As Black History Month draws to a close this week, the team at Slick Marketers wanted to do our part to recognize some of the Black American business leaders that we admire. As a business ourselves, we believe there’s so much to learn from the following individuals .The 5 Black American business leaders that we’d like to recognize are David Steward, Don Thompson, Ramona Hood, Ursula M. Burns, and Robert F. Smith.
David Steward is the chairman of World Wide Technology (WWT). Steward grew up in the then-segregated Southern city of Clinton, Missouri, where he would go on to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in business from Central Missouri State University. After working his way up in jobs at Wagner Electric, Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. and Federal Express, he founded WWT in 1990. The company, an IT provider based in Maryland Heights, Missouri, is the largest Black American owned business in the country.
Don Thompson is an engineer and business executive best known for his tenure as McDonald’s chief executive from 2012-2015. Thompson was born in Chicago but raised in Indianapolis, where he would later earn a bachelor’s degree in science from Purdue University. He joined McDonald’s in 1990 after working as a military aircraft manufacturer. Through the next 25 years, Thompson would work his way up from a project manager, to a staff director, to a position in operations, to president, and finally CEO. He now works on the board of directors at Beyond Meat, in addition to founding Cleveland Avenue LLC.
Ramona Hood is the CEO of FedEx Custom Critical. However, she initially started out as a receptionist at Robert’s Express, which would eventually become FedEx Custom Critical. As a single mother who took night classes and earned a bachelor of arts in business management from Walsh University, Hood worked her way up from a receptionist to a position in the safety department, to operations, marketing, and finally sales and sourcing. Before becoming CEO, Ramona also went on to earn an executive MBA from Case Western Reserve University Weatherhood School of Management. After becoming CEO in January 2020, this made her the company’s first Black woman to lead a FedEx operating company.
Ursula M. Burns is the CEO of VEON, a multinational telecommunication services company. She was raised by a single mother in a public housing development in NYC, before eventually going on to earn a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1980. During her time in school, Burns took a summer internship at Xerox, joining them full time after earning a master’s in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. She eventually became CEO of Xerox, making her the first Black American woman to be named CEO of a major American corporation, before taking her position as CEO at VEON.
Robert F. Smith is the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. It’s worth noting that as a baby, his mother carried him at the March on Washington, where MLK delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Smith earned a bachelor in science in chemical engineering at Cornell University, eventually working at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Kraft General Foods and Goldman Sachs. Before branching out on his own and founding Vista Equity Partners, he also oversaw and advised on over $50 billion in mergers and acquisitions as the co-head of Enterprise Systems and Storage.
David Steward, Don Thompson, Ramona Hood, Ursula M. Burns, and Robert F. Smith are five Black American business leaders that have left an indelible mark on Black history. However, keep in mind that Black history is also American history. Thank you to all of our incredible business leaders, who have led the way and made outstanding contributions to our country.