January 24th, 2008 | 7:06 am

Top African American Women in Business …Other than Oprah

filed under Movers and Shakers

When you think of successful African American women, unless you have been living in a media-free cave for the last 20 years, Oprah springs to mind. While we acknowledge and admire the accomplishments of the talk show host, media mogul and self-made billionaire, it’s a shame that many of us are not equally familiar with other black women who have made a big impact on the world of business. Here we briefly profile ten fantastically accomplished African American women in finance and business. If you don’t know their names yet, you should!

  1. Ursula Burns, President of Xerox. As a Fortune 500 company, Xerox has a great track record of promoting women executives to the highest management positions. Next in line after CEO Anne Mulcahy, Burns has driven efforts to improve the line of products offered by Xerox and supported R&D of new technologies, including Xerox’s new emulsion aggregate toner plant in upstate New York. Under her leadership, Xerox grew by 20% in 2007. Burns was named to her position in April 2007, and also holds a seat on the Board of Directors. Burns joined Xerox as a summer intern in 1980, and worked her way up at Xerox after obtaining a B.S. from Polytechnic Institute of New York and a Master’s in Engineering from Columbia. She also serves on the boards of American Express Corp., Boston Scientific Corp., CASA – The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, National Academy Foundation, National Association of Manufacturers, and the University of Rochester.
  2. Susan Chapman, Global Head of Operations, Citigroup Realty Services. Chapman manages the day-today operations for Citigroup Realty in 96 countries. She holds the No. 2 spot in the business unit, and is responsible for overseeing mergers and acquisitions, retail branch development, real estate administration, strategic projects and global business relationship management.Chapman sits on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, where she received her MBA in 1998. She was named to Black Enterprise magazine’s Hot List for up and coming businesspeople under 40.
  3. Edith Cooper, Head of North American Hedge Fund Distribution, Fixed Income, Currencies & Commodities, Goldman Sachs. Cooper was promoted to managing director in 1998, after only 2 years at Goldman Sachs, and made partner in 2000. In London, she co-led the company’s commodity business for Europe and Asia, and in 2004, she co-headed the company’s global clearing and execution in the equity division. Cooper headed the company’s global futures business before rising to her current position. Before working at Goldman, Cooper worked at Banker’s Trust. Cooper graduated from Harvard College and received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business.
  4. Amy Ellis-Simon, Managing Director, Convertible Sales, Merrill Lynch. Ellis-Simon is the MD and head of the Multiproduct Sales Team, which deals with a wide range of equity and debt products, including convertibles, equity derivatives and fixed income. She’s co-founder of the Global Markets and Investment Banking Women’s Leadership Council, a founder and chairperson of Three Sisters Scholarship Foundation, and a member of the Employee Diversity Council. In 2004, Ellis-Simon was named as one of the “Top 40 under 40” by Crain’s magazine. She joined Merrill Lynch as an analyst after graduating from the University of Michigan in in1994. Ellis-Simon serves on the Board of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), a program designed to provide young people of color with opportunities in the private sector.
  5. Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Capital Management L.L.C. Hobson heads the nation’s largest black-owned money management firm, Chicago-based Ariel Capital, with $21.43 billion in assets under management. As manager of all business operations outside of research and portfolio management, she oversees client services and investment planning. She also chairs the Ariel Mutual Funds Board of Trustees. Hobson is a regular commentator on ABC’s Good Morning America and has defended the mutual fund industry in testimony before Congress. Hobson was named by Chicago Business News as one of the Top 40 under 40. She graduated from Princeton in 1991.
  6. Melissa James, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley. James runs the Relationship Lending Business in Morgan Stanley’s Loan Products Group, where she is responsible for managing over $25 billion in loan commitments. Before she became a managing director, James headed the company’s industrial origination effort, where she helped raise billions in capital for corporate clients and worked on complex transactions, including the first domestic yen issuance for General Electric Capital Corp., the first global bond for DuPont, and the $4 billion initial public offering of Agere Systems. She is also a member of the firm’s Capital Commitment Committee. James joined Morgan Stanley as a Financial Analyst in 1985 after graduating from Yale College and returned in 1989 after receiving her MBA from Harvard Business School.
  7. Suzanne Shank, President & CEO, Siebert Brandford Shank & Co. L.L.C. A founding partner and principal of the Oakland, California-based municipal bond specialist is the fifth-largest black-owned investment bank, with $51 billion in total managed issues. Shank was one of the senior managers tapped by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to help facilitate an $1.14 million bond issue. In 2006, her firm became a major bond underwriter a $500 million tax-refunding bond to help reform the governing structure of the Detroit Public School district. In 2006, Black Enterprise Magazine named Shank one of the “50 Most Powerful Black Women in Business” and one of the “75 Most Influential Blacks on Wall Street.” She graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a BS in Engineering and received an MBA from Wharton School of Business in 1987.
  8. Gwendolyn Smith Iloani, Chairwoman, President, & CEO, Smith Whiley & Co. Smith Iloani’s private equity firm is the fourth-largest black-owned private equity firm, with $222 million under management. An investment industry veteran, Smith Iloani directs the firm’s investment advisory and asset management business and the investment and portfolio management activities. Prior to forming her own firm, she was a managing director at Aetna Inc., where she persuaded senior executives to partner with her in forming Smith Whiley. Smith Iloani sits on the board of New Samaritan Corp., which provides affordable housing in Connecticut.She received her MBA from the University of Hartford.
  9. Tracey Travis, CFO & Senior VP of Finance Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. As CFO of the $3.3 billion apparel, accessories, and home furnishings company, Travis’s work covers the fields of both finance and fashion. Appointed as CFO in 2005, she now oversees corporate finance, financial planning and analysis, treasury, and tax and corporate compliance. The fashion company includes Polo, Lauren, Ralph Lauren, Chaps, and Club Monaco brands and operates about 275 retail stores in the U.S. and 100 affiliates abroad. Travis is affiliated with the Finance Executives Institute and the National Association of Corporate Directors. At Deutsche Bank’s annual Women on Wall Street Conference in 2007, Travis spoke inspiringly to a crowd of over 2000 women about her experiences as a top woman in finance and offered advice to young women interested in pursuing a similar career path.

10. Lisa W. Pickrum, Executive VP & COO, RLJ Cos. L.L.C. In her capacity as Executive VP and COO of RLJ Cos., a diversified holding company with portfolio companies in financial services, hospitality, real estate, gaming, media, and entertainment, Pickrum handles the company’s legal matters, strategic partnerships, and new business developments. She led the formation of RLJ Hedge Fund of Funds, an asset management company in partnership with Deutsche Bank’s Deutsche Asset Management unit that could potentially become the largest black-owned asset management company. Pickrum has a BA from Vassar College and a law degree from Stanford Law School, as well as a degree in finance and entrepreneurial management from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves on the board of directors for Rollover Systems and CW Wellspring Entertainment. In an interview with Black Enterprise Magazine, who named her one of the 50 Most Powerful African American Women.

Pickrum said, “Once you can influence decisions in the boardroom, you are a woman of power.


  1. Lisa Taccardi

    I met Gwendolyn Smith Iloani today at the 2nd Annual Women’s Business Conference at the Trumbull Marriott. What an AMAZING LADY !! And I do mean Lady!! I consider myself a strong, successful business person who happens to be a female but is not always “a lady”!!

    I was so impressed with the way Gwendolyn responded to my question regarding how she handles condensending men while trying to gain their respect and get their business!!

    She just knows “how to work it” !!

    I can count on one had the women I’ve met that I would try to emulate but Gwendolyn Smith Iloani is one of them!!

    I wish her continued success, health and much happiness!!

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