The top executive position of the American corporate cycle has been dominated by Whites over the years, with fewer people of color holding such C-Suite positions. In the history of the Fortune 500 list, there have been about 22 Black CEOs out of 1800 C-level executives.
Clifton Wharton broke into the age-long White dominated rank in 1987 when he took the leadership of TIAA, making him the first Black Chief Executive Officer of a major US corporation. In 1999, Franklin Raines became the CEO of Fannie Mae, placing him in the second position of a Black CEO to lead a Fortune 500 company. On February 14, 2022, Frank Clyburn took the reins of International Flavors & Fragrance Inc., making him the 22nd Black CEO to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Out of the 22 Black CEOs, only four women – Ursula Burns, Mary A. Winston, Rosalind Brewer, and Thasunda Brown Duckett, have ever risen to the level of CEO of a Fortune 500 company. On July 2009, Ursula Burns became the CEO of Xerox, making her the first African American to head a Fortune 500 company.
The number of Black CEOs is a paltry figure compared to the number of Blacks that make up about one-eighth of the US population. Observers believe that the situation is worrisome and even getting worse, with only about six Black persons currently holding the CEO position in 2022, representing less than 1% of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 list. Issues like racism and the school from which big corporations recruit their CEOs (mostly the traditional elite schools) are some of the numerous barriers to the success of Black people in the US.
In no particular order, here are some of the Black CEOs in corporate America who overcame many odds to reach the pinnacle of success in their career, paving a way for the next generation of leaders. (Click Next below to continue)