Debra Lee
Personal details
Born (1954-08-08) August 8, 1954 (age 69)
Fort Jackson, South Carolina, U.S.
SpouseRandall Coleman
EducationBrown University (BA)
Harvard University (JD, MPP)

Debra L. Lee (born August 8, 1954) is an American businesswoman. She was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BET, the parent company for Black Entertainment Television from 2005 to May 28, 2018. Lee has sat on the board of directors for a number of companies/organizations, including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association the Ad Council, and the National Cable Television Association. She currently serves on the board of directors for Warner Bros. Discovery. Debra Lee has been named one of the "100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment" by The Hollywood Reporter due to her many achievements in her 30-plus year career at BET.

Early life and education

Debra L. Lee was born in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina.[1] She attended James B. Dudley High School. In 1976, Lee graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in political science with an emphasis in Asian politics. She went on to earn a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. degree at Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Board of Student Advisers, in 1980.

Early career

From August 1981 through September 1981, Lee served as a law clerk to Barrington Parker of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.[1]

Lee joined BET as Vice President of BET's legal affairs department and general counsel in 1986 after over five years as an attorney with Washington, D.C. based Steptoe & Johnson, a corporate law firm.[1] She has also served as BET's corporate secretary and president and publisher of BET's publishing division, which published Emerge magazine, YSB magazine, BET Weekend, and Heart & Soul magazine.[2]


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In March 1996, Lee became president and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of BET Holdings, Inc., replacing departing network founder, Robert L. Johnson.[3][4] In 2005, she became president and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).[5] The company had nearly $100 million in revenue last year.[6]

Under Lee, Black Entertainment Television has begun to move in a different format direction for the network. She increased the production budget by 50% and looked into incorporating original programming by getting 16 new shows for the new 2007 season. Lee has also redesigned BET's mission statement by supporting families, encouraging their dreams, and presenting fresh talent by creating new shows for its network. She created a new entertainment network, CENTRIC, in September 2009 that features new artists, reality shows, and movies.

In 2023, her memories under the title I am Debra Lee were published by Legacy Lit. She also became an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority in 2023.[7]


Lee serves on board of directors of Marriott, and Revlon.[8] Lee is also a director of Washington Gas Light Company, WGL Holdings (since 2000) and the Monsanto subsidiary Genuity.[5] In May 2016, Lee was added to the board of directors of Twitter, following an attempt by returning CEO Jack Dorsey to boost diversity across the social media company's board.[9] Since 2022, Lee has served as a director of Warner Bros. Discovery.[10]

Awards and honors


  1. ^ a b c Harris, Janelle (January 5, 2011). "SO WHAT DO YOU DO, DEBRA LEE, CHAIRWOMAN AND CEO OF BET?". Mediabistro. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  2. ^ "Black News and current events from African American Organizations,". Retrieved Mar 12, 2019.
  3. ^ "Sortable chart for the top 50 women --". Retrieved Mar 12, 2019.
  4. ^ "Austin Dental Implant Center". Retrieved Mar 12, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Top Executive Profiles
  6. ^ "Company Search | Company Information | Hoovers Company Profiles - D&B Hoovers". Retrieved Mar 12, 2019.
  7. ^ "Celebrating the Newest Honorary Members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc". Houston Style Magazine. March 24, 2022. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  8. ^ "TopBlacks". TopBlacks. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  9. ^ Chaykowski, Kathleen. "Twitter Adds CEO Of BET, Debra Lee, To Its Board Of Directors". Forbes. Retrieved Mar 12, 2019.
  10. ^ Vlessing, Etan (2022-03-15). "AT&T Names Warner Bros. Discovery Board Appointees, Including Ex-BET Chief Debra Lee". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2024-01-01.
  11. ^ "Debra L. Lee". Retrieved Mar 12, 2019.
  12. ^ "Brown confers nine honorary degrees". Brown University. 25 May 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2014.