Executive Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, National Urban League, New York City
Deborah Stewart Coleman. In 1994, she became the first woman to lead a major automotive assembly plant in the United States as manager of the Ohio assembly plant for a joint venture of Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Corp. Five years later, she was named chief executive, president and chief operating officer of Auto Alliance Inter-national, Ford’s joint venture with Mazda Motor Co., and four years after that CEO and group managing director of Ford Southern Africa–both firsts. Following her Africa assignment, Coleman became Ford’s vice president of Global Quality, one of two African-American women to achieve the level of corporate vice president in the company’s history. She made history again in 2007, when she was appointed executive vice president and chief operations officer of the National Urban League, the first woman to hold that position in the organization’s 97-year history.
Coleman had been involved in advocacy and social justice work long before joining the organization’s top management. “There were many of us in corporate America doing advocacy and social justice work on a daily basis, ensuring that people have an opportunity to achieve, be recognized for their achievements and given access to promotional opportunities,” she says.
She asserts that she has maintained a sense of self, humility and humor, as well as a love for working with and for people, throughout her 30 years in the automotive industry at home and abroad. Those attributes contributed mightily to a life of success, she says, evidenced by her numerous business and civic awards. She contends that one is called to action to reach out to and help uplift the economically disadvantaged.
Coleman holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, a master’s in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and a master’s in business administration, specializing in international marketing, from Baker College.