Black C-suite leaders unite to share expertise with future generations of execs
In the pursuit of championing equitable opportunities for all Black marketing executives in the industry today—and enshrining that access for the many generations of leaders to come—a coalition of more than two dozen Black C-suite professionals has come together under one banner to offer their expertise to those in need.
Contrary to its name, the newly announced Black Executive CMO Alliance, more commonly referred to by its acronym BECA, isn’t just a club for chief marketing officers; its 26 founding members are an indispensable mix of presidents and VPs, CEOs and global heads, all of whom hail from a range of iconic consumer and business-to-business brands.
BECA was established by Jerri DeVard, an industry veteran who has held the role of chief marketer at companies including Citibank, ADT and Nokia over the years, after she noticed that quick conversations with her peers last year were often extending for an hour or more, with deep issues repeatedly coming up. “As I hung up the phone with the fourth or fifth person, I said, ‘There’s something going on here,’” she says.
Realizing a group at “the intersection of Black and C-suite and marketing” did not yet exist, DeVard set about gauging the interest of fellow Black executives and recruiting leaders who’d come to lay the framework of BECA, all based around four key pillars: “Share, learn, elevate, and pay it forward,” she says.
On sharing, DeVard says that the group’s members will be able to speak of collective experiences in a safe, closed-door environment that’ll enable all to benefit. On learning, BECA members can share in detail the struggles and triumphs that come with the job, and discuss the “common feelings” that come with being Black in the C-suite. The elevate pillar is focused on elevating the profession, providing role models and emphasizing the power of marketing roles. And the “pay it forward” aspect will materialize as coaching sessions and mentorships, allowing marketers to share personal insights on how to recover from inevitable stumbles.
“Anyone who says they haven’t made mistakes or hasn’t had any roadblocks isn’t telling you the truth,” DeVard says. “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.”
Through those actionable pillars, BECA will be able to execute its mission of being “catalysts for change” in addressing existing inequities and leaving the industry in better shape than it was found for future generations of Black marketing talent. The group will also foster an environment of networking between its industry-leading members and newcomers to the field.
“When you start to break new barriers, you have to pull people through. You have to bring the best parts of who you are, both as an individual and as a leader,” says Anton Vincent, North American president of Mars Wrigley and one of BECA’s founding members, who notes the group features some of “the best marketing talent in the world,” regardless of cultural or racial background. And, as the world evolves to cater to more diverse consumers, “it’s absolutely critical to have [marketers] around the table that have those lived experiences,” he says.
Those shared experiences of BECA’s founding members won’t just be lent to consumer-facing media, but also to another integral element of the group’s mission: what DeVard calls “ships”—internships, mentorships, fellowships—that will open doors for future generations of Black marketers who are desperately needed in an industry that has long been defined by poor representation.
Black people currently account for just over 3% of senior leadership roles at large U.S. corporations, and despite a significant increase in diversity, equity and inclusion commitments recently, that startlingly low statistic has remained stagnant over the past few years, according to data from Coqual and the Association of National Advertisers.
But with the formation of BECA and its phenomenal talent pool, DeVard hopes more Black marketers will be given the chance to step up and increase that 3% figure. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she says.
Below is the complete list of BECA’s founding members, in alphabetical order:
• Paul Alexander; CMO and chief communications officer, Eastern Bank
• Nadja Bellan-White; global CMO, Vice Media
• Esi Eggleston Bracey; executive VP and chief operating officer, personal care, Unilever North America
• Jerri DeVard; founder, Black Executive CMO Alliance
• Chris Foster; president, BCW North America
• Sharon Harris; global CMO, Jellyfish
• Susan Somersille Johnson; CMO, Prudential Financial
• Ramon Jones; executive VP and CMO, Nationwide Insurance
• Lauren Kelly; CMO, ThoughtExchange
• Remi Kent; global CMO, 3M
• Candace Matthews; chief reputation officer, Amway
• Kirk McDonald; CEO, GroupM North America
• Ukonwa Kuzi-Orizu Ojo; global CMO, Prime Video and Amazon Studios
• Kimberly E. Paige; executive VP and CMO, ViacomCBS—BET Networks
• Gail Peterson; senior VP and CMO, Ecolab
• Bozoma Saint John; global CMO, Netflix
• Ralph Santana; executive VP and global CMO, Harman International
• Vicky Free Sistrunk, senior VP, global brand marketing, Adidas
• Will Smith; senior VP and CMO, PetSmart
• Janice Tennant; CMO, Merrell
• Najoh Tita-Reid; head of global marketing, Logitech
• Dara Treseder; senior VP, head of global marketing and communications, Peloton
• Anton Vincent; president, Mars Wrigley, North America
• Kevin Warren; CMO, UPS
• Julie Spencer Washington; CMO and chief experience officer, Trinity Health
• Jacqueline Woods; CMO and chief operating officer, NielsenIQ