Debra Lee has given BET over a quarter century of her life. So, as she steps down from leadership position, it’s only right to give her a warm send off.
The businesswomen started at BET as the television network’s Vice President of legal affairs department and general counsel in the late ’80s. She moved on to replace Robert L. Johnson, the network’s founder, as President and Chief Operating Officer of BET Holdings, Inc. Nearly 20 years later, in 2005, Lee stepped into the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position.
Under her care, the network’s production budget increased and new television shows came into being. She realigned the company’s mission statement to be more family oriented, which is where hits like Let’s Stay Together and The Family Crews grew from.
Lee even showed love to BET’s large (and growing) female viewership, launching CENTRIC in 2009. The network, which was originally named “BET Her,” mainly features lifestyle programing, including shows like Reed Between the Lines, Single Ladies, and Master of the Mix.
Her handiwork reached a milestone after BET reportedly earned $100 million in revenue in 2016.
Now, 31 years since her start in 1986, Debra Lee is stepping down as president of BET.
“I have spent more than 20 years leading this incredible enterprise and I am so proud of the BET team and all that we have accomplished,” Lee said in a statement, according to Black Enterprise. “As I look to the future, I believe it is the right time to take a step back from day-to-day responsibilities at BET.”
Lee isn’t leaving hip-hop’s leading network altogether. The mogul will still be chairman and CEO of the network, but her attention will be focused on growing BET’s relationships with the community and external stakeholders.
The changes go into effect Jan. 1 of the new year. Taking her place as the planner of the BET Awards and original programming header is Scott M. Mills. Mills has been apart of the BET family since 1997, so he’s more than ready to fill Lee’s big shoes.
“BET has consistently produced exciting, thought-provoking content, shaping culture and conversation with African Americans and young audiences around the world,” Mills said in a separate statement. “I am honored to work alongside Debi, Michael, and the incredible team at BET as we accelerate the network’s evolution across film, digital, and live experiences.”
So Long, Farewell
Viacom president and CEO Bob Bakish sent Lee off with nothing but praise and deserved recognition. “In her two decades at the helm of BET Networks, Debi has built BET into a truly global entertainment powerhouse,” he said, “bringing this dominant African American brand to more than 60 countries and 125 million households.”
Then, fans on Twitter followed his lead. While some joked that she may be stepping down because of damning sexual assault accusations — which has been a trend throughout 2017 — others were genuinely sad to see her go.
“I must say that Debra Lee ran her journey with dignity kindness and class thats what i remember about her well done Debra,” Twitter user @casemarcell posted.
User @iamkeishabrewer praised Lee before wishing Mills well, tweeting, “I enjoyed Debra Lee as BET President. She made me proud to say that that’s OUR network. Good luck to Scott Mills as he takes on the role!”
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