How Marvin R. Ellison became the only Black CEO to lead two Fortune 500 companies

Abu Mubarik August 08, 2023
Marvin R. Ellison. Photo credit: Lowe's

Meet Marvin R. Ellison, who is the current CEO of Lowe’s, a Fortune 500 company and the second-largest hardware chain in the United States. Ellison has been credited with the recent success of the company, which now has over 300,000 employees.

Before he joined Lowe’s, he spent more than a decade at The Home Depot, where he started as an “asset protection,” a term for anti-theft measures in the early 2000s, C-Suite Spotlight reported. He later rose to senior-level operations roles, serving as executive vice president of U.S. stores, where he was in charge of the overall operations of 2,000 stores including $65 billion in annual sales volume. He had previously worked at Target, where he held several leadership positions. He was also named CEO of J.C. Penney in 2014 but he resigned from the Fortune 500 company in 2018 to join Lowe’s.

Ellison thus has the rare distinction of being the only Black executive to have CEO positions at two different Fortune 500 companies.

The Black executive’s journey to the top of a Fortune 500 company did not come easy. He hails from a simple family of sharecroppers in Tennessee. Until he turned six, his family did not have indoor plumbing. Nonetheless, he credits his parents for his success.

“Every day, my father got up and went to work with a great attitude, juggling as many as three jobs to help pay the bills and support his family,” Ellison told C-Suite Spotlight. “My parents would often say, ‘Don’t let your surroundings dictate your future,’ and emphasized education as the path out of poverty.”

His professionalism has won him multiple accolades, according to Lowe’s, with the notable ones being multiple appearances on Barron’s annual list of “Top CEOs”; inclusion on Fortune’s “Most Inspirational CEOs” and “World’s Greatest Leaders” lists; and being named “Father of the Year” by the National Father’s Day Council, “Corporate Executive of the Year” by Black Enterprise and one of Savoy’s “Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America.” In 2023, he received the National Retail Federation’s Visionary Award.

Ellis, with over 35 years of retail leadership and experience in operations, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from The University of Memphis. He also holds an MBA from Emory University. He currently serves on the board of trustees of The University of Memphis and also on the board of directors for FedEx Corporation.

The number of black people currently leading Fortune 500 companies is eight, with Ellison being one of them. While this number is woefully low, which is analyzed in the context of black CEOs for recognition, it is a marked improvement.

The “Fortune 500”  is a list of the 500 largest companies in the U.S. compiled by Fortune magazine and published every year since 1955.

Records show that there have only been a total of 23 Black CEOs leading America’s Fortune 500 companies since 1987. In 2020 when there were discussions about diversity following the killing of George Floyd, there were four Black CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. The number has now risen to eight, representing only 1.6% of all Fortune 500 CEOs, according to Fortune.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 8, 2023


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