Embracing The Call of Duty

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By: ELC Scholar Genever Oppong, 1ST Place Winner in the Award for Excellence in Business Commentary

Discovering the Executive Leadership Council (ELC):

When I first decided to pursue the field of business, I intuitively began researching companies listed in the Fortune 500. These companies represented the backbone of the U.S. economy and were identified as industry leaders in their respective fields. I wanted to know what made these companies so successful and more importantly, I wanted to know who were the people leading these great corporations. As I began researching the disparity of African-American CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, I was stunned by the statistics. Of the 500 companies, only five African Americans were leading Fortune 500 Corporations. Of the five, there was only one female, Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox.

When I first discovered The Executive Leadership Council (ELC), it was a moment of utter surrealness.

It seemed like this esoteric organization that I could only have dreamt of. An organization filled with (as ELC members like to call it) “the best, brightest, and baddest brothers and sisters on the planet.” After reading their mission statement and applying for The ELC scholarship, I waited in great anticipation to see if I would have the opportunity to meet in-person ELC members that I formerly held as my screensaver.

(Photo Credit: CNN Money, 2015)

The 2017 Honors Symposium:

On October 22-27, The ELC hosted a group of 42 scholars for the 2017 Honors Symposium. I was lucky enough to be one of them. When we arrived in New York, we met with ELC members and corporate sponsors from HSBC, L’Oréal, the NBA, Jopwell, the Environmental Defense Fund and American Express. As we arrived at American Express for breakfast, I quickly grabbed a plate and sat down waiting for Chairman & CEO Kenneth Chenault to speak. By some divine miracle he ended up sitting at my table. As I sat quietly trying not show my over-excitement, I glanced at the question and thank you note I had prepared for him. He was one of the five CEOs I used to glance at on my phone to remind me of my commitment to business excellence and my dream of one day leading a Fortune 500 company. Now, by some miracle, I was sitting with him having breakfast.

(Photo Credit: (Imagine Photography)

As Kenneth Chenault took the podium, he began informing the Scholars of the qualities of a great leader. At first, I was a bit confused. We weren’t in C-suite positions or senior executives. We were just starting our careers or still in college. We were quite literally at the bottom of the totem pole and often expected to just follow the directions of our superiors. Then, I began reflecting on the news of Kenneth Chenault’s retirement. With his departure, there were only three African-Americans left heading Fortune 500 companies. Chenault’s message was reminding us of our responsibility to continue his legacy and to honor the mission of The ELC by becoming the next generation of corporate black leaders. He was asking us to embrace the call of duty that had been placed on us as distinguished ELC scholars to follow in his footsteps and in the footsteps of those who came before us (and fought for us) so that we too could have a seat at the table.

(Photo Credit: Imagine Photography)

Throughout the Honors Symposium, I listened attentively to the messages of the various senior executives and black leaders who shared their experiences and imparted on us the tools and skills we needed to be successful in our careers. Messages like, “let your performance speak for you”, “be dependable” and “have courage” resonated deeply. I was also incredibly fortunate and honored to have the opportunity to host a luncheon and panel discussion with senior executives from The Coca-Cola Company in which we had very candid conversation regarding diversity and inclusion in the workplace and discussed strategies for success.

(Photo Credit: Imagine Photography)

As the symposium came to an end, we began preparing for the Gala, the height of the week. In attendance would be over 2,000 guests including CEOs, senior executives, thought-leaders, and politicians from around the country. The theme for this year’s Gala was “Own the Future: Now, More than Ever.” As I reflected on the week and listened to words of the Gala honorees, I heard a stark message of why now, more than ever, it was important for each and every one of us to shine our light and share our truth despite how dismal things looked for us in America today. Standing in the room was so much power and so much light that no matter what was going on in our world, we would (shall) overcome as we always have.

Attending The ELC Honors Symposium has changed my life. I’ve gained mentors, friends, and a new found sense of why it’s so important for me to continue to do my very best and be my very best.

To my fellow scholars, now is our time to embrace the call of duty and carry on the torch. We must strive to be, as Kenneth Chenault stated, leaders with “integrity, honesty and courage.”

Thank you to those who came before us and forged a path for us tread on. We will continue to press on towards the mark.

A special thanks to: The Executive Leadership Council, Our Corporate Sponsors who hosted us during the Symposium & The Coca-Cola Company for allowing me to join their steadfast commitment to promoting diversity and fostering inclusion.


Click here to visit our photo gallery on Flickr and view additional photos from the 2017 Honors Symposium.

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