Guest Editorial: Still too few Black Fortune 500 CEOs

Former Starbucks executive Rosalind “Roz” Brewer assumed her new role as CEO of Walgreens on March 15, the first African American woman CEO of the company.

Brewer’s new position is a major personal accomplishment, as well as symbolic achievement for Black women in corporate America.
Brewer has an impressive story.

The 59-year-old Detroit native is the youngest of five children born to General Motors factory workers George and Sally Gates.

The married mother of two attended Spelman College where she earned a B.S. in chemistry in 1984 before attending the advanced management program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business and earned additional degrees from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Stanford Law School’s Directors’ College.

She spent 22 years working for paper manufacturer Kimberly-Clark, where she started as a research technician, rose up the ranks and eventually became the company’s president of manufacturing and global operations.

In 2006, Brewer left Kimberly-Clark to become a vice president at Walmart, where she again climbed the corporate ladder and was eventually named president of the Walmart U.S. East business unit, leading a team responsible for more than $100 billion in annual revenue.

In 2012, Brewer made history when she was named CEO of Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, becoming the first woman and the first African American ever to lead the membership-only warehouse company.

In 2017, Starbucks tapped Brewer to become its group president and chief operating officer, leading the company’s global marketing, technology, supply chain, product innovation and store development organization functions. During her tenure, the coffeemaker expanded its already-massive global retail footprint and entered a global coffee alliance deal with Nestle to increase the global reach of its consumer packaged goods.

Brewer also helped Starbucks maximize its online retail and marketing efforts as well as its customer engagement experiences. The company expanded its delivery service in China and other east Asian countries in 2018 and opened its 30,000th global store in March 2019.

Now in March 2021 during Women’s History Month, Brewer is making history once again.

But Brewer’s appointment also puts a spotlight on the lack of Black men and women at the top of Fortune 500 companies.

Her appointment makes her the only Black woman currently serving as the head of a Fortune 500 company and just the third in history to achieve the career milestone.

Corporate America should be ashamed of the lack of diversity at the top.
Former Xerox chief executive Ursula Burns became the first Black woman at the top in 2007 before stepping down in 2017.

Today, there are only four African Americans serving as Fortune 500 CEOs, including Brewer. Kenneth Frazier has served as head of Merck since 2011. There’s also Lowe’s chief executive Marvin Ellison and TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson Jr., who is stepping down. JPMorgan Chase executive Thasunda Brown Duckett, a Black woman, is set to replace Ferguson on May 1.

Duckett and Brewer are among only 3.3 percent of Black senior and executive leaders presently working in corporate America, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data.

Black C-suite and boardroom executives can make a difference for other Blacks in the corporate world, according to Michael C. Hyter, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, a non-profit that works to increase corporate diversity.

“Diversity at the top drives diversity throughout the corporation,” Hyter told CNN Business. “There is a tendency among CEOs to groom senior executives who look like themselves, requiring intentional efforts to seed succession plans with more diverse candidates with proven track records.”

In 2021, Rosalind Brewer should not be one of only four African Americans serving as a Fortune 500 CEO. Corporate America must do better.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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