Debra L. Lee is Chairman and CEO Emeritus of BET Holdings, Inc. (2005 - May 28, 2018), a media and entertainment company targeted to African Americans. She is the highest ranking African-American woman at BET's parent company Viacom, Inc.
During her tenure, Ms. Lee grew BET's annual revenue to over $100 million (2017).
Ms. Lee became President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of BET Holdings, Inc., in March 1996. She previously served as the network's executive vice president of strategic business development. During her tenure at BET, Lee has played some of the most pivotal roles in the company's history, including executive vice president and general counsel of BET's legal affairs department; corporate secretary; and president and publisher of BET's publishing division.
As a network, BET was the first of its kind in television history. Since its founding in 1980, BET has successfully pioneered an entire genre of music, entertainment, news and public affairs programming for African Americans -- a feat that some current and upstart networks are trying to duplicate. The majority of that success has come under the leadership and direction of Debra Lee.
At a time when most cable and broadcast networks are seeing virtually zero growth, Lee has delivered four consecutive seasons of record-setting ratings. She has also led the network's evolution into original movies, documentaries, concert specials, news, late-night talk shows and public policy coverage. Without question, BET represents the total network package for its audience and now reaches more than 78 million homes.
Ms. Lee has been named one of The Hollywood Reporter's 100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment, and was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame and the Washington Business Hall of Fame. She was also the first African-American female executive to be honored with the Distinguished Leadership Vanguard Award by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Ms. Lee serves on the board of directors of AT&T (Since 2019), Twitter Inc. (since 2016), Revlon, Inc. and WGL Holdings, Inc., an energy company (since 2000). She also serves on the board of a number of professional and civic organizations, including as past Chair of the Advertising Council, as the President of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and as a Trustee Emeritus at Brown University.
Ms. Lee holds a B.A. from Brown University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an M.P.P. from Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.