Leadership

From Beyonce to Janice Bryant Howroyd, 14 black women who changed business and finance

Oprah Winfrey
Fred Watkins | ABC | Getty Images

Throughout U.S. history, black women have founded businesses, transformed industries, revolutionized television and media and created jobs — often without recognition.

Black women are the second fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, after Latina women.

According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, "there are an estimated 1.9 million African-American women-owned firms, employing 376,500 workers and generating $51.4 billion in revenues."

And though their ventures still aren't being funded as robustly as those of their white male counterparts, black women entrepreneurs are responsible for adding thousands of jobs to the economy.

Here are 14 black women whose contributions impacted business, finance and the U.S. economy:

1. Ursula Burns

Burns is the chairwoman of Xerox and served as CEO through 2016. Early in her time Xerox, Burns publicly disagreed with a company vice president. She thought she'd be fired but the risky move paid off; Burns moved into an executive assistant role that introduced her to the c-suite and changed the course of her career.

Ursula Burns, chairwoman and former CEO of Xerox, in Havana, Cuba on March 21, 2016.
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Ursula Burns, chairwoman and former CEO of Xerox, in Havana, Cuba on March 21, 2016.


2. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Known as "Queen Bey" to fans, the global music and entertainment icon has taken home 20 Grammy awards and is worth an estimated $290 million. In her 2016 hit "Formation" she called herself a "black Bill Gates in the making."

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James Devaney/GC Images


3. Carla Harris

Harris is the vice chairman of wealth management at Morgan Stanley and a senior client advisor for the financial giant. The influential Wall Street exec was appointed by President Barack Obama chair of the National Women's Business Council in 2013.

"Don't be distracted by anything anybody else tells you," Harris tells CNBC.

Carla Harris, Morgan Stanley
Chris Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Carla Harris, Morgan Stanley


4. Janice Bryant Howroyd

As a teenager, Howroyd was one of the first black students to attend her North Carolina hometown's previously segregated high school. As founder and CEO of staffing agency ACT-1, she became the first black woman to own a billion-dollar company. ACT-1 is also the largest certified woman-minority-owned staffing agency in the U.S.

When she started out, she tells CNBC, all she had was a "brain, a phone and a phonebook."

Janice Bryant Howroyd
Source: Act-1 Group
Janice Bryant Howroyd


5. Madam C.J. Walker

In the early 1900s, Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C.J. Walker, turned her line of homemade hair care products into an eponymous business empire that's still active today. At the time of her death she was widely recognized as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S.

"Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come," Walker once said. "Get up and make them."

Sarah Breedlove,known as Madam C.J. Walker, pictured driving a car.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Sarah Breedlove,known as Madam C.J. Walker, pictured driving a car.


6. Tyra Banks

Besides being a supermodel, Banks is an entrepreneur who changed the beauty business. She created the hit TV show "America's Next Top Model," starred in an Emmy-award winning talk show and launched a beauty company.

The questions that motivate her, she tells CNBC, are "What hasn't been done before? What is there to conquer? What is there to innovate? What is there to create?"

Tyra Banks
Getty Images


7. Tina Wells

Wells is the CEO and founder of Buzz Marketing Group, which works with major clients like Dell and Levo. She is a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council and is the academic director of Wharton's Leadership in the Business World program, a program for high school students.

"I never had an excuse to not finish what I started," she tells the
United Nations Foundation.

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Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia


8. Cathy Hughes

Hughes is the co-founder of Radio One, a media company that operates more than 50 radio stations. The media mogul became the first African-American woman to chair a publicly held corporation when Radio One went public in 1999.

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Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images


9. Shonda Rhimes

Rhimes is arguably the most important person in American television right now. She is the woman behind some of the top-rated programming of the past decade, including "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice," "Scandal" and "How to Get Away with Murder."

Her bestselling book "Year of Yes" details how she overcame a deep fear of public appearances and became confident in her creativity.

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Jim Spellman/WireImage


10. Sheila Johnson

Johnson co-founded BET, the cable television news and entertainment network targeted at black audiences, and is worth an estimated $710 million. She is managing partner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and the CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts.

Steven Ferdman/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

11. Iman

Iman, born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, is a model and a cosmetics pioneer for women of color.

Her makeup line, Iman Cosmetics, encourages women to "celebrate your skintone" and is sold nationwide at retailers including Target, CVS and Wal-Mart. The Somali-born entrepreneur also has several popular fashion and jewelry lines on HSN.

Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic/Getty Images


12. Rosalind Brewer

Brewer served as president and CEO of Sam's Club in the U.S for more than five years before stepping down in January.

Before leading the grocery company, Brewer worked for more than two decades at Kimberly-Clark and was a regional vice president at Wal-Mart.

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Paul Morigi/WireImage for Tommy Hilfiger/Getty Images


13. Oprah Winfrey

The original queen of daytime grew up in poverty and dropped out of college to pursue a career in media. On "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she developed the sincere, confessional interview style for which she'd become famous. The program became the highest-rated talk show in television history and led to the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network, of which she is CEO.

In the fall of 2017, Winfrey will join "60 Minutes" as a special correspondent.

Oprah Winfrey
Getty Images
Oprah Winfrey


14. Michelle Obama

An attorney and advocate for youth and health issues, Obama was the country's first black first lady. Passionate about nutrition, she partnered with many of the country's leading brands such as Disney, Subway and Pepsico to promote healthy activities and food products for young people.

Obama was a key player in the Food and Drug Administration's decision to include added sugars on food labels, changing the food industry.

Michelle Obama, then first lady
Mark Wilson | Getty Images
Michelle Obama, then first lady

Check out how Janice Bryant Howroyd became the first African-American woman to own a billion-dollar company