Executive Leadership Council's 20th

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Photo: Carl Brooks, President & Chief Executive Officer of The Executive Leadership Council
Photo Credit: Re-Volve Solutions

The Executive Leadership Council, the nation's premier leadership organization of the most senior-level African American corporate executives in Fortune 500 companies, climaxed its yearlong 20th anniversary celebration at its annual black tie gala, Celebrating our Progress, Facing Tomorrow's Challenges. The awards gala recognized The Council's two decades of building the Black leadership pipeline in corporate America and honored two African American leaders and a pro-diversity corporation. The Executive Leadership Council was founded in 1986 by 19 Black corporate executives -- 18 men and one woman. Today, the organization has nearly 400 members -- one-third of them women.

During this year's annual recognition dinner held October 26, 2006, induction ceremonies were held for 11 of the 20 new members joining The Council.  Earlier in the day, 30 CEOs attended The Council's 6th Annual CEOs Diversity Summit and more than 70 CEOs were gathered among the 2,500 Dinner attendees. CEO advocates supporting The Council's mission and message were further highlighted in an inspirational video produced by the Target Corporation for the evening. 

Award winners recognized at the gala were Dr. Johnnetta Cole, President, Bennett College for Women, winner of the Alvaro Martins Heritage Award, named for The Council's beloved founding member; Council Member, Clarence Otis Jr., CEO, Darden Restaurants, winner of the Achievement Award for his meteoric rise to the C-suite; and Altria Group, Inc., parent company of Kraft Foods, Inc., Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International, winner of the Corporate Award for their pro-diversity efforts. 

Hip-hop music relating the story of The Council's founding was performed by young artists from Studio 4-High School for Recording Arts in Minnesota's Twin Cities during the procession of CEOs and senior African American executives representing The Leadership/Legacy's 20 corporate sponsors and leaders engaged in a Thought Leadership and Public Recognition initiative to highlight The Council's advocacy.   

Other anniversary leadership events included the participation of some 1,500 African American professionals attending the 12th Annual Mid Level Managers Symposium, October 27, and graduation ceremonies for 35 high potential mid-level managers who completed The Council's year long developmental program under the Institute for Leadership Development & Research.

In a message to the organization, President and CEO, Carl Brooks reflected on the Council's amazing growth:

"Over the last 20 years, we have seen substantial growth in our membership, our programs and our impact on Corporate America and our nation. What has never changed has been our unwavering commitment to the key objectives upon which this organization was founded. Today, we still work to provide a much needed network for African American senior executives, developing a robust leadership pipeline of the next generation of globally adept African American business leaders, and serving as a champion of policies and initiatives that promote and spotlight the power of inclusive leadership as well as strengthening the economics of the African American community."

During the anniversary dinner, Brooks declared, "There is power in the Black corporate pipeline," and said the Dinner had succeeded in raising some $7 million dollars.

Actor and producer, Daphne Reid joined her husband actor/producer Tim Reid as emcees for the 20th anniversary event.  Reid congratulated Brooks on The organization's success stating, "You have really positioned ELC for the future. Congratulations."

Leadership/Legacy 20
This year, multiple companies sponsored the 20th Anniversary Dinner gala. Global insurance company, AIG, led by CEO Martin Sullivan, was the Lead Dinner Sponsor and leader of the Leadership/Legacy 20 initiative.  Thirteen other companies joined AIG in The Council"s Thought Leadership and Public Recognition initiative designed to support The Council and to advance corporate diversity efforts.  

The title, Leadership/Legacy 20, represents The Council's two decades of advocacy and the leadership of companies -- new and old -- who are collaborating to endow The Council's future and to build a positive legacy of diversity and inclusion within their companies and corporate America.  The 14 Leadership/Legacy companies are: AIG, Altria Group, Inc., BP, The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorganChase, MasterCard Worldwide, The New York Times Company, PepsiCo, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Target Corporation, Tyco International, United Airlines, and Verizon.

Jessica Isaacs, Dinner Committee Chair and Senior Vice President, Field Operations and Global Reinsurance, AIU Personals Line, AIG,  said, "We have set new standards for ourselves and we should be proud. Overall, The ELC and its member CEOS are truly changing the corporate landscape and diversifying the senior-most levels of corporations, now more than ever." 

During his remarks at the recognition dinner, AIG Chairman and CEO, Martin Sullivan challenged Council members to continue to make real change happen and to advance the business case for diversity with the vital pipeline of highly skilled professionals and executives. He also acknowledged that, diversity efforts must be supported by CEOs.

Council board member Laysha Ward, Vice President, Target Corporation, emphasized the need for The Council to keep building the pipeline of talent at companies. The next generation of leaders are already at our companies” She said. A special video created by Target echoed the success of The ELC and the impact of African American senior leaders through provocative insights offered by Fortune 500 CEOs Ken Chenault, American Express; Jeff Immelt, General Electric; Anne Mulcahy, Xerox and Clarence Otis Jr., Darden Restaurants.  Immelt and Chenault explained why African American corporate leaders are community role models to influence the next generation.
Honoring the Legends:

20th anniversary events recognized The Council's founding members and the advocacy of African American leaders in education and the corporate C-suite, as well as CEO leaders supporting The Council and the Next Generation.

Dr. Johnnetta Cole felt in union with the mission of the organization. She said, "The mission is what I believe in and work for -- education. The ELC is helping Black folk to soar to the corporate arenas and beyond." She reminded everyone to reach back and help others.

Clarence Otis, Chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants, who has roots in Mississippi, said his parents prepared him for success.  "They prepared us for unlimited possibilities by teaching us to work hard and seek excellence and with that we could do anything," Otis stated. 

Council Member, Ingrid Saunders of Coca Cola also helped recognize the 19 leaders of the past, those who are leading us now and the young leaders who will lead us in the future, inviting ELC Youth Scholarship winners, Council leaders and the 12 founding members represented onstage.

A special salute
The moving 20th Anniversary dinner program ended with a very special guest -- the 2006 Grammy Award winner John Legend, who shared his link to the ELC.  Legend, who holds an MBA, began his business career under the mentorship of ELC member, Jim Lowry with The Boston Consulting Group. After graduating college, Legend worked for The Boston Consulting Group, but continued performing and touring with nationally known recording artists such as Musiq Soulchild, Jaheim and Floetry. The entertainer's big break came when he was introduced to hip-hop artist and producer, Kanye West and was later featured on albums by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. During the ELC event, Legend performed and shared songs from his new album.

Other performers during the recognition dinner included the Sherry Winston Band, and artists Donte Suttles and Aleesha Clomon from Minnesota's Twin Cities High School for Recording Arts, performing youth oriented, message music highlighting The Council's history and the activism of Black executives in corporate America.

Congratulations to ELC.

For more information, send email to jstevens@elcinfo.com.

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