When I was invited to serve on the board of AutoZone, the nation's leading auto parts retailer, in 2002, the first person I consulted was my father. As chairman and publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE Dad served on more than a half dozen corporate boards in his career. His response was classic: "Don't forget who you are and remember that they didn't select you because they ran out of smart white guys."
I got his message loud and clear. Although I strongly believed I could make a contribution based on my business experience and education, I also decided to use my seat to push for greater representation of African Americans at all levels of the organization. I felt it was my responsibility to ensure that this Memphis, Tennessee-based company would increase its percentage of employees and managers in its stores and corporate headquarters.
As a corporate director, I couldn't find a better mentor than my father. He proudly served on the boards of some of America's leading companies, including Aetna, DaimlerChrysler, Rohm & Haas, American Airlines, and Macy's. Dad never hesitated, however, to bring up matters of diversity and inclusion even at the risk of making other board members and management uncomfortable. My father served as a lightning rod, holding corporate America accountable to meet its fiduciary duty related to the people they hire and promote, the companies they buy products and services from, and the organizations to which they make contributions.
It is no secret that serving on a corporate board is an extremely lucrative "part-time" job. The average compensation for a corporate director of an S&P 500 company is $242,000 per year with benefits and all expenses paid in full.
I believe that African Americans who serve on corporate boards should do more than occupy a seat. While board service is both prestigious and financially rewarding, your directorship does not give you license to put on blinders to the reality of inequities in corporate America. Left unchecked, these companies will maintain the status quo and operate without regard to equal...