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Whether you believe the glass ceiling is finally shattered, merely cracked or still firmly in place, there’s no denying that African Americans have made great strides up the corporate ladder since this magazine started in 1970. Six black executives — Clifford Alexander Jr. of Dun & Bradstreet; Erroll B. Davis, Jr. of Alliant Energy Corp.; John W. Thompson of Symantec Corp.: A. Barry Rand of Avis Rent A Car; and Lloyd D. Ward of Maytag Corp. — have finally made it to the CEO’s seat. And there are others poised just beneath as chief operating officers and presidents-heir-designates in line to assume the top spot.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Division of Labor Force Statistics, there were 19 million executives, managers and administrators in the U.S. labor force in 1998. Of that number, 7.2% were black. In 1988, only 5.6% of the nation’s executives, managers and administrations were African American; by 1991 that number had grown slightly to 5.7%. Clearly, there has been some progress.
black enterprise has spent the past six months identifying and tracking these executives. We found 50 out of 145 who met the tough criteria we set to be included in this report. The last time this story was done, in February 1993, we found 40 African American men and women in top positions; we called them “America’s Most Powerful Black Executives.” When this report was first presented in February 1988, it was “America’s Hottest Black Managers in Corporate America.” While a long time seems to have passed, it takes time for significant movement and progress when analyzing career growth and executive development.
This time, the executives that made our list were culled only from the 1,000 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. To make the cut, all had to be in senior-level positions, preferably within striking distance of the CEO spot, or running major divisions that have a significant impact on their company’s bottom line. We also considered whether these executives have officer or executive committee status, whereby they are key players in determining the path and operations of the organizations they lead. Additionally, we took into account the level and number of individuals reporting to them, along with the size of the company, when making our selections. Of course, compensation was a factor-including base salary and short-term bonuses-with a threshold minimum of $250,000. Finally, and most important, we assessed the function of each individual’s position. Previously, only those executives who had revenue-generating or operations responsibility were considered for this list. While that still was a dominant factor, given the changing nature and influence of the business landscape, we analyzed how someone in a staff function, such as chief information officer or corporate officer with human capital responsibilities, might have a significant impact on the corporate bottom line. All are responsible for managing and controlling revenues and budgets in the billions and/or the people that impact these multibillion-dollar organizations.
In the new business paradigm, more African American executives are moving out of their comfort zones and taking