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Debra Lee

Chairman & CEO Emeritus, BET Networks

For more than 30 years, she's been associated with one of the most impactful brands in media, climbing to not only lead BET, but to become the highest-ranking African-American woman at its parent company, Viacom.

Lee joined BET as executive vice president and general counsel in 1986, was promoted to president and COO of the network that reaches approximately 78 million homes in March 1996 and then to chairman and CEO in 2005.

She guided much of the 38-year-old network's growth beyond music and into entertainment, news and public affairs programming, including original movies, late-night talk shows and concert specials, with successes such as bringing to cable The Game in 2014 and the miniseries The New Edition Story in 2017, the launch of BET.com and the acquisition of the television rights to Black Girls Rock!

Lee stepped down as chairman and chief executive officer in May but plans to remain involved in media and continue work on corporate boards and with initiatives to advance the rights of women and people of color.

"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," she said in announcing her departure from the company.

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