In 1970, covering the nation's top black Fortune 500 executives was not a very taxing assignment. There were only a handful. Literally.
Bit by bit, that small number grew enough that by the mid-'70s, young college graduates were beginning to fashion long-term careers in companies like IBM, Ford, The Equitable and Xerox. Stepping into their carefully pressed corporate uniforms and meticulously polished corporate personas, these young hopefuls were determined to survive and succeed in spite of their disadvantages, which included a gross lack of mentorship opportunities and a dearth of African-American role models.
The go-go '80s saw a dramatic rise in the number of black MBAs and entrants into the corporate arena. Also, the diligence of '70s corporate careerists began to bear fruit, as their ascendance up through the rank; became newsworthy. Men such as Robert Beavers of McDonald's Corp., Kenneth Chenault of American Express, Ford's Ronald Goldsberry, IBM'S Ira Hall, Xerox's A. Barry Rand and The Equitable's Frank Savage were all making names for themselves. And BE was there to help lift their rising profiles.
But just as the most prominent black executives in corporate America were beginning to get their due, thousands of others were knocked off course or out of the box completely by the waves of massive downsizing initiated in the late 80s. While the axe proved a humbling experience for all corporate climbers, it was particularly (and unjustifiably) brutal to blacks, which the Wall Street Journal documented in 1993.
Consequently, there is a disturbing gap between those now prominently situated in the highest echelons of several companies, and those in the pipeline being groomed to follow.
Still, there is an upside to this story. It involves the emergence of the black woman executive. In 1988, when BE published its first ever list of the top black managers in U.S. corporations, it was 25 strong, and all male. At that time, black women made up just 2% of all U.S. corporate managers. Seeking to ferret out some of those women, BE published in 1991 "21 Women of Power and Influence in Corporate America." Two years later, when we launched a new most powerful black executive search, a striking 40 corporate all-stars made the cut; four were women.
In the two years since then, certain names--Parsons, Fudge, Rand, Nanula, Chenault--have taken on almost celebrity status as each (noted below) has made stunning strides in his or her career. The ultimate...