended to the CEO’s seat at a Fortune 500 corporation. Adtalem Global Education CEO Lisa Wardell currently represents the only black woman CEO of one of the 1,000 largest publicly traded corporations.
In terms of entrepreneurship, the collective number of black female CEOs of BE 100s industrial/service companies, auto dealerships, and financial services firms have declined from 25 to 20 over this 10-year span and only one operates a company with annual revenues of $1 billion or more: Janice Bryant Howroyd of Act-1 Group (No. 2 on the Top 100 with gross sales of $2.8 billion).
African American women also led the fight for workplace equality on issues that ranged from pay equity to sexual harassment. In fact, one of BE’s “25 Women Who Are Changing The World” in 2018 was Tarana Burke. The grassroots activist used her experience as a survivor of sexual violence to launch The Me Too Movement in 2006, a vehicle to help other women who have faced similar trials. A decade later, her thrust was transformed into the #MeToo hashtag that went viral on social media as a representation of women’s experiences with sexual harassment and assault as well as a warning to business leaders who accepted such unseemly behavior.
African American women harnessed their power in the political arena. To fight back incendiary, Trumpian politics and reverse the establishment’s status quo posture, black female politicians proved they were a force to be reckoned with in the 2018 midterms, picking up enough freshman seats to return the House of Representatives to Democratic control while installing incumbents in leadership positions like Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ oversight of the powerful House Financial Services Committee. This new force further exercised its clout during the impeachment process. And albeit unsuccessful, US Sen. Kamala Harris’ bid for the White House this year demonstrates that women of color will not be denied the opportunity to pursue—and possibly one day capture—the Oval Office.
MORE BOARDROOM POWER, FEWER CEO SEATS
In 2013, BLACK ENTERPRISE turned our attention to another nagging problem in corporate America: Lack of African American representation in the boardroom. As such, our editors developed the annual “Power in The Boardroom” report, featuring our BE Registry of Corporate Directors—a roster that identifies blacks who serve on boards of S&P 500 companies. Initially, we evaluated diversity in corporate governance at the leading 250 index companies and expanded our review to the entire S&P 500 universe in 2017 to gain a more accurate picture of corporate America’s performance when it comes to inclusion at the highest level.
The most impactful part of our editorial package: Our compilation of companies that refused to appoint black board members. Several years ago, we found the following corporations embraced a corporate governance structure that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer described as being “male, pale and stale”: Amazon.com, Apple, Boston Properties, CVS, eBay, Facebook, Google (now Alphabet), Hewlett Packard, Netflix, and Visa. Through our coverage and the use of BE’s material by Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project, Executive Leadership Council, Black Corporate Directors Conference, Congressional Black Caucus—among other civil rights groups and board diversity advocates—the aforementioned companies and many more currently have blacks on their boards and in some cases, more than one.
However, there is much work to be done in this area. In our 2019 report, our editors found that although each S&P 500 company has a white woman serving as a board member, there are still 187 index companies, or 37%, without a single black corporate director.
We continue to share the significance of board diversity with our audience: In addition to the governing body’s fiduciary responsibility to safeguard the financial health and maximize shareholder value of a given corporation, the decisions of board members affect employees, managers, suppliers, investors and other stakeholders. Black representation at boardroom tables communicates whether certain corporations really value diversity and inclusion in recruitment and employment practices, managerial appointments, procurement spend with black suppliers and charitable giving to black nonprofits and causes.
Another board responsibility is the selection and annual evaluation of the CEO. In reporting on the numbers of black Fortune 500 CEOs, we revealed the greatest representation ever at the beginning of the decade followed by a precipitous drop in such numbers. In 2012, there were eight: Ursula Burns of Xerox Corp.; Kenneth Chenault of American Express; Steven A. Davis of Bob Evans Farms Inc.; Roger W. Ferguson Jr. of TIAA-CREF; Kenneth C. Frazier of Merck & Co.; Rodney O’Neal of Delphi Corp.; Clarence Otis Jr. of Darden Restaurants; and Donald Thompson of McDonald’s Corp. Today, Ferguson, Frazier, Marvin Ellison of Lowe’s Corp. and Jide Zeitlin of Tapestry Inc. are among the four black Fortune 500 CEOs.
Chenault said in his last BE interview as American Express’ CEO: “As I’ve stated publicly, I think it’s embarrassing that the number of African American CEOs has actually been reduced from eight years ago. That’s a serious problem. Representation is key. We can talk all the theories we want. I know that they’re very qualified people. I want to work in an environment where people, all types of people feel not just tolerated but very engaged in the company. From an African American perspective, we are underrepresented. People talk about the complexity of this issue; I know that there are thousands of people who are as good or better than me. They just haven’t gotten the opportunity.”
THE IMPACT OF MILLENNIALS ON BUSINESS—AND AMERICA
The generation that had the greatest impact during the 2010s: Millennials.
Throughout the decade, the number of millennial workers—those born between 1981 and 1996 according to Pew Research—continued to swell, surpassing baby boomers as the majority in the labor market in 2015. In our “50 Best Companies for Diversity” report that year, the latest Duke University/ CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey revealed that U.S. firms were much slower to adapt to millennials employees than their foreign counterparts. For example, it reported that only 41% of U.S. companies had made changes to accommodate young workers versus about 70% of Latin American and Asian firms that sought to hire and retain millennials. But in the latter half of the decade, that trend changed dramatically with some of the most traditional corporations making environmental and cultural shifts, including relaxed dress codes, interactive environments, and flexible work schedules. In fact, when BE visited Dallas-based AT&T to meet its top black executives it had been adopting its Workplace 2020 Initiative that included such elements as open workspaces and electronic smartboards to “foster creativity and collaboration.”
But the effect this generation had on business was more than just cosmetic. They were “digital natives” attuned to interactive technology and social media, helping companies design inventive, new products, services, strategies, and campaigns to reach their digital-driven peers. And African Americans represent the nation’s second-youngest ethnic or racial group with a mean age of 34.02, according to Nielsen. Moreover, Pew found that millennial colleagues tended to encourage older veterans to adopt new technology.
True to our mission of discovering the next generation of leaders, BE revealed the first wave of millennial business phenoms with BE Next in 2010. This group of young rebels had already started transforming the entrepreneurial, corporate, nonprofit, arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) arenas. One prominent exemplar who gained ongoing coverage throughout the decade due to his business acumen and innovative streak has been Tristan Walker. The Stanford Business School grad who held positions as a business development director for FourSquare Labs and former Andreesen Horowitz entrepreneur-in-residence evolved into founder and CEO of Walker & Co. Brands, an innovative grooming products company. In fact, he successfully raised more than $33 million in financing from VCs such as Collaborative Fund, Google Ventures, and Melo7 Tech Partners before selling his enterprise, which included Bevel shaving products for black men and Form hair products for black women, to Procter & Gamble in 2018. The move made him the first black CEO to run a wholly-owned subsidiary of the consumer goods leviathan. Other millennial business game-changers include Morgan DeBaun of Blavity, John Henry of Harlem Capital, Gilbert Campbell III of Volt Energy and Natalie Madeira Coffield of Walker’s Legacy. Stay tuned for a phalanx of other such achievers.
Beyond their entrepreneurial spirit, millennials have demonstrated an unyielding social consciousness as well as an attraction to companies and organizations that stand for something. The most visible example during the 2010s was the Black Lives Matter Movement.
There was nothing more gut-wrenching at mid-decade than reports on the alarmingly high number of unarmed African Americans who had been killed in police shootings and other incidences with law enforcement. The names are seared in our memories: Trayvon Martin in Miami Gardens, Florida. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Sandra Bland in Prairie View, Texas. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
These tragedies galvanized multitudes of young African Americans who filled streets in cities, large and small, marching and protesting against these acts of violence as well as stop-and-frisk policies and stand your ground laws. Their action also inspired a business response: Celebrities like Solange Knowles, Usher, and Killer Mike—along with countless African American grassroots activists, community leaders, entrepreneurs, professionals—began initiating the #BankBlack Movement, using social media and radio to urge African Americans nationwide to make deposits in black financial institutions. In fact, after a Killer Mike broadcast, Atlanta’s largest black bank Citizens Trust (No. 5 on the BE BANKS list with $411 million in assets) gained an additional 8,000 depositors within five days.
As a result of the activism, Teri Williams, president of OneUnited Bank (No. 1 on the BE BANKS list with $656 million in assets) has been among the most vocal black banking leaders to advocate that “the movement evolves into a mindset” in which legions of African Americans—especially millennials—decide to become regular customers without prodding. She urged attendees at the 2017 Entrepreneurs Summit to take its #BankBlack Challenge—opening an account with OneUnited and encouraging 20 others to do the same—with an “unapologetically black” institution that addresses the needs of black communities, unlike majority banks.
One of the stories in 2020 will most assuredly follow up on whether African American businesses will witness the embrace of that mindset.