Debra Lee is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BET Networks, a unit of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIA, VIAB) and the leading provider of entertainment for the African-American audience and consumers of Black culture globally.
Lee oversees one of the most influential multiplatform media companies in the world, including several cable television networks, digital offerings, and a home entertainment business. Under her leadership, Lee led the company’s successful reinvigorated brand and programming vision that created hits such as “Being Mary Jane,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” “Black Girls Rock!,” “BET Honors” and many more, resulting in consistent increases in viewership and revenue. In addition, Lee helped guide BET’s reinvigorated approach, which is built on supporting families, embracing and encouraging their dreams, focusing on the issues that are important to them and presenting the freshest talent and entertainment.
Lee was also instrumental in spearheading the re-branding of Centric as the first network designed for black women. She also oversees the company’s current growth initiatives including international distribution of the brand in Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Prior to her being named Chairman and CEO, Ms. Lee was President and Chief Operating Officer of BET Networks for almost 10 years, during which she guided the company to consistent increases in viewership, revenue and earnings. She first joined BET as Vice President and General Counsel in 1986 after serving more than five years as an attorney with Washington, D.C.-based Steptoe & Johnson, a corporate law firm.
Named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment, Debra Lee’s achievements in a 30-plus year career at BET Networks have earned her numerous accolades from across the cable industry, as well as recognition as one of this country’s most respected business executives. Ms. Lee was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, the Washington Business Hall of Fame, and was honored with the Distinguished Leadership Vanguard Award by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. She serves as the Chair of the Ad Council’s Board of Directors and on the corporate boards of Twitter, Revlon, Marriott and Washington Gas & Light.
Affiliated with a number of professional, civic, and cultural organizations, Ms. Lee is also a member of the national board of directors for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Economic Club of Washington, the Paley Center for Media and the Kennedy Center’s Community & Friends Board. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees for Brown University and is the head of the Ad Council board. Additionally, Debra was appointed by the White House to the President’s Management Advisory Board and is a member emeritus of the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age.
Ms. Lee earned her juris doctorate at Harvard Law School, while simultaneously earning a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. She graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in Asian politics.
Ms. Lee resides in Washington, D.C., with her two children.