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George Lewis

Pioneering corporate executive George Ralph Lewis was born on March 7, 1941, in Burgess, Virginia, a small Chesapeake Bay fishing village. His mother, Edith Toulson Lewis, was a homemaker, and his father, Spencer Lewis, was very enterprising and held several jobs to support his family, including working on the docks, cooking and later, starting his own business renovating homes. Expected by his parents and community to go to college, Lewis enrolled at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. Following his first year of college, Lewis spent the summer working for his uncle, a Philadelphia restaurant owner. Delivering food downtown, Lewis overheard businessmen talking about their deals, and he decided to pursue a career in business. Returning to school that fall, Lewis changed his major to accounting and earned his B.S. degree in 1963. Later, in 1968, he earned his M.B.A. degree from Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.

Lewis’ first major job was with General Foods Corporation as a sales analyst for the Kool-Aid division in New York. In 1966, he moved to W.R. Grace, a specialty chemical company, where he worked as a financial analyst. In 1967, Philip Morris hired Lewis as a corporate analyst, and the next year, he became a senior planning analyst. He was promoted to Manager of Industrial Relations in 1970, Manager of Financial Services in 1972 and Assistant Treasurer in 1973. In 1975, Lewis became Treasurer and Vice President of Financial & Planning for Philip Morris Industrial, a subsidiary company. In 1982, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked for a different subsidiary, the Seven-Up Company, as Vice President of Finance. After two years, Lewis returned to the parent company, Philip Morris Companies, Inc., as Vice President and Treasurer. At that time, one of the highest-ranking blacks in finance, he was in charge of Philip Morris’ worldwide treasury activities. He oversaw the company’s takeover of General Foods in 1985 and of Kraft in 1988. In 1997, Lewis became President and CEO of Philip Morris Capital Company, the finance and investment subsidiary of Philip Morris. He retired from this position in 2001.

Lewis has received numerous awards for his pioneering business achievements. Both Iona College and Hampton University have recognized him, and in 2000, he received a CNN Trumpet Tower of Power Award. In 2006, the Jackie Robinson Foundation honored him with a lifetime achievement award. He has served on the boards of several large corporations and organizations, including the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, where he became the board’s first black member in 1995.

George Lewis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 7, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.247

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/7/2007

Last Name

Lewis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Ralph

Occupation
Schools

Hampton University

New York University

Iona College

Julius Rosenwald High School

First Name

George

Birth City, State, Country

Burgess

HM ID

LEW12

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Dominican Republic, Rome

Favorite Quote

Stay Focused.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/7/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Greens, Seafood

Short Description

Corporate executive George Lewis (1941 - ) was President and CEO of the Philip Morris Capital Company from 1997 to 2001.

Employment

General Foods Corporation

W.R. Grace & Co.

Philip Morris Incorporated

Philip Morris Industrial

7-Up Company

Philip Morris Capitol Corporation

MALCO, Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of George Lewis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George Lewis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George Lewis describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George Lewis shares the history of Burgess, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George Lewis describes his mother's activities and interests

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George Lewis talks about his mother and maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George Lewis describes his father's professions

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George Lewis talks about his father's investments

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - George Lewis describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - George Lewis describes his father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - George Lewis describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - George Lewis describes the community of Burgess, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George Lewis talks about segregation in Burgess, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George Lewis describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George Lewis describes his home life

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George Lewis remembers the Shiloh Baptist Church in Reedville, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George Lewis describes his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - George Lewis recalls celebrating the holidays with his family

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - George Lewis describes the sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - George Lewis remembers his elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - George Lewis describes his experiences at Julius Rosenwald High School in Reedville, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - George Lewis recalls his decision to attend the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - George Lewis remembers changing his major from medicine to accounting

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George Lewis talks about his early business aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George Lewis describes the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Corporate America

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George Lewis recalls being hired by the General Foods Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George Lewis describes his experiences at the General Foods Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George Lewis remembers earning an M.B.A. degree

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George Lewis recalls meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George Lewis talks about working for W.R. Grace and Company

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - George Lewis describes his career goals and responsibilities at W.R. Grace and Company

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - George Lewis recalls joining Philip Morris, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George Lewis talks about balancing his home life and career

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George Lewis recalls his experiences at Philip Morris Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George Lewis describes his promotion to assistant treasurer at Philip Morris, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George Lewis recalls his role as assistant treasurer of Philip Morris, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George Lewis talks about the reputation of Philip Morris Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - George Lewis talk about his career at Philip Morris, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - George Lewis remembers learning to golf

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - George Lewis describes the country clubs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - George Lewis recalls cofounding MALCO, Inc. with Wayne Embry

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - George Lewis recalls becoming the CFO of 7-Up in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - George Lewis recalls becoming the treasurer of Philip Morris Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - George Lewis describes his colleagues at Philip Morris Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - George Lewis describes his responsibilities at Philip Morris Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - George Lewis recalls the racial discrimination at country clubs in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - George Lewis talks about the integration of New York City's country clubs

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - George Lewis recalls serving on the advisory board of the PGA of America

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - George Lewis talks about the role of golf in the business community

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - George Lewis recalls being promoted to CFO of the Philip Morris Capital Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - George Lewis describes the Philip Morris Capital Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - George Lewis talks about the anti-smoking campaign against Philip Morris USA

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - George Lewis describes Philip Morris Inc.'s international brands

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - George Lewis reflects upon his retirement

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - George Lewis describes his board memberships

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - George Lewis talks about his retirement activities

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - George Lewis talks about his daughter's marriage to Spike Lee

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - George Lewis describes his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - George Lewis remembers his co-recipients of the CNN Trumpet Tower of Power Award

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - George Lewis talks about his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jackie Robinson Foundation

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - George Lewis reflects upon the position of African Americans in Corporate America

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - George Lewis talks about notable African American business executives

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - George Lewis reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - George Lewis narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

3$1

DATitle
George Lewis recalls being hired by the General Foods Corporation
George Lewis recalls becoming the treasurer of Philip Morris Inc.
Transcript
You chose General Foods [General Foods Corporation]?$$Yeah, I, I got, as I said I got an interview at General Foods and--White Plains, New York and had, had a full day of interviews. My first interview was in the Jell-O division. I spent pretty much the full day there and I wasn't sure the interview had gone that well. I had thought that they were just going through the exercise because they were told that they had to interview some African Americans, but I, I wasn't quite sure that they were serious, and I didn't see, didn't see anybody that looked me during the interviewing process, and I happened to be sitting in the lobby of General Foods waiting for a cab going back to Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] because it was in the, going back to Hampton [Hampton Institute; Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia] quite frankly and this black woman walked through the lobby, and she said, "Who are you?" And I said, I told her who I was and she said, "But why are you here?" I told her I had gotten an interview with Jell-O and I didn't think it had gone that well, I just didn't think they were serious about it, I just thought someone had told them they had to interview African Americans. She said, "I'm manager of--," I forgot her title, she was manager of human resources at the corporate area. She was the only black person at General Foods at that time (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Do you remember her name?$$Eileen Johnson [Eileen Williams Johnson], I will never forget her as long as I live and I've kept in contact. She died about five years ago, but I've kept in contact, I did keep in contact with her, and she said, "Sit here, we're gonna do something for you." So she came back, and she said, "I'm gonna have to give you a little test, a little quiz." So she gave me a test, you know different kinds of multiple choices, and little math problems and I did that and then she said, "I'm gonna have you interview the comptroller for the Kool-Aid division." Interviewed the comptroller he had me interview some others, went back to her and she said, "We're gonna get this done before you leave." So by the time I left there I had a job. If it had not been for that black woman, I would not have gotten the job at General Foods.$What are you asked to return to New York [New York] to do?$$It was a big job and I was, I was very, very surprised at the time when I got the call. It was to come back to New York as a corporate vice president to be, which is the first corporate vice president at Philip Morris Companies, Inc. [Philip Morris Inc.; Altria Group, Inc.], to be vice president and treasurer of Philip Morris Companies which at the time was from a profitability point, the seventh largest corporation in the world, and I was to be in charge of all world-wide treasury activities. You know we do business, we did businesses in every country you can imagine, so I had to manage currencies, I had to manage bank relations, I had to manage pension funds, I had to manage credits revolvers, big, big position. So when I got it, when I got the call, I called my partner in Milwaukee [Wisconsin], Wayne [HistoryMaker Wayne Embry], and I said, you know, I'm not sure this is gonna work, because I am, I have to take this. I said, "This is a first, there are no African American treasurers in the Fortune 100 and I don't think in the Fortune 500. It is an opportunity that I have got to do, so I'm gonna be going to New York and with MALCO [MALCO, Inc.], I'll give you as much time as I can, but I can tell you that certainly initially this job is going to consume just all my time," and he said, "No you gotta take it, you gotta do it, and you know if you can make some of the meetings, I'll just hold it down." Wayne is, Wayne is a super guy, he, we had a great relationship. So, so we came back to New York in 1984, came back as treasurer of Philip Morris, and it was fantastic. It was, it was, it was wonderful.