More than 2,000 of business and political luminaries recently gathered at Washington, D.C.’s Marriott Marquis to celebrate a milestone: the 30thÂ anniversary of the Executive Leadership Council, the leading organization of black global corporate leadership.
Under the theme, “The Power of Tomorrow,â€ ELC President and CEO Ronald C. Parker paid homage to the past, while laying a foundation for the future of African Americans in C-Suite and senior management positions.
“Thirty years ago, 19 black corporate executives came together to find common ground, mutual support, and ways to positively impact their communities and careers,â€ he said, citing the initial thrusts to help financially challenged historically black colleges and universities to create programs to diversify the corporate leadership pipeline. “In addition to celebrating our history, we are also focused on expanding our reach, to engage black leaders globally and open leadership opportunities to a new generation.â€
The gala, in which Nationwide and Verizon Communications served as co-lead sponsors, provided a powerful platform to honor corporate trailblazers, and, at the same time, reaffirm the mission of the organization of more than 600 members–many of whom are associated with the nation’s largest corporations. Under Parker’s leadership, the ELC has actively expanded its membership to include BE 100s CEOs and black leaders abroad, among others. In fact, the group will hold its second leadership development session in the United Kingdom next year, as part of its initiative to drive more offshore conversations related to corporate diversity and inclusion.
The gala coincided with its annual conferences–the CEO Summit, which had roughly 300 CEOs focus on “Leadership Beyond the C-Suite,â€ and the Mid-Level Managers’ Symposium, a professional development seminar for more than 800 prospective managers.
Other event highlights included the following:
- Parker announced the continuation of the partnership between BLACKÂ ENTERPRISE and ELC, to produce the most vital roster on the state of corporate inclusion: The 2016 Best Companies for Diversity List. As part of his opening remarks, Parker said the value of the list, in which a large number of companies include senior executives who are ELC members, was the realization among some of the nation’s largest publicly-traded companies that across-the-board diversity and inclusion. Full participation from African Americans,Â must always be a business imperative. In fact, Prudential, one of the companies featured on the listing, received ELC’s 2016 Corporate Award.
- One of the event’s most powerful moments was when business and political powerhouse Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. presented the 2016 Lifetime Legacy Award to corporate pioneers and power couple Clifton R. Wharton, Jr. and Delores D. Wharton. Clifton Wharton, former chairman and CEO of financial giant, TIAA-CREF, was the first African American chief executive of one of the nation’s largest 500 publicly-traded corporations. Dolores Wharton, a former foundation executive and arts advocate, was the first woman and African American to serve on the boards of Phillips Petroleum,Â The Kellogg Co., and Gannett Media.Â “Gordon Parks had this great expression: ‘choice of weapons,’ ” said Clifton, quoting the celebrated black photographer and author about the means to combat racism in receiving the honor. “In terms of fighting, you always have a choice of weapons. Some of us chose to do our fighting on the inside.”
- Another highlight was the scores of African American undergraduate and graduate students, who received scholarships and internships, including the Award of Excellence in Business Commentary; National Business Case Competition; Praxair/Breedlove Leadership Scholarship for students enrolled in a STEM curriculum; Ann Fudge Scholars for black female HBCU achievers; and Alvaro L. Martins Scholars for deserving black male students at Howard University, alma mater of the organization’s founding member and its first president and CEO.
- With the phalanx of black chief executives and other C-Suite executives having served as ELC members over the past three decades, the evening ended on a fitting note, “A Conversation With CEOs.â€ Jerri L. DeVard, a board member of ServiceMaster, served as moderator for a panel of African American sitting and former CEOs of the nation’s largest corporations: Arnold W. Donald, CEO, Carnival & plc; Ann M. Fudge, former chairman & CEO, Young & Rubicam Brands; Clarence Otis, retired chairman & CEO, Darden Restaurants, Inc.; Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO, Kaiser Permanente; and Roger W. Ferguson, president and CEO, TIAA, the current chief executive who oversees the company in which Clifton Wharton achieved history a year after ELC was founded.