Debra Lee Leaves BET after 32 Years

After 32 years Debra Lee, longtime chairman/CEO of BET Networks, is leaving the company.

Under Lee’s leadership, BET has been the No. 1 network among African-American viewers for 17 years, with hits like The Game, The Real Husbands of Hollywood and last year’s miniseries The New Edition Story.

Lee joined BET in 1986 as its first vp and general counsel.

“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.

She was promoted to president and COO 10 years later and named chairman and CEO in 2005.

But in a sign of Viacom’s new direction under CEO Bob Bakish, Lee relinquished her president title last December, as Scott Mills was named to that position. In past years, almost all of the top positions at each of the company’s networks have changed hands, including the heads of MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, CMT and TV Land.

Per BET, following her departure from the company, Lee, a well-respected industry executive, plans to stay involved in the media industry and continue her role on corporate and non-profit boards. In addition, Lee also plans to continue her commitment to diversity and inclusion by advancing the rights of women and girls as well as people of color through her work with Times Up and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, to name a few. Lee’s annual gathering of prominent African American women, Leading Women Defined, will also continue under her leadership.

In a statement fromDebra Lee:

“In 1986 I joined BET Networks to be its very first in-house counsel. 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. I have called BET Networks home for over three decades and this team is part of my extended family.”

“In addition to the legacy I have built for BET Networks in the media landscape, I am also extremely proud of the legacy of values that I helped to instill at the network during my tenure. My belief that we can do well and do good has been a guiding principle and one that I hope you will continue after my departure. Together, we have built a world-class brand that connects with fans through the power of storytelling and we have attracted and nurtured top talent across the globe.”

“I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to our parent company, Viacom, for their continued belief in the power of the BET brand and their unwavering support of my long and fulfilling career here. I would especially like to thank Bob Bakish for supporting me as I start the next chapter in this exciting journey.”

“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, rooting for each and every one of you as you continue to break barriers and share your authenticity with the world. I leave with pride, gratitude, and joy for a life-changing professional and personal journey. Continue to do it “for the culture” and much success to you all. You deserve it.”

In a statement from Bob Bakish:

“Debra’s vision and creativity have cemented BET Networks as a premier network for African Americans and lovers of black culture. 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. I have seen first-hand how the network has grown under her direction, and I know that she will bring that same innovative thinking and strategic vision to her future pursuits. Debra has groomed an amazing group of senior executives, and I am confident that BET Networks will continue to flourish under their leadership.”

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