Race to the Top: Getting Ahead in Corporate America For the New Year

ABOVE: Ken Chenault, American Express CEO and Chairman

Boy…did this year go by fast. We are already approaching a New Year – 2017.

As you know, with every New Year, there will be NEW changes.

I am pleased that so many of you have been so interested in getting ahead at work and taking a few minutes each week to read the Race to the Top race-to-the-toparticles, or simply sharing the article with someone you know.

The goal has been simple: to answer the questions that come up most at the beginning and throughout a career. And, if all goes well, great companies will find and keep great talent.

It’s hard to believe it has been almost 15 years since Newsweek Magazine published a cover story on the three Black Americans about to reach the top jobs in corporate America.

Dick Parsons, viewed as “deal maker,” was set to lead AOL-Time Warner, a mega media enterprise. Stanley O’Neal, a one-time stock broker, was about to take the helm at Merrill Lynch, one of the nation’s leading brokerage organizations. And, Ken Chenault, with 25 years at the company, was about to take over American Express, known for its commitment to customer service and its affluent customer base.

I remember the excitement. Until then, there were no clear signs that African Americans were rising to the top jobs in corporate America. And, in each case, their predecessors whole-heartedly supported their replacements, commenting that race was not a factor in the decision.

It would be very difficult to argue that these three men did anything during their careers other than over perform. While all three were very different managers, with different styles, they all knew their organizations and their cultures. And, importantly, all three were focused on making sure that people of color could enter and excel in corporate America, just like any other group.

I started working at American Express before Ken Chenault became CEO and had the pleasure of representing the company for many years under his leadership. My job in Corporate Affairs and Communications gave me an invaluable opportunity to work with him, learn from him and to be part of efforts to build camaraderie and create opportunities for talented people in the organization. Ken was, I thought, very open when it came to career advice – and he expected leaders to do the same.

Through this column, I am going to continue to try and live up to Ken’s example: the advice won’t always be easy to accept, but it will help people get ahead at work. Even in the current economic environment, Houston is poised to create more opportunities than any other major city in the country. That means lots of people can succeed.

Have a great New Year and keep reading Race to the Top!

Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs. She wants to answer your career questions, so you can get ahead at work. Email them to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com, rttcareers.com or your other connect at the Houston Forward Times.