The Most Powerful Women in Business: McDonald’s Debbie Roberts

Debbie Roberts

Having climbed the ranks from an entry-level accountant to East Zone president at McDonald’s, Debbie Roberts’ career trajectory proves that in corporate America, nothing can replace hard work.

Roberts began her career with the fast food giant in 1990 and she steadily progressed to become vice president, general manager for the company in 2009. Roberts held this position for three years before taking on the role of senior vice president, restaurant support officer in 2012—the position she held prior to her current role. It was at this point in her career that she realized her potential for C-suite success.

“When I first became a senior vice president, I acknowledged that it was a sizable promotion at a Fortune 100 company,” she states. “I continued to have conversations with my senior leadership team about people viewing me as someone who had more potential to do more things. I gained confidence that people thought I had more bandwidth and capacity to lead more initiatives and drive profitability for the brand.”

From the time Roberts can remember, her plan was always to be in a leadership role. She quickly realized that McDonald’s afforded her unbelievable opportunities to achieve her goals. Roberts nurtured her career in accounting for seven years before transitioning into marketing. From a regional marketing supervisor, she worked her way up to senior marketing director, overseeing the market activities of seven regions. Eventually, Roberts took the advice of a mentor who encouraged her to look into management and McDonald’s executive fast track. This meant going into restaurant operations. The rest is history.

Now, leading talent and brand development strategy to drive long-term growth for nearly 3,000 McDonald’s throughout the Northeast United States, Roberts’ career has reached heights she hadn’t foreseen. “This job that I’m in today is almost unimaginable. I won’t pretend like it was part of my plan, and every day when I wake up I’m just completely thankful. I feel very blessed that I get the opportunity to do this.”

Roberts attributes her career climb to her commendable work ethic. “I may not always be the smartest person in the room and have the highest IQ,” she states, “but no one’s ever going to outwork me.”

See the full list of the Most Powerful Women in Business.

The Most Powerful Women in Business: WNBA’s Lisa Borders

Lisa Borders

With more than 25 years of experience in marketing, operations, and public service, Lisa Borders has built a reputation of being the go-to executive you hire when you want your company “fixed.” She gained this reputation as an executive who assesses problems, aligns solutions, and then activates.

Now, as the fourth president of the WNBA, Borders looks to pull the 20-year-old league ahead financially and commercially—which has proved to be a stubborn battle in the past. Borders is eager to broaden the scope of the league and increase the visibility of its players so it isn’t just about basketball, but it’s about recognition and female empowerment.
“I want this league to be even more successful than it is today,” says Borders. “I don’t just want it to survive. I want it to thrive. I want to go on the path of sustainability where every team is making money, and every team is operationally stable.”

Borders first knew she had the potential to be a powerful leader in 2004 when she was elected vice mayor of Atlanta and president of the city council. She understood then the magnitude of her potential: “I do know when I was elected that there was recognition that I had a certain set of skills that might be valuable to the city,” reveals Borders. “This was the first tangible evidence that I recognized that I could lead really big things someday. I’m not sure I really believed it until after that election.”

Following that, Borders served for three years as chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation and vice president, Global Community Affairs at The Coca-Cola Co. Formerly, she was President of Henry W. Grady Health System Foundation where she completed a five-year, $325 million fundraising effort.

Her career calling is to help organizations reach their full potential and go from good to great. “There’s no better place for me to be as a fixer because that’s what I am,” states Borders.

Though Borders embraces the power and responsibility that comes with having the reins as WNBA president, she emphasizes that real power in leadership is in investing in those that follow you. “Being powerful means helping someone else find their voice,” says Borders. “Often folks take power to mean personal privilege. I think it means just the opposite. It’s a collective obligation to give back to make sure that the next person has a better opportunity than you have.”

See the full list of the Most Powerful Women in Business.

The Most Powerful Women in Business: WNBA’s Lisa Borders

Lisa Borders

With more than 25 years of experience in marketing, operations, and public service, Lisa Borders has built a reputation of being the go-to executive you hire when you want your company “fixed.” She gained this reputation as an executive who assesses problems, aligns solutions, and then activates.

Now, as the fourth president of the WNBA, Borders looks to pull the 20-year-old league ahead financially and commercially—which has proved to be a stubborn battle in the past. Borders is eager to broaden the scope of the league and increase the visibility of its players so it isn’t just about basketball, but it’s about recognition and female empowerment.
“I want this league to be even more successful than it is today,” says Borders. “I don’t just want it to survive. I want it to thrive. I want to go on the path of sustainability where every team is making money, and every team is operationally stable.”

Borders first knew she had the potential to be a powerful leader in 2004 when she was elected vice mayor of Atlanta and president of the city council. She understood then the magnitude of her potential: “I do know when I was elected that there was recognition that I had a certain set of skills that might be valuable to the city,” reveals Borders. “This was the first tangible evidence that I recognized that I could lead really big things someday. I’m not sure I really believed it until after that election.”

Following that, Borders served for three years as chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation and vice president, Global Community Affairs at The Coca-Cola Co. Formerly, she was President of Henry W. Grady Health System Foundation where she completed a five-year, $325 million fundraising effort.

Her career calling is to help organizations reach their full potential and go from good to great. “There’s no better place for me to be as a fixer because that’s what I am,” states Borders.

Though Borders embraces the power and responsibility that comes with having the reins as WNBA president, she emphasizes that real power in leadership is in investing in those that follow you. “Being powerful means helping someone else find their voice,” says Borders. “Often folks take power to mean personal privilege. I think it means just the opposite. It’s a collective obligation to give back to make sure that the next person has a better opportunity than you have.”

See the full list of the Most Powerful Women in Business.

The Most Powerful Women in Business: Apple’s Bozoma Saint John

Bozoma Saint John

Bozoma Saint John, or “Boz” as she’s known by many, is the epitome of a marketing powerhouse. The former head of music and entertainment marketing at PepsiCo, where she inked its $50 million sponsorship deal with Beyoncé, explains her current job with one simple sentence: “I create magic.”

Saint John leads the marketing efforts of Apple Music as Head of Global Marketing at the technology juggernaut. She joined the company in 2014 under the Beats brand. As secret weapon turned face of Apple Music, she explains, “I take the business priorities that we have for all the entertainment platforms whether it’s music by an artist, a movie, a book, or a piece of news, and basically let the world hear it.” Saint John and her team use vehicles such as advertising and media, combined with live events, commercials, billboards, emails—all of the marketing channels in their arsenal—to let the world know about that particular piece of entertainment.

With a vibrant personality and heels to boot, self-described “execumommy” Saint John is the first black woman to present at an Apple event—the Worldwide Developers Conference last June. There, she presented the all-new Apple Music interface and rocked the crowd by playing “Rapper’s Delight” while navigating the app.

 

Her magic, combined with the technical ease of the app, apparently works. Revenue from Apple services, which includes Apple Music, grew by 24% in the third quarter, to an all-time quarterly record of $6.3 billion. Apple CEO Tim Cook cited Apple Music as a driver; in January 2016, 10 million users subscribed to Apple Music, and that number grew to around 20 million by the end of year.

Saint John frequently finds that the most fascinating part of her job is meeting with the creators behind the work, from musicians to actors, producers, and writers. “It just keeps you so fresh and connected to the world.” She also finds that engaging with creatives helps keep her own creative juices flowing, especially when it comes to delving into the analytical part of her job and problem-solving.

Throughout her career trajectory and the subsequent success she encounters, Saint John trusts her gut and it proves to be a constant factor that works in both career pursuits and in life. “I trust my intuition implicitly. I don’t talk myself into anything and I don’t cut myself out of anything,” she says. “My first reaction is the truest one.”

See the full list of the Most Powerful Women in Business.

The Most Powerful Women in Business 2017

Powerful Women

What makes a powerful businesswoman powerful? What is the secret sauce; that innate quality that helps successful women start, manage, or transform some of the largest companies in the world? We decided to ask some power players across a range of backgrounds—a president of a major sports league, a marketing guru for one of the most influential global brands ever created, and an executive that leads divisional operations for one of the most iconic fast food chains.

The relentless pursuit of excellence is nothing new to these women. According to a 2015 study on Black Women and Leadership by the Center for Talent Innovation, black women are 2.8 times as likely as white women to aspire to a powerful position with a prestigious title. The study also found that black women have been “leaning in” for generations. They are far more confident in their business roles (43% vs. 30% of white women) that they can succeed in a position of power, and they’re clear on what they want to achieve outside the office: financial independence, personal growth, and social justice. They’re also more likely to say they’re able to empower others and be empowered (57% vs. 42%).

For example, let’s take a look at our cover subjects. Lisa Borders, president of the WBNA, brings over 25 years of experience to the league after serving as chair of the Coca-Cola Foundation and president of the City Council/vice mayor of Atlanta. Bozoma Saint John brings massive influence to Apple as head of Global Consumer Marketing, iTunes & Apple Music. Debbie Roberts leads strategy, talent, and brand development to drive long-term growth for thousands of McDonald’s throughout the Eastern United States.

These women represent our esteemed Most Powerful Women in Business—a listing that crosses industry, public and private companies, and roles. The impressive credentials of the women on this list place them among some of the most influential executives and entrepreneurs in the country. Despite consistent barriers to entry, these women continue to use their leadership prowess to manage the bottom line but also to shape the direction of future generations of business leaders.

 

How we selected our most powerful women:

To identify our Most Powerful Women in Business, our editorial and research teams conducted in-depth research; scoured our Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, Leading Women in Marketing and Advertising, 75 Most Powerful Women in Business, The B.E. Corporate Directors Registry, and BE 100s listings; consulted associations; and reviewed a great number of bios and résumés. Our selections met the following criteria:

• Many executives are among the highest ranked in their companies; they hold C-suite positions including CEO, CMO, COO, CAO, CHRO, and CIO.

• Other executives have president, executive vice president, managing director, general counsel or senior vice president roles but manage significant lines of business or serve as representatives on the executive leadership teams of their company. They also contribute to the development of business operational and financial policies and strategies of their companies.

• Executives of major corporate foundations and large nonprofits were included. However, those holding the position of chief diversity officer, or executives who oversee corporate communications, investor relations, and external affairs were not.

• The BE 100s CEOs included those who manage businesses that are among the largest black-owned companies across industrial categories.

To see the full list of our Most Powerful Women in Business, click here.

We Must Defend Healthcare Access As A Right of All Americans

healthcare

Should access to affordable health insurance and quality healthcare be an inalienable right of all Americans or a benefit reserved for the wealthy and privileged minority who can afford it?

America has wrestled with this question for much of the past century, with both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations trying—and failing—to come up with a legal, ethical, and economically viable solution in service to the American people. Finally, former President Barack Obama succeeded, with the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA, also known as Obamacare) in 2010. The enactment of that federal statute was a resounding affirmation: In the wealthiest country on the planet, access to affordable and quality healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.

The ACA is of significant benefit to African Americans, who suffer disproportionately from lack of health insurance and access to quality healthcare options. Prior to Obamacare, many African Americans who lacked the financial wherewithal to have access to a broad network of doctors and health services were forced to accept little more than emergency-room medicine and underfunded, understaffed clinics—or no healthcare at all.

Then, immediately upon taking office, the newly elected Republican administration, led by President Donald Trump, launched its push to repeal Obamacare in an effort to fulfill one of the biggest promises of his campaign and a top goal on the GOP agenda. Alarmingly, these efforts seem to have nothing to do with what’s best for Americans, and everything to do with the new presidential administration’s obsession with erasing the accomplishments and legacy of President Trump’s African American predecessor.

Early efforts at repealing Obamacare have been limited by Democratic leaders’ determined efforts to protect ACA, and the popularity of key provisions such as guaranteed insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for individual children who did not have coverage via their families, as well as dependents being permitted to remain on their parents insurance plan until their 26th birthday.

Chastened by such opposition, those determined to overturn Obamacare have tried to make their efforts more palatable to the American people by promising to “repeal and replace” or to simply leave ACA in place and “repair” the broken parts of the statute. Of course, neither President Trump nor the GOP has given any clear indication of exactly what they would replace it with.

No matter how advocates of repealing ACA label their campaign, they have to face one unavoidable truth: It is an absolute disservice to the American people to repeal Obamacare, in whole or in part, without first offering a viable solution that would not return millions of Americans back to the ranks of the uninsured, and render millions more underinsured.

When it comes to access and affordability of quality healthcare for all Americans, our collective position must be forward ever, backward never. If there are elements of Obamacare that can be improved upon, by all means, improve it. Beyond that, it is up to all of us to take a stand, raise our voices and hold our political representatives accountable for ensuring that access to basic healthcare to all is upheld as consistent with the values of our country and a sacred commitment to us as American citizens.

The enactment of ACA was a major step forward on behalf of all Americans. We must send a loud and clear message to President Trump and his administration: Any changes or amendments to Obamacare must do nothing but improve and expand access, not limit or eliminate it.

Earl G. Graves Sr. is the founder, chairman, and publisher of Black Enterprise.

Corporate Executive of the Year: Marvin Ellison Is Penney Wise

JCPenney Chairman and CEO Marvin R. Ellison (Photo: Jesse Hornbuckle)

If you’ve walked into one of the more than 1,000 JCPenney stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico lately, you may have been surprised to find what looks like—pardon the pun—
a shiny, new Penney.

Many of the stores have been refreshed with updated areas showcasing handbags and jewelry, called center core. This year, an additional 60 stores have seen the introduction of a Sephora inside JCPenney makeup boutique. Also, 120 of the chain’s hair salons have been rebranded in a partnership with InStyle magazine and now have attractive features, such as modern signage and exposed brick.

The numbers behind the retailer are looking just as bright. It has 87 million active shoppers, having recouped the 20 million shoppers it lost between 2011 and 2013. Sales per square foot were $165 in fiscal 2015, up 12% from two years prior—the best they’ve been since fiscal 2011.

With the first half of the year demonstrating growth—comparable store sales rose 2.2% in the second quarter—JCPenney is sticking to its earnings estimates. It’s projecting EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) of $1 billion for 2016 and $1.2 billion for 2017, up from an adjusted $715 million in 2015 and a restated $377 million in 2014. All of this good news has boosted analyst and investor confidence in the stock; JCPenney shares have rallied more than 47% this year.

The man behind the turnaround, Chairman and CEO Marvin R. Ellison, is—not surprisingly—also making headlines. But the 51-year-old, who became president in 2014 and took over as chief executive last year, is more often lauded for his steadiness than his shine. Last year, The Dallas Morning News proclaimed that Ellison’s story is “classic JCPenney” with his hardworking, middle-income upbringing, and his willingness to grind every day. A Fortune cover story in March dubbed him “the opposite of flashy,” with astute attention to details, especially those often overlooked as obvious, and a relatability to the Penney customer.

While Ellison may lack flash, he’s got no shortage of brilliance. JCPenney executives describe him as an intelligent, inspiring, driven leader, who has coalesced the company’s 100,000 employees around a singular mission: to help their customer find what she loves with less time, money, and effort. His leadership in restoring the value of JCPenney for its customers, associates, and shareholders is precisely why Ellison has been named the 2016 Black Enterprise Corporate Executive of the Year.

JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison in the Frisco, Texas, store (Photo: Jesse Hornbuckle) JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison in the Frisco, Texas, store (Photo: Jesse Hornbuckle)

 

 

Teaching an Old Retailer New Tricks

 

It’s no small task to bring a legacy retailer like the 114-year-old JCPenney—founded as “The Golden Rule” by James Cash Penney, in Kemmerer, Wyoming—into the age of Amazon. However, that challenge becomes gargantuan when the company is reeling from a failed reinvention, which saw sales plummet by 35% and resulted in the layoff of 40,000 employees.

“I don’t think anyone in the external environment can really understand how difficult the situation was that Mike Ullman walked into in 2013,” Ellison said of his predecessor at this year’s analyst meeting, adding that when he took over, he’d counted more than 150 projects the company was trying to tackle simultaneously to turn itself around.

“When I started, one of the first things I would ask the team was, ‘Describe our customer. Outline who our three chief competitors are. What are some of the key financial milestones we need to try to hit? Really, what’s our mission, as a company?’ Those sound like very basic and fundamental questions,” Ellison says, “but if you’re in the midst of a turnaround, everything’s important. You want to serve every customer. You want to chase every financial measure. But, when you’re chasing so many different things, you’re diluting your focus and you’re diluting your ability to solve the biggest, most importunate issues.”

In addition to streamlining and clarifying the company’s objectives, Ellison had to build a team that could take them through the next phase of the turnaround. Of the original 13 people that reported to the CEO when he first arrived, only two remain today. All are focused on the framework of three areas that are key to the company’s resurgence. Ellison calls them the “strategic pillars”: revenue per customer, omnichannel, and private brands.
One of the ways the company plans to increase revenue per customer is with its center core concept, which it tested in 12 of its stores for almost a year before rolling it out to a third of all stores; those stores are now outperforming the chain. Such data-driven decisions and similar testing are hallmarks of new initiatives, such as a return to selling appliances after a 30-year hiatus.

The omnichannel strategy is all about balancing traditional sales and e-commerce. “We’re all facing the same challenges, and that is how you create a seamless connection between brick-and-mortar and your digital customer. It is critically important in any traditional retailer. There is no perfect science, but we were way behind,” Ellison says.

JCPenney’s been working hard to catch up, with this year’s chainwide rollout of its “buy online, pick up in store” service and a redesigned mobile app. “Streamlining the experience, so customers can find what they want, when they want, and how they want, is something that we’re keenly focused on. We’re continuing to make shopping simpler than it ever has been before,” says Michael Amend, executive vice president of omnichannel.

Private labels currently account for just over half of the retailer’s sales, or $6 billion in 2015, but the company plans to grow that to as much as 70% within the next three years. Just this quarter, it has announced a new signature line of high-end cookware from Cooks and a plus-size line from Project Runway winner Ashley Nell Tipton.

One of the private label success stories is Collection by Michael Strahan, a menswear line from the NFL player turned television host that launched last year online and in 200 stores with suits, sports coats, dress shirts, and accessories such as ties, belts, cufflinks, and suspenders. This year saw the addition of shoes to the collection as well as a new line of activewear under the label MSX by Michael Strahan. Both lines are available in extended sizes and are now in 500 stores.

“I remember the JCPenney catalog as a kid. That was always a big thing when that came in the mail,” Strahan told USA Today when the first collection launched. “They have always made fashionable, stylish clothing, but most important, affordable clothing. I thought that was very important to make things people can actually afford and that are fashion-forward. I’m glad that we’re partners.”

Gross profit margins are higher on private brands, at a reported 40% for JCPenney compared to 30% for the national brands it carries. “How we build our private brands and build value into them is going to be the key,” says Chief Merchant John Tighe. “Marvin has helped us find ways to expand our brands, expand our offering, and get better every day in what we do.”

“As long as we can give the customers a reason to shop [with] us in store and online, and we can offer products that create a level of differentiation between us and everyone else, this company will continue to be successful,” Ellison says. “If we can hit our financial plan for the second half of the year, we will bring this company back from the brink of extinction to profitability.”

JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison at JCP Headquarters (Photo: Jesse Hornbuckle)

The Right Man for the Job

 

At the time of Ellison’s hiring in 2014, Thomas J. Engibous, then chairman of JCPenney’s board of directors, said in a press release, “The Board has completed its search for the right CEO to lead the next stage of JCPenney’s growth. We are delighted to have found that person in Marvin Ellison, a highly accomplished retail executive with a history of delivering top and bottom line results at major American retailers. … We believe he is well equipped to return the company to profitable growth.”

Ellison’s predecessor, former CEO Ullman, agreed: “Over the course of his career, he has proven his ability to produce results by improving operations, building customer loyalty, and motivating his teams. His experience and leadership are exactly what we need to accelerate the progress we have made over the last 18 months.”

A lot of what Ellison has been able to accomplish since then has been data-driven, which is part of the science of retail. However, there’s also an art to what he does, and his retail instincts have served him well, especially in this position.

“Because I grew up most of my life with value and saving money as the primary expectation around how to live life, as we think about the ways we can serve customers, operating in the same demographic and the same household income, I connect really well with that,” he says. Simply put, Ellison knows the JCPenney customer so intimately, because he’s been the JCPenney customer.

The fourth of seven children, Ellison grew up in the small town of Brownsville, Tennessee, roughly an hour and 20 minutes northeast of Memphis. “There was a JCPenney in Jackson, Tennessee, about 20 minutes from our home. We would oftentimes shop there for back-to-school and for Christmas,” Ellison says.

“My parents, for many years, struggled financially to maintain a good household; making sure that we had clothes to wear, we had food to eat, we had a place to stay, and that we could get up every day and feel good about ourselves. But, we also operated on a pretty tight budget. We had an understanding that it was important for us to be really, really smart about everything we did, and how we spent our money. Growing up that way, working my way through college, and in some cases, having to work two jobs while going to school full time, gives you a sense of appreciation for anyone operating on a budget and customers that are looking for value,” he says.

Ironically, it was his need to work during college that ignited Ellison’s career in retail. He went to his school’s employment office with one simple request: employment at the highest paying, part-time job that they had available. It happened to be at Target, and it paid four dollars and thirty-five cents an hour.

Ellison’s start at Target as an hourly store security officer marked the beginning of both his love of retail and his leadership philosophy of listening to the employees on the front lines. He went on to earn a business administration degree in marketing from the University of Memphis and an M.B.A. from Emory University. He also spent 15 years working his way up the ranks, before heading to The Home Depot for a 12-year stint that led to his rise to executive vice president of U.S. stores, with responsibility for more than 700 stores and 150,000 associates.

“I’ve always had big dreams and aspirations. I had no idea how I would get there, but my parents were so wise that they never snuffed out a dream. It didn’t matter if it didn’t make any sense at all, they would just say, ‘You can do it. Focus on your education, put God first, be a good person, work hard, and you can achieve all your dreams in life,’” he says.

Ellison was very serious about those big dreams, as his wife, Sharyn, can attest, “I used to tell him, when we were in college, ‘You’re going to be real good at being old, because you’re getting so much practice right now.’ Well, he’s actually a lot lighter now than he was when we were in college, because he was very serious. He was stricken with wisdom at an early age.”

JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison with senior JCP executives (Photo: Jesse Hornbuckle) JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison with senior JCP executives (Photo: Jesse Hornbuckle)

The Secret to His Success

 

So how has Ellison been able to translate that wisdom into forward momentum, across an organization as weary and wary of change as JCPenney must have been after its failed makeover? According to the executive team Ellison’s built to help him effect that change, it involves getting a lot of feedback, setting a crystal-clear vision, and getting everyone on board.

“Marvin has the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes in a really profound way. I don’t think he’s ever forgotten where he’s come from. Even as he interacts with people on a day-to-day basis, he starts with positive intent and an ability to understand where that person is coming from. He’s an incredible listener and an incredible storyteller,” says Chief Customer and Marketing Officer Mary Beth West, one of Black Enterprise’s “75 Most Powerful Women in Business” and “Top Women in Advertising and Marketing.” West, who had served on JCPenney’s board since 2005 when she was tapped for the position last year, has brought 25 years of marketing leadership and brand management from Kraft and Mondelēz to the retailer.

Ellison’s listening skills are a strength mentioned again and again by his colleagues. “If you talk to those who have worked for and with Marvin, the feedback from them would be that he truly looks to engage each and every individual throughout the organization, hear what their input is, and see what they are seeing,” Amend says.

Joe McFarland, executive vice president of stores, who followed  Ellison from Home Depot, agrees, “He understands how to motivate people. He understands the buttons to push to get the best out of a person. Marvin has extremely high standards, as it relates to performance. There are no free rides. He sets a very aggressive timeline for us, but he’s also a great mentor to guide you on the how to get there. You’ll never have one of those moments where you sit back and ask yourself, ‘Am I on the right track?’ The way that he leads, he brings you along with him.”

That ride is a long way from over. There’s still a lot of work to be done at JCPenney. The share price, at just under $10, is still well below its $86 peak from 2007. Average annual sales per square foot are still significantly below competitors, such as Kohl’s, and total sales are nowhere near the $18 billion the retailer produced in 2009.

But analysts are seeing the bright side. Earlier this year, Deutsche Bank reiterated its “Buy” rating on the stock. “JCP is taking market share from peers which likely include other department stores as well as specialty apparel players, many of whom are closing doors at an accelerated pace. This top-line resurgence is occurring while the company is right-sizing the entity,” analyst Paul Trussell reported. “CEO Marvin Ellison has his newly assembled team focused, and his recent open market purchase [Ellison bought 50,000 shares of JCP stock in March] highlights his personal conviction in the opportunity that lies ahead.”

And Ellison himself believes the company is in its final phase of the turnaround, which he’s calling the “growth and profitability” phase. “We’ve been working our way over the past twelve months, and we’ve made great progress,” he says. “We have a lot of work to do, but the journey has at least started.”

This story appeared in the September 2016 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

Join Us in Houston, America’s Next Great Black Business Mecca

Earl G. Graves Sr., Chairman & Publisher, Black Enterprise

HoustonEntrepreneurship, as a means to build wealth and drive economic empowerment for African Americans, was—and still is—the cornerstone of my vision for Black Enterprise, when I launched the company more than 46 years ago. Of the many content platforms and events produced by our company today, none are more representative of our mission than our Entrepreneurs Summit.

Each year, the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit brings together more than 1,000 business leaders, ambitious entrepreneurs, and aspiring business owners, along with the corporations that want to do business with them. More than two decades since it was launched, the Entrepreneurs Summit remains the largest event of its kind. So, it is with great excitement and anticipation, that I share that the 2017 Entrepreneurs Summit will be held in the Super Bowl host city of Houston, from May 17–20, at the Marriott Marquis Houston.

The Entrepreneurs Summit is already well established as a must-attend event for entrepreneurs who want to actually win as entrepreneurs, not just start and own a business. However, bringing the event to Houston for the first time ever promises to raise the bar of opportunity and innovation even higher. That’s because Houston is clearly positioned to stake its claim as America’s next great black business mecca.

First of all, the Houston metro area boasts an accomplished and strategically networked community of African American entrepreneurs, executives, and business leaders as any city in the country. Prominent among them are several CEOs of the BE 100s, our list of the nation’s largest black-owned companies, including Sherman Lewis III of The Lewis Group L.L.P.; Charles Griggsby of Facility Interiors, Inc.; Gerald Smith of Smith Graham & Co. Investment Advisors L.P.; Anthony Chase of ChaseSource L.P.; and James H. Davis Jr. of J. Davis Automotive Group. Other accomplished and influential leaders include CAMAC International Holdings CEO Kase Lawal; J3 Advisory Group CEO Leonard James III; Windsor Village United Methodist Church Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell; and former NASA astronaut and Vesalius Ventures, Inc. CEO Bernard A. Harris Jr.

Houston also claims one of the most robust and effective business development and advocacy organizations in the country. The Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1935 as Houston’s first black civic organization and currently led by Chairwoman Courtney Johnson Rose, is the go-to source for business development and strategic partnership opportunities, as well as education, capital, and contacts for entrepreneurs.

We’re also excited to work with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city’s second black mayor, and his team. It’s worth noting that it was during the mayoral term of Lee Brown (1998-2004), Houston’s first African American mayor, that the city was named No. 1 on Black Enterprise’s list of Top Cities for African Americans to Live, Work, and Play, edging out perennial black business meccas, including Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Past Summits have been headlined, in recent years, by outstanding business achievers, ranging from Steve Harvey and Miko Branch, to Magic Johnson and T.D. Jakes. Our line-up for Houston will continue that standard. Stay informed via BlackEnterprise.com as well as on our social media platforms for the outstanding speakers and empowering sessions we’ll have lined up for the newest edition of the Entrepreneurs Summit—including some innovative new surprises.

The goal of the Entrepreneurs Summit and the mission of Black Enterprise is to be both an ally and partner with you on your entrepreneurial journey. Simply put, we not only want to see you start and run businesses, we are committed to helping you win—and win big—with entrepreneurship. However, we can’t do it without you.

I urge you to commit now by registering to join us in Houston. Together, we can take black business to the next level.

Power in the Boardroom: Directing the World’s Largest Companies

board

Any CEO weighing strategic decisions that determine the future direction and fate of stakeholders at one of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies would find himself in the best possible position, if Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson served on its corporate board—and for good reason. The former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair’s experience and background—which intersects corporate, academic, and government worlds—has made her an invaluable asset to an array of boards grappling with critical 21st  century business matters. Dealing with issues such as big data and high-performance computing (IBM); transportation and logistics (FedEx); energy efficiency (Public Service Enterprise Group); and biotechnology and life sciences (Medtronic) have all been a part of Jackons’ portfolio. As such, she’s adroitly handled the complexities and demands of multiple boards, in large part, because they overlap with her institution’s “signature research thrust areas” as well as connects with her enthusiasm for effective corporate governance. “In lieu of what some people would call relaxation, I enjoy these things,” she says.

Shellye Archambeau, CEO of Metric Stream—which develops governance, risk, and compliance apps for major companies—represents another blue-chip board selection. The 30-year tech industry veteran offers her insights in boardroom deliberations as a corporate director of two companies under reconstruction: New York-based Verizon Communications, which in the past year has acquired AOL for $4.4 billion and Yahoo’s operating business for $4.83 billion in its bid to become the global leader in mobile media, and Seattle-based upmarket retailer Nordstrom, which continues its expansion in the e-commerce space. Moreover, this Silicon Valley CEO engaged in board service with these two powerhouses. This is because they “have high integrity, strong corporate cultures, have a good business, are undergoing transformation—because that’s just a personal interest of mine. They are, indeed, embracing the future role of technology.”

Jackson and Archambeau can be found on this year’s exclusive Black Enterprise Registry of Corporate Directors, highlighting African Americans making significant contributions as some of the nation’s most powerful guardians of shareholder value. Our listing includes 216 board members from a universe of the 300 largest companies found on the S&P 500 based on market capitalization as of May 20, 2016. (We expanded the list from the S&P 250 to create a more complete snapshot of board diversity across a range of highly valued companies in various industries.)

BE Research produced the listing after 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.

Here’s why our registry should hold significance for you: These business leaders are charged with the fiduciary responsibility to increase shareholder value by making decisions—everything from acquisitions and divestitures to executive compensation and corporate layoffs—that can ultimately maximize earnings, dividends, and the stock price. As such, these corporate watchdogs ensure the continued viability of American industry, including trillions of assets and millions of managers, rank-and-file employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

“That’s the important thing. In the end, the board is there to ensure the return to the shareholders, while serving the markets it serves and providing excellent careers for the people who work there,” says Jackson. “That’s an overall framework, starting with the company being profitable and doing what it needs to do in that regard—in an ethical way, of course. That’s what the board is about, and that’s what the board members are about. In the end, what happens on a board is going to depend on competency, camaraderie, and hard work.”

Moreover, we hold to the same contention that the critical factors that drive 21st century competitiveness—continuous innovation, shifting demographics, and gaining a significant share of black consumer and business markets—means corporations can ill afford to operate without the presence of African Americans in the oversight process. In this year’s special report, we also examine African American female representation (see “Where Are Black Women in the Boardroom?” this issue). “A focus of mine is, if one is sitting on the boards, to look at the question of what those pipelines look like in those companies,” says Jackson.

For four years, Black Enterprise has produced our registry as a measurement of boardroom inclusion, especially within the elusive tech sector. Our annual listing has had the impact of a sledgehammer related to the diversification of corporate governance ranks. CEOs and board nominating committees of the largest publicly traded companies have reviewed the list and, in many cases, immediately took steps to diversify their boards. State and local treasurers, pension fund heads, shareholder activists, institutional investors, corporate diversity organization honchos, civil rights groups, and even the Congressional Black Caucus, have used Black Enterprise’s data to initiate their own advocacy efforts.

As a result of sharing this information, a number of high-profile Silicon Valley firms eventually stepped up and placed African Americans on boards. For instance, Apple Inc. appointed James Bell, the former CFO and corporate president of The Boeing Co., making big news in corporate governance circles last September. His selection served as a bellwether sign for the advancement of board diversity at major Silicon Valley companies, since BE began its report in 2013, when we identified S&P tech companies that refused to seat African American corporate directors. It makes sense that Apple would select Bell since he holds a vast wealth of knowledge and expertise, as a 38-year veteran of the world’s largest airplane manufacturer. Not only did Bell guide Boeing through its most turbulent years, but he also retired as the highest ranking African American executive in its corporate history. Since gaining the appointment, he has played vital roles on the Audit committee. Bell, who spoke to senior black executives at an ELC corporate board initiative forum, maintained that it was crucial for black directors to raise issues of companywide diversity at board meetings.

There have been a number of other milestone appointments at tech companies. In May, BET Networks CEO Debra Lee was named to the board of the social media innovator, Twitter, becoming the first African American elected to its board. And in July, Roger Ferguson, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and CEO of financial services leviathan TIAA, became the first African American elected to the board of Alphabet, the parent of Google. He serves on its Audit committee.“I’m so excited that Roger has agreed to join our board,” said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet’s board of directors in a statement. “He has a long record of distinguished and thoughtful service in the private and public sectors, and deeply understands how technology can improve the lives of people around the world.”

“I’ve long admired Google’s and Alphabet’s positive impact on people across the globe,” Ferguson said in a press release. “I’m honored to join the Alphabet board and look forward to helping the company in its many terrific opportunities ahead.” He joined the U.S. Federal Reserve System in 1997 and served as its vice chairman from 1999 to 2006. He has also been a member of the board of directors for General Mills Inc. since December 2015.

Says Archambeau of the new developments, “I think it’s all a good sign and a good indication that companies are beginning to realize the value and importance of having board members that are indeed diverse and represent their target customers.[…] I think it’s come about as a result of, frankly, focus and scrutiny. I think when you put something under the spotlight, it will improve.”

However, Archambeau believes that such diversity efforts must be monitored, “I think it’s something that, periodically, you have to go back and check. It’s like anything else; you have to inspect what you expect.”

How to Protect Your Finances When Love Is New

money and relationships

money and relationshipsMixing money and relationships takes education, skill and emotional intelligence. Each year, thousands of people are victimized by the belief that the pursuit of love justifies taking risks, especially with their finances. The temptation to make financial decisions in the name of love can be especially pronounced in the months leading up to Valentine’s Day, when the pressure to be ‘coupled-up’ can reach a fever pitch.

As a result, too many people emerge from romantic relationships with bigger problems than just broken hearts and hurt feelings. Making poor decisions with money and relationships often results in empty bank accounts, devastated credit histories, crushing debt, and even bankruptcies. My wife, business partner, and personal growth speaker and trainer Zara D. Green and I address these risks and realities with our Grown Love and Money (GLAM) Sessions. We present GLAM at events such as Bishop T.D. Jakes’ MegaFest and Tom Joyner’s Fantastic Voyage Foundation Cruise. Our message to session attendees: “I did it for love” is a sad, sorry excuse for poor financial decision-making, and will provide no protection against its consequences.

The truth is, in too many cases, the object of your desire is more interested in the money in your wallet than the love in your heart. To protect yourself, here are key dos and don’ts—and major red flags that should never be ignored—in order to avoid destroying your finances in the name of love.

DO NOT cosign on credit cards, car loans, cell phone contracts, or other joint financial commitments just because you are in love.

When you cosign on a loan that goes into default, you—not the primary borrower—will most likely end up having to pay off the loan.

DO draw a hard line against requests for loans and other financial assistance.

A love interest making a request to borrow money are a major red flag, especially in a new relationship. If you feel you must grant such a request, insist on a written agreement laying out repayment terms signed by both you and your would-be Valentine. Otherwise, you’ll have no way to prove the money you gave was a loan (not a gift) and you’ll have virtually no way to get it back. If she becomes hurt, angry, or resentful of you, or is otherwise resistant to signing such an agreement, hold on to your money—and pump the brakes on the relationship.

DO keep your PIN, bank account numbers, ATM passwords, and other personal financial information protected.

Far too often, acquaintances perpetrate identity theft, fraud, and other financial crimes. They are more likely than strangers to able to gain access to your information. This is because they spend time with you, especially in your home. Keep all sensitive financial documents, including checkbooks and bank statements, out of sight in a safe, secure place. There is no reason a love interest, short of marriage, should have your Social Security number and other sensitive information. Consider it a major red flag if they ever ask or press you to share it, especially early in a new relationship.

DO NOT assume financial responsibility for an adult dependent.

Is your new sweetheart looking for a romantic partner? Or is he seeking a source of interest-free financing, with no repayment required? For the sake of your finances, resist the temptation to financially support adult dependents in return for their affections. Be especially suspicious of people who are in a constant state of financial emergency and expect you to come to their rescue.

Key questions to ask with money and relationships.

When you are tempted to make decisions with money and relationships that could put your financial health at risk, always ask: Would I make the same financial decision if I were not romantically interested or involved with this person? Would a person who was not a romantic interest expect me to? Would she even feel she had the right to ask? If the answer is no, don’t do it.

Black Enterprise Executive Editor-At-Large Alfred Edmond Jr. is an award-winning business and financial journalist, media executive, entrepreneurship expert,  personal growth/relationships coach, and co-founder of Grown Zone, a relationship education initiative focused on personal growth and healthy decision-making. This blog is dedicated to his thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership and mentorship. Follow him on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr