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There Are Only 4 Black Fortune 500 CEOs

John Csiszar
·4 min read
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

In spite of all the progress made in Black representation in America, these advances have yet to translate to the C-suite in corporate America. With the resignation of Tapestry CEO Jide Zeitlin in July 2020, the number of Black CEOs among the Fortune 500 dropped to a woeful four. One person will soon be added to that list as Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks’ chief operating officer, will take over as the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. She will be leaving Starbucks at the end of February and will then be the only Black woman CEO at a Fortune 500 company. Unfortunately, this list will shrink again when Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier retires in June 2021.

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Over the complete history of the Fortune 500, which dates back to 1999, there have only been a total of 18 Black CEOs leading America’s Fortune 500 companies. The peak year for representation was 2012, when a still-anemic total of six Black CEOs led corporate America’s most prominent companies. As Black History Month unfolds, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the four Black CEOs paving the way for future leaders of color.

Last updated: Feb. 16, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Marvin Ellison, CEO of J.C. Penney
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Marvin Ellison, CEO of J.C. Penney

Marvin Ellison: Lowe's

Before he began his executive career, Marvin Ellison earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Memphis, followed by an MBA at Emory University. Ellison then served 15 years in a variety of operational and leadership roles at Target before moving on to Home Depot, where he spent an additional 12 years in high-level operations roles.

Ellison’s first stint as a CEO came when he took the reins at J.C. Penney, where he also served as chairman. After reducing debt and generating positive sales and earnings growth, he moved on to the position he now holds at Lowe’s.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (9888074ad)Roger Ferguson Jr.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (9888074ad)Roger Ferguson Jr.

Roger Ferguson: TIAA

By any metric, Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA, is an overachiever. Ferguson earned a B.A. in economics from Harvard University, but he wasn’t done with his schooling by a longshot. The future executive earned a J.D. and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard as well.

After a decades-long career as an attorney, Ferguson served as head of financial services at Swiss Re, later becoming chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation. In addition to numerous illustrious titles and positions, including member of the Board of Regents at the Smithsonian Institution, fellow of the American Academy Arts & Sciences and member of President Barack Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Ferguson was also the vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System before taking on the role of TIAA CEO in April 2008.

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27:  Kenneth Frazier the Chairman and CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27: Kenneth Frazier the Chairman and CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.

Kenneth Frazier: Merck

Kenneth Frazier has been the CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck since January 2011, but he’ll be reducing the headcount of Black CEOs in America by one when he retires in June 2021.

Frazier’s storied history includes his pre-Merck career as an attorney, when he helped free a Black death row inmate who had been falsely accused of murder. He continued his activism even while helming one of the largest companies in the world, calling for other leaders to create new opportunities and jobs to help solve the racial inequalities in America. Frazier resigned from former President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council after his comments regarding white nationalist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Read: Industries With the Biggest (and Smallest) Racial Pay Gap

Rene Jones: M&T Bank

Rene Jones has worked his way up through the ranks at M&T Bank, beginning as an executive associate way back in 1992. After working his way up through the bank’s finance division, Jones served as the company’s CFO from 2005 to 2016 before taking the reins as CEO in December 2017.

Prior to his career at M&T, Jones earned a B.S. in management science from Boston College and an MBA from the University of Rochester. Among other community- and service-oriented organizations, he serves on the boards of the Jacobs Institute, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Federal Advisory Council and the Burchfield Penney Art Center. He was recognized as one of America’s best CFOs in 2012 by Institutional Investor, and dubbed Outstanding Accountant in Western New York by Canisius University in 2016.

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