UPTOWN Professional Feb 1, 2014

ELC President Ronald Parker Talks Game Plan For Growth And Going Global

Ronald C. ParkerLate last year the Executive Leadership Council (ELC) announced Ronald C. Parker as their president and CEO. The ELC is the premier organization of the most senior level African Americans in Fortune 500 and equivalent companies. By all accounts, the ELC scored a major coup in securing the services of Parker. He enjoyed a wildly successful career at Pepsi for almost 30 years, ending in the position of senior vice president for human resources, labor relations and global diversity and inclusion for PepsiCo, Inc.

Parker ascends to the helm at the ELC and its foundation at a time when many businesses and organizations are grappling with the realities of rapid change amidst the onslaught of technology, shifting demographics and dynamic and ever-changing global markets and economies. Parker sat down with Uptown Professional to share his game plan for taking the ELC boldly to the next level. – Robert Ingram

UPTOWN PROFESSIONAL: Who are some of the folks that you admire and have patterned your career around?
Ron Parker: There are a number of people I admire in the space. Growing up, I looked up to black congressmen and women such as Barbara Jordan, John Conyers, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, John Mackey, the football player and the NFL Players Association representative, Earl G. Graves, Bob Johnson of BET, Reggie Lewis of TLC Beatrice, Ken Chennault, and John Thompson.

UP: What is the mission of ELC?
RP: An organization made up of senior level African Americans in the most powerful companies seeking to bring about change. We want to increase the number of blacks in the C-Suite. We are about giving back. Calibr, LEAD, IN ROADS and A Better Chance (ABC) are a few of the groups in the community that we support.

UP: How many members does the organization have?
RP: There are 520 members with an objective to have 1,000 representatives at Fortune 1000 companies.

UP: What about entrepreneurs?
RP: We are looking to expand membership criteria to include a percentage of entrepreneurs. We will always focus, however, on those executives of power, impact and influence.

UP: What are the requirements for membership?
RP: You must be no more than three positions removed from the enterprise-wide CEO. You also must have a budget and your company must generate $3 billion in revenue.

UP: What do you say to those who call your organization and its members elitists?
RP: I say, “Yes,” but for good reason. The word is not a good descriptor, but unique is how I view it.  There’s no other organization like the EL C. We are not elite in a self-centered way.

UP: How long did you work for Pepsi?
Almost 30 years, and for five different CEOs.

UP: What part of your job do you most enjoy?
It is definitely taking the brand to a higher level. The process represents integrity, trust, transparency, accountability and global engagement.

UP: What is the number one initiative and program ELC is now focused upon?
RP: Our initiative on increasing the number of blacks in the C-Suite and the number on boards of publicly traded companies is a priority. There is a whole generation coming through corporate America that want to give back and is interested in public/private partnership.

UP: What is the biggest single issue for your members?
We are focused on really leveraging our collective power to have a bigger impact on a global scale. Members like Orlando Ashford, Bernard Tyson, and Carla Harris have that experience. Nat Irvin, a futurist, talked at our recent conference about brand relevance and the new power elite who will be driven by information. Growth will be determined by the holders of information. A more global, inclusive and multicultural mindset is needed in business and the EL C is in the game to bring systematic transformation.

UP: How does the ELC give back to the community at large?
We are now working with IN ROADS and A Better Chance. We want to support the education system. We are thinking big. There is a Chinese Proverb that states, “A Journey of a million miles begins with one step.”

UP: Where is ELC headed?
RP: We are a global force of black executive leadership that wants to drive change. Wouldn’t it be cool if EL C got a formal invitation to join the group? How they could now position Africa as the next emerging market.

UP: Why is it important for boards to be diverse?
RP: To take full advantage of black buying power.  Then, our voices need to be heard in board rooms in order to tap into the innovation and profit. CEO’s get it. They just don’t know how to engage it.

UP: Are there any other nonprofits that you admire?
IN ROADS, LEAP and A Better Chance are our Community Impact Initiative partners. Catalyst, HACR and LEAP, are our partners in the Alliance for Board Diversity. NACD, Business Roundtable, National Urban League, UNCF, United Way, American Red Cross, U.S. Black Chamber and many others.

UP: Why global?
We are going global because the world has already shifted. When you speak to (corporate) employee resource groups and you hear the accents you know the opportunities are now.  We want to be relevant and to remain relevant.

UP: How does the ELC get younger and remain viable and relevant?
We have to extend our reach. We are driving more analytics on the membership and leverage insights to grow and expand. We have a multicultural staff and team now.

UP: What legacy would you like to leave ELC?
RP: I would like to leave the EL C a legacy of relevance in an ever-changing world.  “If not now, when? If not us, who?”