In 1986, minorities in high profile corporate positions were scarce, and there were no Black CEO’s among the Fortune 500 companies. Still, though their presence may not have been nationally known, Black executives were working together to promote the best interests of people of color.
A prime example of their impact is the case of Alvaro Martins, a Xerox sales executive who organized a group of eighteen corporate men and a single woman to help save Bishop College, a historically black college struggling through financial difficulties. After successfully keeping the school afloat, and realizing the strength they possessed as a collective, the group of Black professionals, who were soon joined by other invited corporate leaders, formed the Executive Leadership Council (ELC).
Today, the Council is regarded as a distinguished organization designed to recognize the strengths, contributions and impact of African-American corporate business leaders around the country. Led by newly-elected President and CEO Arnold W. Donald, the Council consists of over 500 members, one-third of them women, and over 200 member companies, including Apple Inc., Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., General Mills Inc. and the Walt Disney Company. Among the Who’s Who list of current African American CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and major corporations who call the Council home are Ken Chenault (American Express), Clarence Otis (Darden Restaurants), Ron Williams (Aetna), Ursula Burns (Xerox), John W. Thompson (Symantec) and A. Barry Rand (AARP).
Over the past two decades, the mission of the ELC has remained the same: to build an inclusive business leadership pipeline and to develop African-American corporate leaders, one executive at a time. In addition to talent and pipeline management, the Council has established five key initiatives and programs focused on higher education, public recognition, senior leadership, special initiatives and assessment initiatives.
Within the higher education initiative, which consists of the Business Case Competition, the Award for Excellence in Business Commentary National Essay Contest, Alvaro Martins Scholars and Ann Fudge Scholars programs, more than $1.5 million has been awarded to over 300 college students.
In addition, through its Technology Transfer Project, the Council and its member companies have invested over $10 million in IT equipment, software, technology infrastructure and curriculum development to aid historically black colleges and universities and to ensure the competitiveness of African American students who aspire to corporate leadership.