We’ve Really Come a Long Way

In February 1988, BLACK ENTERPRISE unveiled “America’s Hottest Black Managers.” A list of 25 professionals, there was only one division president and not a single woman. In the Publisher’s Page for that issue, Chairman and Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr. wrote about their challenging ascent to the executive
suite, predicting that the nation’s first black CEO would come from their ranks.

By 2000, our cover boasted “The New CEOs,” featuring four of six black chief executives of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. Our report on the “Top 50 Blacks in Corporate America” was big news for our audience. Despite racial inequities and other issues, they represented a cadre of professionals who discovered an effective formula for shattering the glass ceiling.

By 2005, we unveiled our list of “The 75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America,” and the business landscape had dramatically changed. In the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the dot-com crash, corporate America had grown ultracompetitive. The war for talent demanded that professionals wield proven and battle-tested skill sets as well as broad and fluid leadership capabilities. Global experience–not just
an M.B.A.–was becoming the passport to broader opportunities. And although many companies struggled with how to best incorporate diversity into their management practices and corporate culture, it was increasingly promoted as a “business imperative.”

Now, as we are revealing our latest list, corporate America undergoes yet another transformation–this time driven by financial crisis and structural change. But as we present our latest compilation of the 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, the number has grown, with more blacks operating at the highest levels of the world’s largest corporations.

In the midst of one of the greatest economic trials in history, some institutions we’ve covered no longer
exist while a number of others are in great peril. Against this backdrop, however, our six months of extensive research uncovered a dynamic group of high-level professionals who are leading and re-engineering a vast array of businesses. “Most people don’t realize that there is so much more than hard work needed to restructure a division or run a global business,” says Editorial Director Sonia Alleyne, who coordinated this massive editorial package with Careers Editor Annya Lott, and Contributing Editor Lois Barrett, who oversaw the research for the list. “Today’s leaders have to be mentally adept at managing corporate politics, the diverse cultures of an expanding international workforce, as well as the racism and sexism that still very much exists.”

As Alleyne notes, these leaders will continue to rewrite the rules of global enterprise as well as blaze the path for greater diversity in the management ranks.