BET CEO and chairman Debra Lee is stepping down from the Viacom-owned network after 32 years of service. Lee’s last day will be Monday (May 28).
The 63-year-old executive first joined the cabler in 1986 as in-house counsel and worked up the corporate ladder. She was promoted to president and COO ten years later and named chairman and CEO in 2005.
"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,” Lee said in a statement ( BET).
"I have called BET Networks home for over three decades, and this team is part of my extended family," she continues, “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."
Bob Bakish, President, and CEO of Viacom, BET's parent company, saluted Lee's strong leadership and dedication into making BET a destination for quality programming for African-Americans.
“Debra’s vision and creativity has cemented BET Networks as a premiere network for African Americans and lovers of Black culture," he said. "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.”
"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," he continued. "Debra has groomed an amazing group of senior executives, and I am confident that BET Networks will continue to flourish under their leadership.”
Last December, Lee handed off the day-to-day operations of the company to Scott M. Mills who is taking over as president. Lee is reportedly not being replaced. BET Networks currently reaches 125 million households in over 60 countries.
Lee said she plans to stay involved in the music industry and will continue to fight for diversity and inclusion for women and people of color through her ongoing work with the Time’s Up movement and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.
Upon hearing the news of Debra Lee leaving BET, former BET President of Programming Stephen Hill sent his well-wishes to her his Twitter account. Read his tweet below: