CEO Debra Lee on the evolution of BET, and herself.

Author:Clarke, Caroline V.
Position:RECAP: BLACK ENTERPRISE WOMEN OF POWER SUMMIT - BET Networks - Interview
 
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One of the highlights of the 7016 Women of Power Summit was my one-on-one conversation with BET Networks Chairman and CEO Debra Lee. A Harvard-educated lawyer, who transitioned into business after several years as an associate at a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, Lee is the only person to have led the pioneering cable TV network other than its founder, Bob Johnson.

In April, 61-year-old Lee marked 30 years with BET. Handpicked by Johnson to take the helm in 1996, she has transformed the company, weathering both highly public controversy and searing personal criticism along the way. Relaxed and at times funny during our talk, she was also candid about her Journey to confidence," admitting. "It took me a while to find my own voice."

Your bio is impressive, but we all have truths that our bios don't reveal. What's missing from yours?

There's a lot. I was married twice and I've been divorced twice. That's a part of my life that has given into the pressures of being a powerful, successful woman. I don't talk about that a lot, but over the course of my career. I have had failures. We all do. The key is how you face those failures and the challenges that come from them and how you move forward.

Of course, the classic question for women is, can you have it all?

I think you can have it all, but there are some things that you'll lose in the process. It's not a reason not to try to have it all, but I think we--especially as women--have to give up on the idea of perfection.

What was the most challenging part of your transition from being a key player on Bob Johnson's team to being its leader?

It was very tough because these executives were my friends and all of a sudden. I was their boss. I found out, after I was appointed COO that several of them had already asked for the job, which was interesting, because the job hadn't existed. I never asked for it. To be promoted and to have to manage your friends and [also] people who weren't my biggest supporters, was very difficult. It took me about six years to...

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