ORLANDO -- The first name one should think of when asking if there are African-American founded public companies is Mary Spio. The author of the new book It's Not Rocket Science runs two of them, Next Galaxy Corp. (NXGA) , and One2One Living (LOVI). Next Galaxy sells a virtual reality headphone and is debuting a virtual reality platform for entertainment and other applications such as health care. One2One Living is a lifestyle based dating service. Spio, at the age of 26, gained a patent for Boeing on digital satellite video, the kind of technology that allowed the White House to watch the raid on Osama bin Ladin in real time. It was adapted for use by the movie industry and now most movies are transmitted by satellite instead of film.
There are fewer than 20 African-Americans heading small-cap or large cap public firms as founding CEOs or board-hired executives. That compares with 88 African-American generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces and 907 African-Americans in the Senior Executive Service of the federal government. Both of the latter groups routinely manage billion dollar operations.
The two in downtown San Francisco are both in biomedicine; Amarantus BioScience Holdings, led by Gerald Commissiong, (AMS) and American Shared Hospital Services, (ASHS) run for 30 years by Dr. Ernest Bates. Amarantus announced the signing of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers University) to expand the development of Amarantus' autologous full thickness skin replacement product, Engineered Skin Substitute (ESS), for the treatment of deep partial- and full-thickness burn wounds in adult patients.
Dr. Bates' company provides turnkey technology solutions for advanced radiosurgical and radiation therapy services. AMS is the world leader in providing Gamma Knife radiosurgery equipment, a non-invasive treatment for malignant and benign brain tumors, vascular malformations and trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain). T
Eric Kelly founded Overland Storage which merged this year with Sphere 3D (NASDAQ: ANY) with Kelly continuing as chairman and CEO . He rang the opening bell at NASCAQ in June for the provider of virtualization technology and data management solutions provider with a portfolio of workload-optimized solutions that address IT needs for delivering productivity through workspace and data infrastructure and management.
Erin Energy in Houston (ERN:NYSE) has nine drilling concessions in four African countries and just began pumping from a 100 percent owned offshore well off the Nigerian coast. It is the brainchild of Dr. Kase Lawal, CEO.
Radio One (ROIAK) is the largest provider of radio programming to African-American markets and also runs TVOne. Cathy Hughes is chair with her son Alfred Liggins as CEO.
Citizens Trust (CTZB) led by Cynthia Day as CEO, operates 11 branches in Atlanta and Columbus, GA; and Birmingham and Eutaw, AL, with a history that goes back to 1919. Carver Federal Bank (CARV) serves New York City as a community development lender, led by Derrick Pugh.
As an investor, choosing companies with African-American CEOs, whether founders or hired executives, is a worthwhile strategy because African-American leaders are most often experienced turnaround specialists. Like the election of President Barack Obama in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 70 years, black CEOs usually get their opportunity at the worst possible time.
At the beginning of August, Marvin Ellison took over as CEO of J.C. Penney,(NYSE: JCP) the Plano-based department store chain. "I am honored by this appointment and excited about the opportunity to help lead the continued resurgence of JCPenney. This Company has been an important part of the American retail landscape for over one hundred years," said Ellison. "Today, it is moving in the right direction and there is an extraordinary passion to win at every level of the organization. As President and, ultimately, CEO, I will be focused on positioning the Company to compete in a rapidly changing retail environment for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, suppliers and associates. I am confident that we have the customer proposition, the brand, and the talent to make JCPenney successful over the long term." Ellison, 49, has nearly 30 years of experience in the retail industry. He has spent the last 12 years at Home Depot. As executive vice president of U.S. stores since August 2008, he has been the senior-most operations leader for Home Depot's approximately 2,000 stores.
Following the Costa Concordia disaster, Arnold Donald became CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, (CCL) the world's largest cruise ship operator. Next May, the line has received approval to begin offering tours to Cuba, taking advantage of the new opening by the Obama administration.
"We are excited about receiving U.S. approval as the very important first step to ultimately take travelers to under the existing 12 criteria for authorized travel. We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between U.S. citizens and the people of a reality," said Donald . "We know there is strong demand from travelers who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, so this is a historic opportunity for us to enable more people to experience Cuban society. It is also an important opportunity for our new fathom brand to expand its positive influence in the world with this potential to add full-week immersion sailings to to its already planned full-week social-impact itineraries to the beginning in the spring of 2016."
Xerox faced the commodification of the copying business, but under CEO Ursula Burns, the first African-American Fortune 500 CEO, (NYSE: XRX)it has made a pivot into services, particularly in the burgeoning field of health IT.
A newcomer to the ranks is Joel Gay, CEO of Energy Recovery Inc. (NASDAQ: ERII) in San Leandro, CA. named in April 2015 after serving as chief financial officer since 2012. Its products transform industrial fluid flows and pressure cycles into reusable energy, using advanced technologies that adapt to the water, oil & gas, and chemical industries; making it possible to harness energy from almost any high-pressure fluid process.
Kenneth Chenault has been CEO of American Express (NYSE: AXP) for over a decade, erasing memories of the cardholder's jeopardy when he took the post. Warren Buffett considers American Express one of his "Big Four" investments.
Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck (NYSE: MRK), rose up through the company as a lawyer since 1992. Merck announced last month that its investigational Ebola vaccine candidate, rVSV-ZEBOV, was found to have 100 percent efficacy in an analysis of interim data from a Phase 3 ring vaccination trial in Guinea. Preliminary conclusions from this study, which is continuing, were published on-line today in The Lancet The authors report that vaccine efficacy was 100 percent (95% confidence interval: 74.7 - 100%; p=0.0036) following vaccination with a single dose of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine. It appeared that all vaccinated individuals were protected against Ebola virus infection within 6 to 10 days of vaccination.