What Dick Parsons Saw When He Made It Inside the Executive Suite


Dick Parsons, 72, is a senior adviser at asset management firm Providence Equity. He worked for Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and President Gerald Ford before joining the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. He ran Dime Bancorp Inc., then Time Warner Inc. from 2002 to 2007. As chairman of Citigroup Inc. from 2009 to 2012, he was one of the most powerful African Americans in Wall Street history.

What Dick Parsons Saw When He Made It Inside the Executive Suite

At Patterson Belknap, I became chairman of the hiring committee before I became managing partner. We made a determination to start reaching out, doing some affirmative recruitment of Black attorneys. I had a conversation once with one of the members of our committee. He was complaining that we were “fishing in the wrong pond, bringing in all these women and people of color” and so on. “They’re not going to be able to develop clients. Take Joe Bag-o-Donuts: That’s the kind of person we should be looking for. His father is a vice chairman of a Fortune 500 firm. He’s a four-handicapper. Six foot four. Blond hair, blue eyes. A real White man. That’s what we need.” Then he looked at me: “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” I knew what he meant. And he knew what he meant. That’s the America he grew up in.

What Dick Parsons Saw When He Made It Inside the Executive Suite

I’m fundamentally an optimist about race in America. But I lived through this in the late ’60s. The riots, inadequate housing, inadequate education, poor-paying jobs, police brutality, uneven and unjust criminal-justice system. You could have written that three weeks ago. All that same s--- is still prevalent. It’s still a part of our society. Every corporation is now saying, “I’m throwing $10 million into the pot, we’re going to really support these social justice organizations.” And they will, and that’s good. But is that going to effect fundamental change? I don’t know.

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