black history month

Local Man Recalls Being First Black Person on Starbucks Board of Directors

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Olden Lee was the first Black man on the board of directors for Starbucks. The Dallas native served from 2003-2016 after he retired as an executive from PepsiCo.

What’s his secret to breaking glass ceilings?

“Always be ready for the opportunity,” Lee said. “I was one of the guys who was early in corporate America, so a lot of the positions that I had at a lot of places, I was the first [Black] person in them. Someone has to be the first. It didn’t bother me, because I knew I was there to perform and not just show up. My role was to pave the way for others.”

He said his time at Starbucks was hard work but rewarding considering the pivotal time the company was undergoing.

"You don’t want to be average. If you are average, it’s hard to differentiate. You want to be better than that. You want people wanting you on their team," Lee said.

As far as the current state of corporate America. Lee said the industry has certainly come far in diversity, but it has a long way to still go.

"I think we are still being challenged. One of the things I have learned is that you build an organization from the top down and not from the bottom up. If you have the right leader, then things tend to happen," Lee said.

Lee, who has moved across the country in his corporate roles, is now back in Dallas with his wife who is also a North Texan.

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