When Lowe's CEO Marvin Ellison took the helm at one of the country's largest retailers, he looked around and saw that he was surrounded by mostly white executives in his own company and in the business world.
It was not a new experience for him.
Ellison was born to parents who worked as partners. He grew up in a separate community in the south. He is now one of four black CEOs in the Fortune 500. But he said he was tired of seeing CEOs and others commit to creating diversity and fighting racism but doing little.
"Sometimes you have to choose to talk less and do more," he said of a virtual speaker series hosted by the National Retail Federation. "I'm very, very grateful that all of this dialogue is taking place out there, but I didn't have to see the horrific murder of George Floyd to understand that there are racial injustices in America. I live it every day."
Floyd's murder is just the latest memory of deep-seated racism in the United States, he said.
"As a black man in America, it's mentally demanding that we still talk about racial injustices in 2020," he said.
Ellison became Managing Director of Lowe two years ago and started a company-wide turnaround. He was revising the retailer's website and expanding his management team when the pandemic broke out. In recent months, Lowe’s shelves have had to fill roadside pickups, install plexiglass and promote social detachment as the company, as a major retailer, has kept its doors open.
Since Floyd's murder in late May, the 55-year-old manager said he had thought about his upbringing and the systemic racism he'd seen all his life. He grew up with six siblings in rural Tennessee. His family had no indoor installations until he was six years old.
His father, who had not graduated from high school, urged him to go to college when he was young. His parents stressed the importance of respecting everyone and working hard.
Still, they couldn't protect him from the realities of the world.
"We still lived in a separate community," he said. "There were parts of the city where the black people lived, parts of the city where the white people lived, and there were places that I knew I couldn't walk as a young black man."
Ellison said his life experiences have fueled the commitment to diversity in the corporate world. When he arrived at Lowe, the company had only eight black people at Vice President level or higher – a number he was determined to increase.
"As CEO, I didn't need social unrest to understand that it was a problem," he said.
He said Lowe & # 39; s now has two Black Executive Vice Presidents, two Black Senior Vice Presidents and 11 Black Vice Presidents. Two of the company's top management positions – Chief Information Officer and Chief Brand and Marketing Officer – are held by women, Seemantini Godbole and Marisa Thalberg, respectively. He recently promoted Janice Dupre Little, another woman and black executive, to Executive Vice President Human Resources.
"I would like to tell you that I am this brilliant recruiter and can judge talent that doesn't exist," he said. "The reality is that these people were out there. They were either ignored by Lowe or they were in the market."
"I just decided not to talk about it and do something – and I'm still not happy," he said. "We're just getting started."
At the end of May, Lowe’s decided to support black and minority companies in other ways. She said she would grant $ 25 million to minority-owned businesses to help them reopen and recover from the pandemic.
He said the company had received around 110,000 grant applications.
"I was shocked by the demand," he said. "It just tells you how much additional dollars are needed."
He said he and the actions of other CEOs would determine whether the national race discussion is a fleeting moment or leads to noticeable changes.