People

Debra L. Lee



Chairman & CEO

BET Networks, a Viacom Company


Debra L. Lee is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Black Entertainment Television (BET) Networks, a unit of Viacom Inc. and the leading provider of entertainment for the African-American audience and consumers of Black culture globally. Ms. Lee oversees one of the most influential multiplatform media companies in the world, including several cable television networks and digital offerings.

BET Networks is committed to providing its audience with quality entertainment that speaks to where they are in their lives and where they want to go. Under her leadership, Ms. Lee has led the company’s successful reinvigorated brand and successful programming vision that has created hits such as The New Edition Story, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Being Mary Jane, The BET Awards, Black Girls Rock!, BET Honors and many more. Ms. Lee’s vision for BET’s reinvigorated approach is built on supporting families, embracing and encouraging their dreams, and focusing on the issues that are important to them.

In September 2009, Ms. Lee managed the launch of Centric, a 24-hour music and entertainment network. Under her leadership, Centric was rebranded in 2014 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, France, 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. Prior to that, she served as a law clerk to the late Honorable Barrington Parker of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment, Ms. Lee’s achievements in a 25-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 honored with the Distinguished Leadership Vanguard Award by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. Most recently, Ms. Lee was celebrated as an Icon at the 2017 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons for her major contributions to American music and culture through BET. This distinguished honor was presented by Clive Davis and The Recording Academy. She is the first woman to receive this honor.

Ms. Lee also serves on the corporate board of directors for Marriott International, Twitter and Washington Gas & Light. Her business acumen and strategic approach to management make Ms. Lee a popular speaker and lecturer on a range of business topics.

Affiliated with a number of professional, civic and cultural organizations, she serves as the President of the Board of Trustees for The Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation and is a member of the Board of Trustees for The American Film Institute, Brown University’s Center for Slavery & Justice, The Paley Center for Media, and The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

She was appointed by President Obama to the White House Management Advisory Board and is a member emeritus of the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age. She also currently serves on the Board of Directors for former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.

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. In 2014 she was awarded with a Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) from Brown University. 

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