Soon, there will be just 3 black Fortune 500 CEOs

Ursula Burns: From public housing to CEO
Ursula Burns: From public housing to CEO

Soon there will be only three black CEOs leading America’s largest companies.

Kenneth Chenault, the longtime chief executive of American Express, is retiring early next year. Unless another company hires a black CEO, that will leave Merck, TIAA and JCPenney as the only businesses in the Fortune 500 with black leaders.

And all three of those leaders are men. There hasn’t been a black woman CEO in the Fortune 500 since Ursula Burns left Xerox last year.

The number of black executives leading America’s largest companies is always dismally low — though three is particularly low and dismal. In 2007, there were seven black CEOs heading Fortune 500 companies. The number was six in 2013, and five in 2015.

Chenault announced Wednesday that he will step down from the top job at Amex after 37 years, including 16 as CEO.

The remaining three black CEOs in the Fortune 500 are Merck’s(MRK) Ken Frazier, TIAA’s Roger Ferguson and JCPenney’s(JCP) Marvin Ellison. Frazier is the only black CEO at a company in the Dow 30.

With so few black leaders, each exit is noteworthy.

Burns left her post as head of Xerox(XRX) last year when the company split in two, and Rodney O’Neal retired from his role as CEO and president of Delphi(DLPH) in 2015. Don Thompson stepped down as CEO of McDonald’s(MCD) in 2015 as well.

The lack of diversity in corporate America extends to the boardroom: Just 5.6% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies are held by black men, and just 2.2% held by black women, according to the Executive Leadership Council, which promotes diversity in corporate America.

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