4 powerful black businesswomen 'firsts' who paved the way

4 powerful black businesswomen 'firsts' who paved the way

The world of business is not for the faint of heart, and statistics show almost four in ten businesses in major countries have no women in senior management positions. Despite the odds, history gives us a full account of African-American women who have taken the world of business by storm and risen straight to the top. Here are five astute queens of industry who built empires out of their dreams and embodied the BBB’s: Beauty, Business, and Brains.

 1. The first black female millionaire: Madam C.J. Walker

The crown for “inspiring black businesswoman” would definitely go to Madam C.J. Walker, the queen herself. Born to former slaves, she went against the grain to become the first self-made female African-American millionaire by revolutionizing the way we style textured hair.

Walker Facts:

  • Walker suffered from a scalp disorder, which led her to invent her own pomade and use hot combs.
  •  She turned her innovative idea into a $1 million company.
  • She hired and trained up to 40,000 “Walker Agents” to expand her ideas to other women throughout the country.
  • She founded hair-culture colleges through already established black institutions and even taught women the ropes of business and budgeting.
Walker Quotes:
  • “I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself.”
  • “I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”
2. The first black woman to take a company public: Cathy Hughes

This ultimate media mogul went from teen mom to founding one of the biggest media companies in the world.

Hughes Facts:

  • She is a TV personality and founder of Radio One, which includes 56 radios stations in the United States, and the premiere cable network TV One.  
  • She also holds the title of the first African-American woman to chair a publicly held corporation and continues her family’s work and legacy at The Piney Woods School.
  • She is a champion for the hungry and homeless, a mentor to countless women and an advocate dedicated to empowering minority communities.

Hughes Quotes:

  • “Don’t let anyone convince you that your dream, your vision to be an entrepreneur is something that you shouldn’t do.
3. First black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company: Ursula Burns

    Burns’ story is a true “rags to riches” tale. She was raised in the tumble public housing projects in the Lower East side of Manhattan and eventually found her way to the top of Xerox.

    Burns Facts:

    • She started by publicly disagreeing with a company vice president and challenging his ideas, all as an intern!
    • That risky move would later pay off and move her into an executive assistant role that led to a position as Chairwoman of the Fortune 500 paper company Xerox.
    • Her best piece of advice? Use your “disadvantages to your advantage.” Burns was poor, black and a woman, but found she could use the latter two categories to her advantage.

    Burns Quotes:

    • I realized I was more convincing to myself and to the people who were listening when I actually said what I thought, versus what I thought people wanted to hear me say.”
    • “Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic and the courage to lean in,”


    4. First black female billionaire: Oprah Winfrey

    This list would not be complete without acknowledging this jack of all trades and number three on the list of the richest self-made woman in America. Talk show host, actress, philanthropist, businesswoman and overall queen of media is ranked most successful African-American philanthropist in American History. Despite her rough childhood living in poverty and suffering abuse, Oprah was able to revolutionize daytime TV and create her own empire.

    Oprah Facts:

    • Her wit and charm landed her a win in an oratory contest in high school and a full scholarship to Tennessee State University where she studied communications.
    • She got her start at a local black radio station WVOL, which hired her as a part-time news anchor while she was still in high school.
    • Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV.

    Oprah Quotes:

    • “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”

    These are the women who paved the way, click here to read about 5 women who walked the path to greatness. 


    • Thank you so much for sharing. This is epic. This definitely moves me, as I am a recent entrepreneur that is inspired by each and every one of these amazing women.

      - Andrea
    • Hail to the queens i am a fan of all of there ladies very aware of their work. They are an inspiration to me may i will start my own business one day.

      - Tracy
    • Wow! This can definitely inspire any woman (especially black women ) to never give up on their dreams.

      - Antonette
    • I admire the courage of these strong black women. Perfect role models for black girls to rise above adversaries, to reach the stars and gain their accomplishments.

      - Karen Collins
    • Thank yoU for sharing the pure being of JOY!!!

      - Ouida B.

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