At Their Peaks: Top African-American Women CEOs

January 13, 2012  |  
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Black women have battled the brick wall that blocks the glass ceiling for decades. But the climb up the corporate ladder to the C-suite, that suite belonging to a companies Chief Executive Officer, has been conquered by several notable African American women. Women like Ursala Burns and Oprah Winfrey make success look achievable and have certainly made leading major corporations a sistah thang.  Here’s our list of top ten black female CEOs:

Ursala Burns

Ursala Burns became the black superwoman of corporate America when she was appointed the first African American CEO of a fortune 500 company, Xerox, in 2009. Since then she has catapulted her profile with savvy business moves like leading the company’s biggest transaction to date: a $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, a business-process outsourcing company. With that move, Burns showed her plans to expand Xerox beyond the technology its known for. As head of the corporate giant, Burns commands not only a $4.1 million salary, she also earned the coveted title of one of the world’s most powerful women according to Forbes Magazine.

Debra Lee

Debra Lee, became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BET Holdings, Inc. (BET), in 2005. As head of the media and entertainment company which is a viable division of Viacom, Inc. Lee increased the production budget by 50% resulting in an  influx of original programming including Love that Girl with executive producer Martin Lawrence and resurrecting the popular former CW sitcom The Game. Prior to her being named CEO, Lee served as President and Chief Operating Officer of BET Networks for nine years. She joined the company in 1986 as Vice President and General Counsel.

Desiree Rogers

After leaving her prestigious post as the White House Social Secretary, Desiree Rogers took over a staple in the black community. Rogers became CEO of Johnson Publishing in August 2010 which of course is the mother-ship of publications Ebony and Jet magazines. As the new head of the company she’s made it her mission to expand the digital presence of both magazines. Rogers who holds a M.B.A. from Harvard University, is also committed to increasing the companies’ revenues after Ebony saw a decline in ads of 11.2% in 2010.


Iman can brag to being more than just a pretty face. The former super model from Somalia is the founder and CEO of IMAN Cosmetics which she launched in 1994. She promotes the IMAN brand among women of color, and now sells skincare and cosmetics around the world. Ten years after she started the company, the fifty-something beauty entered into a multi-year licensing agreement with Procter & Gamble Cosmetics for international distribution of her IMAN and I-IMAN products. As of 2010, Iman cosmetics is a $25 million a year corporation.

Oprah Winfrey

As one of only a handful of black people to earn billionaire status, Oprah Gail Winfrey has proven she has a head for business. She’s also a risk taker. Winfrey proved as much when she launched her OWN network. A few months ago the former queen of Daytime, added another title to her enviable resume: CEO of OWN.  Launched on January 1, 2011, OWN is now Winfrey’s focus, after moving on from The Oprah Winfrey Show, which ran for 25 seasons and remains the highest-rated TV talk show in history, with a viewership that spanned 110 countries.

Sheila Johnson

Sheila C. Johnson is not a household name, but few black households can say they’ve never heard of her contribution to television. She is the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, better known as BET and was the creator of award winning program “Teen Summit”. But when her ex-husband Bob Johnson made the call to sell BET to Viacom, they both became billionaires. With her earnings Johnson founded and became CEO of Salamander Hospitality, LLC in 2005. Those lucky enough to enjoy the oasis get to relax at the Woodlands Inn in Summerville, South Carolina, Innisbrook,  a 72-hole Golf & Spa Resort in Innisbrook, Florida, and the Salamander Resort & Spa, in Middleburg, Virginia.

Tracey Edmonds

Tracey Edmonds has proven there is room in Hollywood for black women. She is the President and CEO of Edmonds Entertainment, a multi-million dollar company that produced the critically acclaimed hit film Soul Food and the groundbreaking reality show College Hill, the first African American reality program on BET. The former Mrs. “Babyface” also is COO of Robert Johnson’s Our Stories Films which was the first African American owned film studio. Last year the company produced “Jumping the Broom.”

Janice Bryant Howroyd

The founder and CEO of Act One Personnel Services, Janice Bryant Howroyd started the company  in 1978 with just $1,500. Today Act One is worth a reported $500 million and provides staffing solutions for corporations across the U.S. In fact it is said to be the largest certified woman minority-owned staffing company in the nation. Known as a visionary and pioneer among black women in business, Howroyd stands by the belief that people do their best work when their personal strengths are both nurtured and challenged.

Kim D. Saunders

As president and CEO at Mechanics & Farmers Bank, Kim Saunders has made her mark in the financial industry by guiding the bank through its first acquisition in more than eight decades with Mutual Community Savings Bank. The profitable move made the financial institution worth over $300 million. Saunders has been in the role of CEO since February 2007.

Suzanne Shank

Suzanne Shank has held the position Chief Executive Officer and President of Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., LLC since 1996. The company has carved out a niche servicing state and local governments with  municipal underwriting and financial advisory services. The funds are used for education, housing, health services, transportation, utilities, capital facilities, redevelopment, and general infrastructure sectors. Among her accomplishments, Shank lists member of the Board of SIFMA. She also recently served a three-year term on the Board of Directors for the Bond Market Association.

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