BET Networks is preparing to bid farewell to an icon. After 32 years with the company, Debra Lee has announced today that she will step down from her position as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer effective May 28.
“In 1986 I joined BET Networks to be its very first Vice President & General Counsel. As a young corporate attorney I saw my role as the protector of the BET brand and its employees and today, more than 32 years later, I still see myself as the protector and defender of a brand that I have helped to grow as a top destination for audiences across the globe. I have called BET Networks home for over three decades and this team is part of my extended family,“ Ms. Lee says in a statement to BET staff and executives. “I could not be prouder of the enormous amount of talent and creativity at BET Networks today and I will always be BET’s number one fan.”
Adds Bob Bakish, President and CEO of Viacom, BET’s parent company, “Debra’s vision and creativity has cemented BET Networks as a premiere network for African Americans and lovers of Black culture. As BET continues to move forward, we will always be grateful to Debra for her leadership and commitment to creating top-notch entertainment that both entertains and empowers. Her passion for the BET brand has resulted in countless wins and has allowed BET to stay competitive in a growing media landscape.”
He continues, “While we will all miss Debra tremendously, we respect her decision and understand her desire to leave at the very top of the game with a legacy of significant contributions that spans decades. I have seen first-hand how the network has grown under her direction, and I know that she will bring that same innovative thinking and strategic vision to her future pursuits. Debra has groomed an amazing group of senior executives, and I am confident that BET Networks will continue to flourish under their leadership.”
Over the past three decades, Ms. Lee’s name has become synonymous with BET’s growth as one of the most impactful brands in the media landscape reflecting the Black experience in meaningful and multifaceted ways. Under her leadership, the network has enjoyed record-breaking success, including 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. On Lee’s watch she oversaw the launch of the network’s website, BET.com, developed BET Her, the first network for African-American women, and acquired television rights to BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Lee also launched Leading Women Defined, an annual conference where notable African American women, including Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Venus Williams, Issa Rae and Erykah Badu, to name a few, gathered each year for insightful debates and conversations on issues that impact their community and families. Additionally, she championed BET’s breast cancer campaign “BET Goes Pink,” the education platform “BET Next Level,” award-winning voting campaign “BET Vote Your Voice” and several telethons for Florida, Haiti and Katrina under the “SOS: Saving OurSelves” initiative.
Following her departure from BET Networks, Ms. Lee plans to stay involved in the media industry and continue her role on corporate and non-profit boards. In addition, she also plans to continue her commitment to diversity and inclusion by advancing the rights of women and girls as well as people of color through her work with Times Up and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, to name a few. She will be missed by her colleagues, staff and the countless people whose lives have been touched by her leadership and vision.