Monday, November 5, 2007

Another "Legit" Black CEO Gets Canned

It's been a tough month for "legit" black CEO's. Just last week, Stanley O'Neal got elbowed out at Merrill Lynch, today bought even more bad news.

Time Warner Inc Chief Executive Richard Parsons will step down and be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Bewkes, CNBC reported on Monday. Bewkes, identified as the heir apparent since 2005, will take over the CEO job on January 1, CNBC said. Parsons will remain as chairman, according to the report, which said the plans will be announced later in the day.

The move comes at a time when investors are demanding Time Warner take drastic measures to boost its sluggish stock price, which has fallen back to approximately the same levels as when Parsons took over the company five years ago.
You could look at this two ways. 1) O'Neal and Parsons are getting railroaded early because they're black. Neither was given the same free reign, time, or resources as their predecessors to succeed. 2) O'Neal and Parsons getting canned is still a success. After all, blacks deserve the same opportunity to succeed, or fail, as anyone else.

In the grand scheme of things, I wonder if this signals a change in the opportunities that blacks have only recently been able to achieve at the top of the Corporate food chain. A recent NY Times article explored this same angle.
Along with ruminations on their legacies, their situations have triggered a debate over whether their accomplishments have helped break down barriers facing a younger generation of black executives angling for the corner office.

Industry observers and civil rights leaders say O'Neal's ouster has shed much-needed light on the dearth of blacks in so-called C-level positions in corporations, while underscoring the extent to which executive suites and boardrooms remain bastions of white male dominance.

The subject of race has proved to be delicate for black executives, many of whom prefer to view themselves as - at least publicly - ''an executive who happens to be black.'' They have earned the right through hard work, they say, to be judged on their merits.

Black executives preside over several large companies, including American Express (Kenneth I. Chenault), Aetna (Ronald A. Williams), Darden Restaurants (Clarence Otis Jr.), Sears (Aylwin B. Lewis) and Symantec (John W. Thompson). Several blacks also run or hold senior roles in major subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies, such as General Electric (Lloyd G. Trotter), McDonalds (Don Thompson), Boeing Co. (James A. Bell) and Xerox (Ursula Burns).

Although some bloggers last week raised questions of race in O'Neal's ouster, analysts and those with knowledge of Merrill's actions say that was not the case.

Beyond such visible exceptions as O'Neal and Parsons, some corporate diversity specialists say that in recent years, blacks have gradually lost ground in leadership pipelines to other minorities.

''When Carleton Fiorina left HP, people said it was a rough time for women in the executive suite, but women in corporate America seem to be doing a lot better these days than African-Americans,'' said Frank Dobbin, a professor of sociology at Harvard University who studies corporate diversity issues. ''Forty years after the Civil Rights Acts were passed, we're much further behind than we should be.''
I guess this all raises the question: if blacks, despite how hard we work, still can't get an equal shake when we raise to the tip top of our professions, is there really any reason to even try?

Maybe being a MySpace rapper/$30 bidness card "CEO" ain't too bad an option.

Is there really room at top for blacks? [NYTimes]

Time Warner CEO Parsons to step down [Reuters]

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