WILL THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO HEAD A major corporation be a woman? Maybe, if any of the women on this list have their way. The following executives wield power and influence in all areas from the competitive consumer products market to the fast-paced financial arena. They flex their muscle both here and abroad and make bottom-line decisions that impact the lives of almost every American.
In determining the roster of candidates, BE editors went back to where it all began--our inaugural list published in August 1991 entitled "21 Women of Power and Influence in Corporate America." Of the 21 women profiled that year, 10 are on this list; two others have entered the public or not-for-profit sector; one has retired; four were not in line positions; and we were unsuccessful in tracking down the other four. To round out the list, we scoured the industry--talking to recruiters, industry analysts, professional organizations and through word-of-mouth--and netted more than 50 names. We then painstakingly combed biographies and resumes, investigated and interviewed, to compile this list of 20 dynamic women and six others to watch.
Seven hold the title of president, responsible for subsidiaries or divisions of their corporations. One is an executive vice president. There are also five senior vice presidents and seven vice presidents.
These executives have authority over budgets and revenues totaling over $36 billion. They control subsidiaries, divisions or departments that affect the fiscal health and the direction of their companies. (Women in human resources, legal, corporate communications and other staff functions were not eligible.)
Their average age is 44.5. Marriage and parenthood don't appear to be major deterrents to their careers since more than half are wives and/or mothers. All have annual compensation packages (including salary, bonuses, stock options and pension plans) ranging from $250,000 to over $1 million dollars. Most also serve on the boards of small corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Eleven are members of the Executive Leadership Council, a prestigious association of African American corporate officials.
Although their impressive credentials, skills and business finesse has garnered them a lofty seat in the executive suite, unfortunately, they are often alone. According to the Glass Ceiling Commission, African American women held only 2.2% of the executive, administrative and managerial jobs in the private sector in 1990. And experts say this number has risen little since then.
"There is still a concrete ceiling and women of color must continually fight negative stereotypes, both related to gender and race," says dt ogilvie, Ph.D., assistant professor of organization management at Rutgers University Faculty of Management. She and Patricia Parker, Ph.D., professor of communications at Arkansas Tech University, authored a study on African American female executive leadership strategies. "While many more women are coming in at the middle manager level, we must be careful not to assume that these few examples of success are a reflection of what is typical," says ogilvie.
In 1996, Catalyst polled 460 women--46 were women of color who held the tide of vice president and above and worked at Fortune 1,000 firms. That study revealed the prevalent, though not mysterious, barriers that African American women climbing the corporate ladder face. The four primary factors cited: exclusion from informal networks (54%); male stereotyping and preconceptions of women (51%); lack of mentoring (46%); and lack of line experience (40%). These items also mirror what the women cite as success factors: adapting their styles to make males comfortable (74%); consistently exceeding expectations (66%); having an influential mentor (54%); and seeking difficult or highly visible assignments (51%).
"We must rule with an iron hand cloaked in a velvet glove," says one of the respondents in the new follow-up Catalyst study to be released in 1998, which will focus on the career mobility of women of color in large corporations. "Women today can be optimistic about their career outlooks, but the progress is not going to happen naturally without the intervention of corporations," says Dawn Fisher, senior associate of research and project manager of the study.
"In the past, leadership was defined through an Anglo-American, middle-class, male lens," says ogilvie. "Through these women and women like them, corporate America may be able to learn more about leadership and value the new perceptions that people of color can bring to the company."
URSULA M. BURNS
Vice President and General Manager, Departmental Copier Business Xerox
While a student at an all-girls private school, Ursula Burns wanted a career that would offer the most money after four years of college. That career was engineering.
Today, having held a variety of engineering and management jobs in the company, Burns was recently appointed vice president and general manager of Xerox's Departmental Copier Business. She is charged with the design, development and manufacturing of large workgroup digital copiers and light lens copiers for the $19.5 billion company. In addition, she oversees all sales and service administration. As part of Xerox's Office Document Products Group, her unit is the Rochester, New York-based company's largest, with $3 billion in revenues.
"International experience was invaluable," says 38-year-old Burns, who just returned to the U.S. after two years in London, where she served as vice president and general manager of the Workgroup Copier Business.
After graduating from the Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1980 with a degree in mechanical engineering, she took a summer internship at Xerox and hasn't looked back since. She went on to get her master's in mechanical engineering in 1981. Moving into engineering management in 1987 became a turning point that gave her "a great view of getting things done and leading a team," she says. In 1990, the New York native was tapped to be the executive assistant to Xerox's executive vice president of marketing and customer operations. Later that year, she held the coveted spot of assistant to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Paul A. Allaire. These jobs gave her "16 years of education in a year."
Burns, who knows the names of all of her high-volume marketing executives throughout the U.S., Europe and Latin America, must now work to continue building the company's digital technology and market. "I have always been very focused and I like making decisions that can move things forward."
Vice President and General Manager Residential Insulation
"I was raised in the Caribbean, where re isn't a job off limits to you use of your race," says Paula H. J. Cholmondeley, vice president and general manager of residential insulation at Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio, the No. 1 maker of glass fiber insulation worldwide. "The prime minister, store owners and teachers all the role models--were black."
After taking over as president of the Miraflex Fiber Products Division in 1994, Cholmondeley (pronounced "chumley") shepherded this softer insulating fiber to market in two years, garnering $20 million in sales. That led the way to her transfer last year to general manager of the $800 million residential insulation business--one of the $3.8 billion company's largest.
Despite Owens Corning having 50% of the residential insulation market, Cholmondeley, 50, plans to add value and improve profitability by implementing a new marketing program entitled "systems thinking." This means bundling the company's products such as House Wrap, vinyl siding, windows, foam insulation and roofing into one housing system. This project will be bolstered by the recent $515 million acquisition of the Dallas-based Fibreboard Corp., a maker of vinyl siding.
The Howard University graduate, who has an M.S. in accounting from Wharton, says her rise through such companies as FAXON, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, International Paper and Westinghouse Elevator was her motivation to run larger and larger businesses with increasing complexity. "I have always been willing to grow and change and knew I needed to get a diversity of experience under my belt. The key to my success was believing that there was nothing I couldn't learn how to do."
Vice President Worldwide Operations Support Xerox
As 10-year-old, Lynn Edmonds often accompanied her grandfather to work in her hometown of Westchester, Pennsylvania. While there, she would sit in the oversized bosses' chairs and dream about one day managing a large business.
That dream has become a reality. Today, as the newly appointed vice president of worldwide operations support for the Document Centre...