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Lewis, Edward T. 1940–

Edward T. Lewis 1940

Publisher, business executive

Left Banking for Publishing

Led Major Company Diversification


As chairman and CEO of Essence Communications Inc., a diversified, multi-million dollar corporation, Edward Lewis heads one of the most successful and diverse African American-owned communications companies in the United States. His rise to prominence began in 1969 when he co-founded Essence magazine with Clarence O. Smith. Essence has evolved into one of the leading lifestyle magazines for African American women, with a paid circulation of one million and a readership of 7.5 million. By the mid 1990s Essence was the pre-eminent voice for black women, according to Deirdre Carmody in the New York Times.

While his reputation for seriousness earned him the nickname Stone Face Lewis, according to the New York Times, Lewis is highly respected by his business colleagues because of his integrity and fair-mindedness. As Robin Pogrebin wrote in a 1997 article in the New York Times, Despite the hurdles, Mr. Lewis has persevered, with a soft-spoken calm and courtly elegance that has won him friends in high places, like Bill Cosby and David N. Dinkins, the former Mayor of New York. Lewis has graciously refused to take sole credit for the success of Essence, and cites the stellar performances of Clarence O. Smith and the magazines editor-in-chief, Susan L. Taylor. The definition of power is shared dependency, he noted in the New York Times.

Edward Lewis grew up in the South Bronx area of New York City, the son of a beautician and a janitor. He demonstrated an intense desire to succeed during his years at De Witt Clinton High School, where he received All-City honors as a fullback on the schools football team. Lewiss athletic prowess earned him a football scholarship to the University of New Mexico in 1958. At the time, he was one of only five African American students at the University of New Mexico.

Left Banking for Publishing

Lewis graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1964 with a bachelors degree in political science and international relations. He enrolled in the Georgetown University Law School, but left after one year to participate in the executive training program at First National City Bank in New York City. He further enhanced his

At a Glance

Born on May 15, 1940, in Bronx, NY; married Carolyn Wright (a speech pathologist), 1991. Education: University of New Mexico: B.A., 1964; M.A., 1966.

Career: Worked as administrative analyst, City Managers Office, Albuquerque, NM, 1964-65; First National City Bank, New York, NY, financial analyst, 1966-69; Essence Magazine, co-founder, 1969-.

Memberships: Chairman, Magazine Publishers of America, TransAfrica Forum; board of directors, Black Council on Africa, Rheeland Foundation, Negro Ensemble of New York City; trustee, Tuskegee University, Leadership Council of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, Teachers College of Columbia University.

Awards and honors: Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Publishing, Ernst & Young, 1994; National Association of Black Journalists Award, 1995; Presidents Award, One Hundred Black Men of America, Inc., 1995; Frederick Douglass Award, New York Urban League, 1995; A.G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award, Black Enterprise /Nationsbank Entrepreneurs Conference, 1997; Media-Bridge-Builder Award, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, 1998; United Negro College Funds Lifetime Achievement Award; American Advertising Federation Diversity Achievement Award; The Men Who Dare Award, Black Womens Forum of Los Angeles.

Addresses: Home New York, NY; Office Essence Communications, 1500 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.

business skills by taking courses at the Harvard University Business School. Lewis was well on his way to becoming a loan officer when his career took a dramatic turn after he attended a conference on African Americans in business. One of the topics discussed at the conference was the concept of a fashion magazine for African American women. Lewis saw the potential of such a publication, and within six months had left banking to become the co-founder of Essence magazine. The first issue of Essence was published in May of 1970, with a print run of just 50,000 copies.

Before Essence magazine, no one had ever examined the black womans contribution to her race, her society, and her country, noted Lewis in publicity materials from Essence Communications. Unlike any other publication, Essence has consistently addressed the intelligence, experience, and beauty of black women. In an article in the New York Times, Lewis remarked that African American women often do not see their concerns discussed in mainstream publications, It is very important that Essence is a voice for African American women because we know they are going to read a Vogue, a Vanity Fair, but they are not going to see themselves month in, month out as a black woman. Lewis has worked to make Essence more than just a fashion magazine by dealing with topics of particular concern to African American women such as single parenthood, child abuse, AIDS, abortion, and welfare. We have one common denominator: that we are black, Lewis told the New York Times in discussing the range of coverage in Essence. Because of what has happened in our history, we have always had to deal with these kinds of issues.

Through the years, Lewis has struggled to convince advertisers to showcase their products in Essence. We always have to re-educate, retell our story, he told the New York Times. The Glamours and the Vogues dont have to do that. Lewiss efforts have paid off handsomely, however. In 1997, the yearly total of ad pages in Essence had surpassed 1,000a far cry from the five ad pages in each of the second and third issues of the magazine back in 1970.

Led Major Company Diversification

During the 1980s and 1990s, Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) underwent a significant diversification and expansion under the leadership of Lewis and Smith. From 1984 to 1988, ECI produced the award-winning weekly syndicated TV program Essence. The company also produces The Essence Awards, a prime-time network television special. Essence Communications has also expanded its brand name to a mail-order catalogue called Essence-By-Mail, which markets products to a wide-ranging audience. In addition, the Essence licensing division offered a line of fashion hosiery and eyewear, as well as the Essence Collection by Butterick, a specially designed wardrobe of sewing fashions.

In 1995, the first Essence Musical Festival was held at the Superdome in New Orleans. Now an annual event, the four-day Festival drew 160,000 participants during each of its first three years. Lewis and Smith had been prepared to cancel the 1996 Festival, however, after Louisiana Governor M.J. Foster Jr. announced that he was ending affirmative-action programs in the state. Negative publicity surrounding this announcement led to a meeting of Governor Foster, Lewis, Clarence Smith, and Hugh B. Price, the president of the National Urban League. Following the meeting, Governor Foster issued a new executive order that offered improved career opportunities for minorities in Louisiana. In an issue of Jet, Lewis expressed his hope that the crusade in Louisiana would encourage women and minorities around the country to address and act upon such important issues. We urge everyone to keep their local governments accountable for their actions.

In 1992, Lewis expanded his publishing realm with the acquisition of Income Opportunities from Davis Publishing. At the time, this magazine for people starting new businesses had a circulation of 400,000. The Essence takeover of the magazine represented a rare case of a minority company buying a white-owned business. Three years later, Lewis entered into a joint venture to publish Latina, the first bilingual lifestyle magazine that exclusively addressed the interests of Hispanic women in the United States. In 1997, Essence Communications considered a joint venture with Time Inc. to produce Savoy, an African American lifestyle magazine.

In 1997, Essence Communications received a special tribute for its quarter century of success in Black Enterprises article Marathon Men: 25 years of Black Entrepreneurial Excellence. Since its inception, Essence Communications has appeared on all 25 listings of Black Enterprises Top 100 Black firms. In 1997, Lewis was named chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America, the industry association for consumer magazines. He became the first African American to lead this trade group, which represents over 700 magazines. It is a great honor to be chosen by my peers to represent their interests and matters that affect our association, said Lewis upon the appointment, according to the New York Amsterdam News. In Black Enterprise he added, The appointment is a recognition of companies like Essence and that we are important contributors to the growth and prosperity for the magazine industry. It also sends a signal that our society is becoming more diverse, and the magazine industry must do the same. Lewis pledged that he would address a number of goals during his time as chairman, especially issues related to the impact of magazines, and increasing opportunity in and access to publishing for people of color.

Lewis is a strong advocate of community involvement and contributes both personal time and financial support to a number of civic, educational, and arts organizations. He has also established scholarships in political science, journalism, and communications at his alma mater, the University of New Mexico. For several years, Lewis has lectured at the Stanford University School of Publishing. He also speaks frequently to college and high school students who are interested in pursuing careers in business and publishing. In 1998, Lewis became the first African American to receive the Media-Bridge-Builder Award from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. The Center focuses on religion and conflict resolution, religious pluralism in the workplace, and religious pluralism in primary grades.

Although Essence Communications has enjoyed tremendous success, Lewis is determined to expand the organization. I want to be like Time Warner, he told the New York Times. If Time Warner can employ over 30,000 people, I want Essence Communications to employ over 30,000 people. While acknowledging his success, he recognizes that black publishing organizations still face many daunting challenges. Weve come a long way, he noted in the New York Times. Weve got a long way to go.



Black Enterprise, January 1998, p. 16.

Folio, May 1998, p. 46.

Jet, June 9, 1997, p. 8.

Mediaweek, April 25, 1994, p. 33; November 3, 1997, p. 32.

New York Amsterdam News, November 6, 1997, p. 53; April 30, 1998, p. 4.

New York Times, January 23, 1995, p. D1; October 25, 1997, p. D1.


Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials provided by Essence Communications, Inc., and the Essence Communications site on the World Wide Web, at

Ed Decker

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