Debra Lee, who last year stepped down as chairman and CEO of BET Networks after a three-decade career at the Viacom brand, has been added to the board of directors at AT&T. She becomes the first media-tied name to join the board as the company continues to evolve after its $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner and its entertainment assets.
Lee began her career with BET as its first VP and General Counsel in 1986, was elevated to president and COO in 1996 and became chairman and CEO in 2005. Her retirement came amid a revamp at Viacom, which implemented several leadership changes as part of reorganizations implemented by Bob Bakish since he became Viacom CEO in 2017.
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Lee was BET’s EVP and general counsel in 1991 when it became the first African-American-owned company to be publicly traded on the NYSE. Some of of the network’s biggest success stories with Lee at the helm include the 2014 series premiere of The Game, the most-watched sitcom premiere in cable TV history with 7.68 million viewers, and the 2017 hit mini-series The New Edition Story, which brought in 28.4 million viewers from the initial run through subsequent encores, making it the highest-rated TV biopic of all time.
She also oversaw the creation of the BET Awards, the BET Experience festival and the launch of the network’s website, BET.com. She also spearheaded the launch of Leading Women Defined, an annual conference where notable African American women gather for debates and conversations on issues that impact their community and families.
With her in charge, BET Networks remained the No. 1 network among African-American viewers for the past 17 years.
“Debra’s outstanding leadership, deep expertise and strong track record in the entertainment and media industry will be terrific additions to our board of directors,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, in Monday’s announcement of her appointment. “Her unique perspective as a media industry leader and operations executive, and her lifetime commitment to community service give her valuable insights I look forward to having on our board.”
Lee also serves on the board of Marriott International, Inc. and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater among other organizations. She has been recognized by the Grammys with its Salute to Industry Icons Award, and has received the Distinguished Vanguard Award from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. She is also a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame and American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame.