by Derek T. Dingle
When Starbucks decided to continue its global expansion by opening 1,500 coffee shops in China, CEO Howard Schultz consulted Ariel Investments L.L.C. President Mellody Hobson and former PepsiCo executive Olden Lee, along with its other nine board members. As CBS Corp. locked horns with Time Warner Cable over broadcast fees, retired senior executive Bruce Gordon was among the corporate directors briefed by top management. Verizon Communications’ proposed acquisition of Canadian telecoms requires input from board members such as Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis Jr.
Hobson, Lee, Gordon, and Otis represent the business elite responsible for oversight of some of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. These corporate directors are charged with the fiduciary responsibility to increase shareholder value by making decisions—from acquisitions and divestitures to executive compensation and layoffs—that will maximize earnings, dividends, and the stock price. As such, these corporate watchdogs ensure the continued viability of American industry, including trillions in assets and millions of managers, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
These days, corporations that don’t have black directors on their boards are operating in the Stone Age of business. Shifting demographics and the burgeoning black consumer and business markets mean corporations cannot afford to be governed without the presence of African Americans in their boardrooms. “There are a lot of gifted, diverse directors who have been shut out over the years,” asserts John W. Rogers, Jr., chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments L.L.C. (No. 7 on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list with $4.9 billion in assets under management), who joined forces with Hobson and Charles Tribbett III, a senior partner with executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, 11 years ago to create the Black Corporate Directors Conference. “If you have diverse perspectives and diverse points of view, you’re going to get better decisions made. If you have better decision making, it will ultimately increase the value of the common stock.”
We created our exclusive BLACK ENTERPRISE Registry of Corporate Directors to place a spotlight on those making contributions as some of the nation’s most powerful guardians of shareholder value. Our roster represents 177 board members from a universe of the 250 largest companies on the S&P 500 based on market capitalization as of June 14. Spending several months reviewing proxy statements and annual reports as well as contacting investor relations departments, corporate governance experts, and professional organizations such as the Black Corporate Directors Conference and Executive Leadership Council, a network of the nation’s most powerful African American execs, our editorial research team found that roughly 30% of the S&P 250 do not have a single black board member.
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