In an era when CEOs are under increased scrutiny and corporations must demonstrate greater financial integrity, corporate boards are playing a larger role in the strategic direction of corporate America. For that reason, February's BLACK ENTERPRISE (BE) has unveiled the BE Registry of Corporate Directors, an exclusive roster of African American board members of the 250 largest corporations. The cover story reveals how these powerful decision makers serve as "the guardians of shareholder value." In February's BLACK ENTERPRISE: Black Corporate Directors of the 250 Largest Companies. On The Cover [L-R]: Richard Parsons, Chairman, Time Warner; Vernon Jordan Jr., Senior Managing Director, Lazard Freres, L.L.C.; Franklin Thomas, Consultant, The Study Group; Joyce Roche, President & CEO, Girls Inc.; Christopher Williams, Chairman & CEO, Williams Capital Group L.P. & Williams Capital Management L.L.C.; Alexis Herman, Chairman & CEO New Ventures Inc.; John Rogers Jr., Chairman & CEO, Ariel Capital Management L.L.C.
(New York, NY) February 5, 2008—In an era when CEOs are under increased scrutiny and corporations must demonstrate greater financial integrity, corporate boards are playing a larger role in the strategic direction of corporate America. For that reason, February's BLACK ENTERPRISE (BE) has unveiled the BE Registry of Corporate Directors, an exclusive roster of African American board members of the 250 largest corporations. The cover story reveals how these powerful decision makers serve as "the guardians of shareholder value." They are charged with protecting trillions in assets as well as deliberating on billion-dollar acquisitions, critical divestitures, massive layoffs, and ousting underperforming CEOs.
In "Power in the Boardroom" (P. 112), BE VP/Executive Editor Derek T. Dingle explores how Black corporate directors balance their roles as both corporate watchdogs and catalysts for change within corporate America. "This is the only comprehensive list of its kind and the first such roster BE has produced since 1973," says Dingle. "We found that it was critical to show our readers what happens in the boardroom and, to some degree, whether Black directors place diversity on the agenda and push to make it a business imperative within major corporations. These issues affect our readers as employees, consumers, suppliers, and shareholders."
Corporate boards typically select executive heavyweights with business, legal, and financial backgrounds. Board members are responsible for governing the corporation and adding value to the company. They handle responsibilities such as hiring the CEO, monitoring the company's financial performance, and ensuring that the company has a solid business model and strategic focus. For African Americans, however, there is often the additional pressure to promote diversity or bring civil rights issues to the boardroom—a daunting challenge some welcome and others shun.
"When African Americans get on a board, we are finding that they are happy to be there but feel uncomfortable rocking the boat. They don't want to be typecast as a "civil rights director,"" says John W. Rogers Jr., chairman of Ariel Capital Management and co-founder of the Black Corporate Directors Conference. "If the few of us who have the good fortune to be in the boardroom are uncomfortable bringing up race issues, they're not going to be raised and we won't make a difference."
Steven Rogers (no relation to John), professor of entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University and a director of a SuperValu grocery store, says, "Advocating diversity is not shunning your fiduciary responsibilities. If you're not speaking out about diversity then why have you on the board?" Rogers maintains that his posture is no different from a director with specific expertise in environmental affairs, for example, who uses his or her position to make it a part of a corporate agenda.
Vernon E. Jordan, who sits on the boards of American Express Co. and Xerox Corp., thinks there should be a clear distinction between the responsibilities of a director and a diversity officer: "I'm from a different school. There is nothing in the articles of incorporation of any company that