These four books by Black Fortune 500 CEOs are must-reads

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 19, 2024 1:06 PM EDT
Four must-read books by Black Fortune 500 CEOs

There have been fewer than 25 Black Fortune 500 CEOs since the list was first published nearly 70 years ago. Although Black people make up more than one-eighth of the U.S. population, only a limited number make it to the C-suite. This divide has been attributed to recruitment processes by companies, assessment criteria and length of time to join the management track, among others.

In light of this, Black Fortune 500 CEOs increasingly share their experiences and the lessons they learned on the way to the top in any way possible. Books have become a highly demanded medium. Notably, these CEOs emphasize trusting in one’s abilities and striving for excellence. Their stories are a source of inspiration and demystify what it takes to be a leading Black CEO in corporate America.

These four books by Black Fortune 500 CEOs make our compilation of some of the best books in this category:

1. Privilege and Prejudice by Clifton R. Wharton Jr.
Wharton Jr. was fortunate to born into a prosperous family, his father was the Career Ambassador of the United States Foreign Service. A study in excellence, Wharton joined Harvard at only 16, was the first Black student accepted to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and received 63 honorary doctorates throughout his lifetime. He made history as the first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company when he took the top position at TIAA-CREF in 1987. Despite his remarkable accomplishments, Wharton was met with negative expectations and racial stereotypes. Privilege and Prejudice details a historic career, challenging the norms and navigating treacherous times. It is an inspiration for anyone looking to break ground in their career.

2. Where You Are Is Not Who You Are: A Memoir by Ursula Burns
Burns became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took over at Xerox in 2009. She recounts her journey from the New York Projects to becoming an engineer and corporate leader. Burns went from being uncertain and filled with doubts to trusting in her abilities. She imparts knowledge on how to defeat poverty, leverage opportunities and embrace your unique identity. A trailblazer for women all over the world, Burns is the personification of grit and hard work.
“There was nothing I could do about being Black or a woman, and I wouldn’t have changed it if I could. I liked being a novelty. It gave me a high profile among the Fortune 500 CEOs, and I used it to inspire women of all races,” said Burns in her memoir.

3. Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success by Donald Thompson
Thompson was an elementary school entrepreneur, he worked the graveyard shift in a self-storage warehouse, and hawked mortgages in his youth. He was working for a military aircraft manufacturer when he was called to join McDonald’s. He learned on the job, quickly rose up the corporate ladder, and was the third choice for the CEO position. Thompson highlights how to utilize one’s talents, expect the unexpected and follow one’s dream. Underestimated is an ideal book for anyone looking to change their lives or leverage their underdog position for a successful career.

4. Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization by Ron Williams
The son of a bus driver and a manicurist, Williams describes himself as “the least likely person ever to lead a $34 billion corporation.” He rose organically through the corporate to actualize his distant dreams of corporate America. A transformational leader, he turned around Aetna’s struggling finances from a net loss of $292 million to nearly double in revenue within a decade. Williams illustrates what the steps it takes to develop a organization’s strategy, culture, operating performance and produce financial results. He draws his lessons from his experiences and those of his CEO friends.