After a career that has spanned more than three decades with Viacom-owned BET Networks, chairman and CEO Debra Lee (pictured) is stepping down, effective May 28.
Lee began her career with BET in 1986 as its first vice president and general counsel. She was promoted to president and COO in 1996 and named chairman and CEO in 2005. Scripted successes that flourished under her watch include the sitcom The Game, which brought in a record 7.68 million viewers for its premiere episode, and the New Edition Story biopic. Unscripted series that aired during her tenure include Nellyville, Keshia Cole: The Way It Is, and the current sketch comedy/hidden camera prank variety show, 50 Central.
“In 1986 I joined BET Networks to be its very first in-house counsel,” said Lee in a statement. “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,” she added. “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.”
“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,” said Viacom CEO Bob Bakish. “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.”
In December, Scott Mills was named president of BET Networks, with Lee retaining her chairman and CEO status and focusing on relationships with key external stakeholders and communities, while also acting as an adviser to Mills.
Lee intends on remaining in the media industry and will continue her work on corporate and non-profit boards, as well as her efforts with Time’s Up and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, among other organizations.
(Image courtesy of BET Networks)