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Black Futures5 min read

By Erin Pace

Black History Month is a time of celebration as well as sorrowful remembrance. Growing up in the South, I spent my free time in February reenacting civil rights marches, singing We Shall Overcome, and winning poster contests for my magic marker renderings of Rosa Parks proclaiming ‘I’m not movin’!’. This year, I’m trading my poster for this article in The Oppy and my ancestors would be so proud. Let this article serve as a thank you to the Black business people of times past who paved the way. A few of them include: Alonzo Herndon, who was born in 1858 into slavery but later obtained success through his barbershops and became one of the first African American millionaires in the United States; Madam C.J. Walker, who built her empire selling beauty products in the late 1800s and was the first female self-made millionaire; also, personally, my great grandfather, E.H. Henry, an entrepreneur who, in the 1920s, organized his farming town to sell chicken eggs to raise enough money to qualify for a matching grant to build the first school for African Americans in Eagle Lake, Texas.  

Black History Month is also affectionately known by some as Black Futures Month and is used as a time to educate ourselves to improve for the future. At the beginning of this Black History Month, there were four (0.8%) Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Just a few days ago, Kenneth Frazier CEO of Merck and Co., announced his retirement bringing that number down to three (0.6%). These statistics are desolate, and even gloomier is when I look around the Zoom room and see a similar statistic here at NYU Stern. Our MBA program is where future CEOs are made. In order for the Fortune 500 statistics to improve, Stern’s have to as well. On that note, here is a little information about the four aforementioned Black CEOs to inspire you to study hard and network inclusively.

Roz Brewer

Walgreens’ vaccine rollout will be led by the only Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company
Photo by Heather Khalifa / Staff Photographer, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Roz Brewer will become CEO of Walgreens in March 2021. This will make Brewer the only CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is also a Black woman. Brewer will leave her current role as COO of Starbucks to assume her new CEO position. However, this will not be Brewer’s first time as CEO. Before Starbucks, Brewer was the President and CEO of Sam’s Club. Brewer has also held director positions at Lockheed Martin and Amazon. Brewer has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Spelman College, is a graduate of the Director’s College at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business/Stanford Law School and also attended an advanced management program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Ken Frazier

Frazier_Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Time
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Time

Ken Frazier became the CEO of Merck and Co. in 2011. He plans to retire at the end of June 2021. The grandson of a sharecropper, Frazier went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Penn State and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Frazier is the first African-American man to lead a major pharmaceutical company. During his tenure, Frazier directed Merck and Co. in taking financial risks to develop new treatments that yielded beneficial returns. Frazier was the first business leader to leave former President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council after Trump failed to condemn a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Marvin Ellison 

Marvin Ellison
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage / Getty Images

Marvin Ellison has been the CEO of Lowe’s since 2018. Ellison began his career as a part-time security guard at Target making only $4.35 an hour. He spent fifteen years moving up the ranks and transitioning to new retail companies until he became the CEO of J.C. Penney in 2015. As CEO, Ellison led J.C. Penney in recovering substantial lost profitability. Ellison earned a business administration degree in marketing from the University of Memphis and has an MBA from Emory University.

Roger Ferguson, Jr. 

© Handout

Robert Ferguson, Jr. was appointed CEO of TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America) in 2018. Under Ferguson’s leadership, TIAA expanded from a sole focus on teacher retirement to a diverse portfolio with double its previous assets. Prior to TIAA, Ferguson was head of financial services for Swiss Re, was vice-chairman of the board of governors at the Fed and was a partner at McKinsey. As one of the leading Black executives in corporate America, Ferguson holds board seats at Alphabet, International Flavors & Fragrances and General Mills. It is rumored that Ferguson may soon step down from his position as CEO to accept a cabinet position with the Biden administration.


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