Karl Douglass: Another milestone

February 9, 2014 

When Bill Gates stepped down as chairman of the board of Microsoft last week, he was replaced by John Thompson.

John Thompson was CEO of Symantec for about ten years. Before taking the reins at Symantec in 1999, he spent 28 years at IBM in various management roles.

Before that, he graduated from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University -- ou know, FAMU.

John Thompson is one of the few black men who has ever served as CEO of a Silicon Valley technology company. Now, he is only the second person to chair the board of the legendary Microsoft, company number 35 on the Fortune 500.

That's noteworthy.

It's also important.

It's important because the successor to Bill Gates will be considered a titan of industry, period. Microsoft generated $17 billion in net income last fiscal year on $74 billion in revenue.

It's important because Microsoft has defined the way a generation of us interpret the world. When was the last time you saw someone make a presentation without using PowerPoint or run a spreadsheet that was not in Excel?

And it's important because he is a black man. That statement made some of you uncomfortable. I know you are giving me a raised eyebrow this very moment. But it is true; John Thompson being named chairman of Microsoft's board is important because he is a black man.

Being black did not make him qualified; his education at FAMU and MIT, experiences at IBM and success at Symantec did that. However, because he is so eminently qualified and happens to be black, his ascent to this vaunted position shines a light on excellence that is a part of African American culture.

The popular images of black men are limited and distorted. The reality, however, is very different. John Thompson is an extreme example of the excellence that black men achieve every day. Only one person at a time can chair Microsoft's board or serve as President of the United States or be publisher of the local newspaper.

But there are lots of other black men who demonstrate excellence every day running small businesses, leading nonprofits, helping to manage corporations and teaching our children.

So, as we celebrate Black History Month, we should also recognize the important achievements of the black present. The African-American community is in no way perfect and we, particularly black men, should not look the other way or make apologies for those in our community who do not strive for excellence. However, there is excellence in our community that should be celebrated. And I believe that the ascent of John Thompson is an shining example of that excellence.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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