Black Businessmen Penetrating the Glass Ceilings at Top American Companies


The month of February saw African-Americans named to prominent positions at two of America’s leading corporations, continuing an ongoing trend of progress at the highest levels of business.

Earlier this month, John Thompson, CEO of Virtual Instruments and the former CEO of Symantec, was named chairman of Microsoft’s board of directors. In Maryland, Baltimore Gas & Electric Company announced that Calvin G. Butler, senior vice president of regulatory and external affairs, will take over the role of CEO in March.

As Black CEO’s of large American corporations, Thompson and Butler join Don Thompson who in July 2012 took over as president and CEO of McDonald’s Corp. after 22 years with the company. In a nation with only seven Black executive officers among its 500 largest corporations, according to a list compiled by Blackentrepreneurprofile.com, these three Black men have overcome considerable odds to reach some of the highest positions in American industry.

Prior to being named president and CEO, Don Thompson served as president and COO of McDonald’s Corp. from 2010 to 2012. According to an interview he gave to Franchise Times in 2008, Thompson was raised by his grandmother, who moved him away from a troubled neighborhood three blocks from the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago to Indianapolis when he was 11 years old.

Thompson, 50, went on to study engineering at Purdue University, and began his career at McDonald’s as an electrical engineer in 1990. He helped oversee implementation of his predecessor’s “Plan to Win” corporate strategy, which introduced the dollar menu, as well as a number of healthy menu items and premium coffee. From 2006 to 2010, Thompson served as president of McDonald’s USA, helping to guide the operations of McDonald’s nearly 14,000 U.S. restaurants.

A member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Thompson has remained connected to the organization and its ideals. In 2009, Thompson received the presidential inspiration award from Alpha Phi Alpha.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Thompson, and his wife Liz, are also working to provide young African-American men with greater access to higher education and assisting the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Thompson is an active member of the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago and sits on the board of the Brazier Foundation, an organization headed by his pastor and whose mission is to improve the quality of life in African-American neighborhoods, said Heidi Barker, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s.

John Thompson will replace former board chairman and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who stepped down as chairman and will serve in an advisory role to new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

According to The San Jose Mercury News, Thompson was raised in Florida. His parents worked as a teacher and postal worker. He graduated from Florida A&M University with a degree in business, and would later receive a master’s degree in management from MIT.

After graduating from Florida A&M in 1971, he began his career as a salesman for IBM, where he would spend 28 years in a number of different roles, including general manager of IBM Americas. He left IBM to serve as CEO of Symantec in 1999, where he remained for 10 years.

As chairman of the board at Microsoft, he will help oversee the company’s officers and be responsible to shareholders for the company’s performance. In addition to his business exploits, Thompson has served on the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee, which studies the security of the country’s infrastructure. He was named to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which studied and made recommendations to Congress regarding the financial crisis that began in 2008 and ways to avoid a similar economic emergency in the future.

Butler received a degree in public relations and political science from Bradley University, southwest of Chicago, in 1991. While at Bradley, Butler became a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and the student government. He went on to earn a law degree from St. Louis University’s School of Law in 1994.

According to his biography released by BGE, Butler has received numerous awards for his leadership in business and service to the community, including the Chicago Tribune and YMCA African-American and Hispanic Leadership Award in 2003 and a Mahogany Foundation Award for Black Achievers in 2002. He has also served on the boards of the Chicago Public Library Foundation and Voices for Illinois Children.

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Black Businessmen Penetrating the Glass Ceilings at Top American Companies

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