By Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN Business
That’s four black leaders among the largest 500 companies in the United States: Marvin Ellison of Lowe’s, Kenneth Frazier of Merck, Roger Ferguson of TIAA, and Jide Zeitlin of Tapestry.
‘This is personal’
On Monday Jide Zeitlin, CEO of the luxury goods brand Tapestry which owns Kate Spade, Coach, and Stuart Weitzman, posted a personal message on LinkedIn to his employees.
“I sat down several times to write this letter, but stopped each time. My eyes welling up with tears. This is personal,” Zeitlin wrote.
Zeitlin reported that stores across the country were damaged from New York to San Francisco, but viewed the destruction as secondary to the broader issue.
“We can replace our windows and handbags, but we cannot bring back George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and too many others. Each of these black lives matter,” he wrote.
Tapestry is making changes to address these inequalities, said Zeitlin, and over the weekend leadership worked to “convene a number of social justice, legal, and corporate entities to formulate a longer-term plan for addressing systemic inequality” in areas like health, economic opportunity, and public safety.
“We hope to join with government, but events of this past week make it clear that we cannot wait,” he wrote in the letter.
Zeitlin was born to a single mother in Nigeria before being adopted at the age of 5 by an American family who lived in Nigeria and employed his young mother. He spent 20 years at Goldman Sachs before coming to Tapestry.
‘Fear and frustration’
Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison posted a letter to his team on Saturday.
“I grew up in the segregated south and remember stories my parents shared about living in the Jim Crow South,” wrote Ellison. “So, I have personal understanding of the fear and frustration that many of you are feeling.”
Ellison reiterated the company’s zero tolerance for racism and his commitment to fostering an environment of safety. Leadership will have new resources to better support employee and communities, the letter states.
“At Lowe’s, we are committed to helping people make their homes better, and today, we recognize that our homes extend beyond our walls, and into our neighborhood, communities and country,” said Ellison.
George Floyd ‘could be me’
Merck CEO Ken Frazier told CNBC on Monday that he could have just as easily been George Floyd.
“What the African American community sees in that videotape is that this African American man, who could be me or any other African American man, is being treated as less than human,” Frazier told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Frazier grew up in the inner city of Philadelphia in the 1960s during the time when Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading protests. Frazier said he was part of a handful of kids chosen by the city to be bused 90 minutes to white schools to get “a rigorous education,” where which he was just one of nine black students.
Frazier says he was one of the lucky ones afforded an opportunity that set him on a different trajectory in life. But he noted the “huge opportunity gaps” still exist today.
“It is the responsibility of corporate America to bridge those gaps,” Frazier said. “If we don’t try to create opportunities for these people to be employed — joblessness creates hopelessness.”
‘I am outraged’
Roger Ferguson is the CEO of TIAA, a retirement services company.
“Personally, I am outraged by the recent incidents of racism, violence and police brutality against members of the African American community. The haunting video of Mr. Floyd’s last breaths is a sobering reflection of this national crisis,” Ferguson said in a statement to CNN.
Ferguson’s father was a cartographer for the U.S. Army. He says his family didn’t have a lot of money but had a fascination for banks and investments and they often talked about it. Ferguson attended Harvard where he studied economics and cleaned bathrooms at the dorms. He became CEO of TIAA in 2008 during the financial crisis after serving as Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System.
“Particularly with the pandemic issues we are confronting in 2020, this is a time when we must embrace our differences and become more inclusive,” Ferguson told CNN of the disparities facing people of color. “No group should ever be targeted for racism, harassment or other form of discrimination. At TIAA, we are committed to playing our part to constructively engage as difference makers, consistent with our guiding values and, indeed, our legacy of inclusive leadership.”
On Friday Ferguson along with the Executive Committee of TIAA sent a letter to employees addressing the deaths of Lloyd, Arbery, and Taylor.
“Incidents like this bring to light the fear, inequality and concerns of racism that still pose a threat to our humanity,” the letter states. The team encouraged employees to take part in their Business Resource Groups which “help educate allies about the experiences of others and how they can support their colleagues.”
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