Top Black CEOs at Global Corporations and Lessons from Their Careers

Uchechi Moses

Uchechi is a Business Development Associate at JarusHub

 

  1. TIDJANE THIAM: CEO CREDIT SUSSIE

 Degree: B.Sc. Physics, Ecole Polytechnique, France; Advanced Mathematics and Physics, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris (MINES ParisTech) (Graduated top of his class); MBA, INSEAD (made the Dean’s List), Fontainebleau Campus, France.

The first Ivorian to gain admission into Ecole Polytechnique. Got a scholarship to study at INSEAD by McKinsey and Company; later spent less than a decade at the firm. Afterwards, he spent a sabbatical at the World Bank, after which he worked in various positions in the Ivorian Government until 1999, when a coup by General Robert Guie made him leave the country. Became a Partner at McKinsey and Company from 2000 – 2002. Tidjane was then appointed as Group Strategy and Development Director at British Insurer, Aviva, and later became the CEO by 2006. Afterwards, he was appointed the CFO at Prudential Plc in 2008, and became the CEO a year later. On 10th March 2015, he was made the CEO at Credit Sussie, the global banking giants. He is a member of the Group of Thirty (G30); Member, European Financial Round Table; Member, UK Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and Board Member, 21st Century Fox.

Thiam, from Ivory Coast.

Thiam, from Ivory Coast.

 

  1. KENNETH FRAZIER: CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO MERCK AND CO

Degree: BA. Law, Pennsylvania State University; J.D, Harvard University. Got scholarship for both degrees.

Top law firm, Drinker Biddle & Reath, recruited him after his Harvard education. During his time at Drinker Biddle & Reath, he got to represent Merck and Co, and later got recruited by the latter in 1992, as a general counsel. During his time, he successfully defended claims against the firm that the drug, Vioox, caused heart attacks and strokes. While still being a general counsel, he was appointed as an executive vice president in 2006. Where he led the largest group of the firm, human health, and was elevated to the post of the president in 2010. He was appointed CEO on January 1, 2011.

 

  1. URSULA BURNS: CHAIRMAN VEON LIMITED

 Degree: B.Sc. Mechanical Engineering, New York University Tandon School of Engineering (formerly Brooklyn Polytechnic); M.Sc. Mechanical Engineering, Columbia University.

First black woman to head a Fortune 500 company, Xerox, in 2009. Ursula joined the firm as a summer intern in 1980, and got a permanent placement after her M.Sc. Worked in various roles before being made an executive assistant to a senior executive, Wayland Hicks in 1990. A year later, she became the executive assistant to then chairman Paul Allaire. Nine years later, she became senior vice president of corporate strategic services, where she became close with the soon-to-be CEO, Anne Mulcahy. Ursula became the president in 2007, and was named CEO two years later, with Anne Mulchay being the chairman until 2010. Making her the first woman to succeed as the head from another woman of a Fortune 500 corporation. She was appointed Chairman of VEON (formerly VimpelCom Limited) – a major telecommunication services firm and 6th largest mobile operator globally in terms of number of subscribers, in July 2017. A board member of Diageo (appointed 2018), American Express Corporation, ExxonMobil, Datto, Nestle and Uber (2017).

 

  1. MARVIN ELLISON: CHAIRMAN AND CEO J.C. PENNEY

 

 Degree: B.A, Marketing, University of Memphis; MBA, Emory University.

Started his career at Target, when he took a security job to aid in paying for books; earning $4.35 an hour. Spent 15 years at Target, during which he became the head of theft prevention. In 2002, he was appointed as an executive of Home Depot, in charge of US stores. Twelve years later, he was made the CEO of J.C Penney – a department store chain. A member board of directors at FedEx and former independent director of H&R block – a tax preparation company.

Frazier

Frazier

  1. ARNOLD W. DONALD: PRESIDENT AND CEO, CARNIVAL CORPORATION

 

Degree: B.A, Economics, Carleton College, Minnesota; B.Sc. Mechanical Engineering, Washington University; MBA, University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Arnold started his career at agro-biotech giant, Monsanto, where he spent over two decades in various positions. During his time at Monsanto, he was the Head of the nutrition and consumer sector. Hitherto, he was the president of Monsanto’s agriculture division. He later joined a group of investors and purchased a division of Monsanto manufacturing table sweeteners (popular brands include: Equal® and Canderel®), to form a new firm – Merisant. Where he became the CEO (in 2000) for three years and chairman of the board two years later. While a board member for twelve years, Donald was appointed President and CEO of Carnival Corporation, the world’s biggest cruise liner, in July 2013. Previously a director of Oil-Dri Corporation from 1997 – ‘03 and The Laclede Group from 2003 – ‘14. An executive member of board committees in Bank of America Corporation (since 2013) and Crown Holdings (since 1999).

 

  1. KENNETH IRVINE CHENAULT: CHAIRMAN AND CEO, AMERICAN EXPRESS

 

Degree: B.A. History, Bowdoin College; J.D, Harvard Law School.

After graduating from Harvard, Kenneth started his career as an attorney with law firm Rogers and Wells (1977 – ‘79). Afterwards, he worked with management consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group (1979 – ‘81). Upon leaving BCG, he got appointed as the Director of Strategic Planning. Eight years later, he was named President of American Express’ Consumer Card Group. He was then named president of the firm’s Travel Related Services in 1993, and then Vice Chairman of the entire firm two years later, and as COO two years later. After 20 years at the firm, in 2001, he was named the CEO of American Express. A member of the Business Roundtable, board member of IBM, Facebook (first black member of its board), Airbnb, Procter and Gamble, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Vice Chairman of the National Academy Foundation and Trustee Mount Sinai NYU Medical Centre and Health System. On February 10, 2014, he was elected to a vacant seat of the Harvard Corporation (fiduciary authority of Harvard University).

Kenneth Chenault retired on February 1, 2018.

 

  1. BERNARD TYSON: CEO KAISER PERMANENTE

 

Degree: B.Sc. Health Service Management, Golden State University; MBA, Health Service Administration, Golden State University; Leadership Program Alumnus, Harvard University.

Tyson worked as an administrative analyst at Vallejo General Hospital (1981 – ’83). A year later, he interned at Kaiser Permanente for six months, and got permanently hired during the first three months. He was named CEO of Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Santa Rosa, California, in 1992; became the SVP and COO for Kaiser’s brand strategy in 1999; became SVP for Health Plan and Hospital Operations; became the President and COO of the firm in 2010. Tyson, who has been with the firm since 1984 became the CEO in 2013. A member of the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable. Tyson has served on boards of American Heart Association, America’s Health Insurance, and the International Federation of Health Plans.

 

  1. ADEBAYO OGUNLESI: CO-FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN AND MANAGING PARTNER, GLOBAL INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERS

 

Degree: B.A. Philosophy, Politics and Economics (First Class), Lincoln College, Oxford University, England; J.D (magna cum laude/First Class), Harvard Law School; MBA, Harvard Business School.

While at law school, Bayo, as he is fondly called, enrolled at HBS to overcome Numerophobia. A former clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court (1980 – ’81; first non-American). He became an attorney at the corporate division of law firm – Cravath, Swaine and Moore – same firm he was an associate during his summer days at HBS. While at CS&M, First Boston asked if he could be borrowed (as a legal counsel) for three months to work on a project in Nigeria, but later got to spend more than 2 decades at the now enlarged Credit Sussie (Credit Sussie acquired First Boston in 1990); while also moonlighting at Harvard and Yale Law Schools.

Bayo worked in various positions, mostly in the energy division of CS, and became Global Head of CS’ Investment Banking Division (even though he never wanted to be an investment banker) in 2002. From 2004 – ’06, he was the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Client Officer at CS. He together with partners founded the private equity firm, Global Infrastructure Partners in 2006, with General Electric and Credit Sussie being the first investors (slightly above $500 million out of $5.64BN). In 2012, he was appointed to Goldman Sachs’ Board of Directors and became Lead Director two years later. A member Board of Dean’s Advisors, Harvard Business School. Also a member Board of Trustees, New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Once an informal adviser to Olusegun Obasanjo on economic matters.

Ogunlesi, the only Nigerian on the list

Ogunlesi, the only Nigerian on the list

 

  1. DEBRA L. LEE: CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF BET (PARENT COMPANY OF BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION)

Degree: B.A. Political Science, Brown University; M.Sc. Public Policy, Harvard University’s JFK School of Government; J.D, Harvard Law School.

After leaving Harvard, she worked for a while as a clerk to former Honourable Barrington of the US. District Court. In 1981, she worked at the law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, as a regulatory lawyer. Five years later, she joined BET; creating its legal department. Debra held different positions while at BET, from Executive Vice President Legal Affairs to company’s secretary to general counsel amongst others. In 1996, she was appointed president and COO, nine years later, she was made the chairman and CEO. A member of Board of Directors at the Washington Gas Light Company (since 2000), Marriot Inc. (since 2004), Twitter (since 2016) and Revlon Inc. (2006 – ’15) and Trustee Emeritus at Brown University.

 

  1. CRAIG ARNOLD: PRESIDENT AND CEO EATON CORPORATION

 

Degree: B.A. Psychology, California State University, San Bernardino; MBA, Business Administration and Management, Pepperdine University.

Started his career with General Electric in 1983 to 1997 as the Corporate Vice President and President GE Plastics, and then GE Appliances, Greater China (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau). Hitherto joining Eaton in 2000 as SVP and Group Executive of the Fluid Power Group, he was Corporate Vice president and President, GE Lighting Services Limited. In 2009, he was appointed Vice Chairman and COO, Industrial Sector, Eaton Corporation. Six years later, Craig was appointed to the Boards of Directors, and named president and COO. A year after, he was named Chairman and CEO. A member Board of Directors at Medtronic Inc., Cleveland Partnerships and University Hospital Health Systems, Cleveland. He is also a member of the Business Roundtable and the Business Council.

 

  1. ROGER W. FERGUSON: PRESIDENT AND CEO OF TIAA-CREF (TEACHERS’ INSURANCE AND ANNUITY ASSOCIATION; COLLEGE RETIREMENT EQUITIES’ FUND)

 

Degree: B.A. Economics (magna cum laude/First Class), Harvard University; J.D (magna cum laude/First Class), Harvard University; PhD. Economics, Harvard University. Attorney at Davis Polk and Wardwell (1981 – ’84).

Afterwards, he became Associate director of Research and Information and Partner at McKinesy and Company for 13 years. He left McK to become a member Board of Governors, Federal Reserve, and Vice Chairman two years later. In 2006, he became the Head, Financial Services, Swiss Re and Chairman Swiss Re America Holding Corporation for two years. Afterwards, he was appointed President and CEO, TIAA-CREF; the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research and medical and cultural fields; a Fortune 100 financial services corporation. A member Board of Directors International Flavors and Fragrances (2010 -present), General Mills (2015 -present) and Alphabet Inc. (2016 -present). Additionally, he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science and Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship, where he spent a year (1973 – ’74) as a scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, UK.

 

 

Important Notes

 

  1. Harvard is a CEO factory (54% passed through it at different levels).

 

  1. Academic performance is important. More than 30% came top of their class.

 

  1. You must not practice what you study in school. Your first degree is just for cognitive development, further development of your logical thinking, numeracy, communication skills and networking. Neither must you study a particular course to become a CEO.

 

  1. Further education and programs at top business schools is essential at a point in a CEO’s career. Whether Harvard, INSEAD or University of Chicago Booth. These programs provide world-class trainings, networking and knowledge for aspiring, current and future CEOs.

 

  1. Entrepreneurship shows its tenacity at creating wealth and jobs. Starting a company, growing it and knowing when to stop or continue is important in a CEO’s career. As well as starting a firm even while still being employed.

 

  1. Yes, entrepreneurship is important. So also is being a reputable employee. As enumerated, we have CEOs who have being at various firms for over 30 years; some in one firm, others at different companies. While starting your company can be important, it is pertinent to note that not everyone will be an entrepreneur in their lifetime. Some persons are just specialists in execution.

 

  1. Still on entrepreneurship. Starting your company early is good, so also is working with different corporations for some years, garnering valuable experience before launching it.

 

  1. Finally, diligence, determination, integrity, hard work and perseverance are the necessary ingredients in becoming a CEO of a top company irrespective of one’s colour, nationality or residence.

 

 

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