Debra Lee Steps Down as Chairman and CEO of BET Networks

Exec previously stepped back from day-to-day responsibilities at the network in December

Last Updated: May 24, 2018 @ 12:36 PM

Debra Lee is stepping down as chairman and CEO of BET Networks, the company announced on Thursday.

Lee, who began her career at BET as vice president and general counsel in 1986, has served as chairman and CEO of the company since 2005. She ceded day-to-day responsibilities at the network last year to Scott M. Mills, who was elevated to president in December.

Her departure is effective Monday, May 28.

“I could not be prouder of the enormous amount of talent and creativity at BET Networks today and I will always be BET’s number one fan, rooting for each and every one of you as you continue to break barriers and share your authenticity with the world,” Lee said in a statement. “I leave with pride, gratitude, and joy for a life-changing professional and personal journey. Continue to do it ‘for the culture’ and much success to you all. You deserve it.”

Under Lee’s leadership, BET has remained the most-watched network among African-American viewers for nearly two decades with hit shows like “The Game,” “The New Edition Story,” “Being Mary Jane” and “The Real Husbands of Hollywood,” as well as nonfiction programming such as the BET Awards.

“Debra’s vision and creativity have cemented BET Networks as a premier network for African Americans and lovers of black culture,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement. “As BET continues to move forward, we will always be grateful to Debra for her leadership and commitment to creating top-notch entertainment that both entertains and empowers. Her passion for the BET brand has resulted in countless wins and has allowed BET to stay competitive in a growing media landscape.”

Following her departure, Lee plans to stay involved in the media industry and continue her role on corporate and non-profit boards. She will also continue to work with Times Up and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, and will continue to hold her annual gathering of prominent African American women, Leading Women Defined.

Read full statements from Lee and Bakish below.

Debra Lee statement:

“In 1986 I joined BET Networks to be its very first in-house counsel. As a young corporate attorney I saw my role as the protector of the BET brand and its employees and today, more than 32 years later, I still see myself as the protector and defender of a brand that I have helped to grow as a top destination for audiences across the globe. I have called BET Networks home for over three decades and this team is part of my extended family.”

“In addition to the legacy I have built for BET Networks in the media landscape, I am also extremely proud of the legacy of values that I helped to instill at the network during my tenure. My belief that we can do well and do good has been a guiding principle and one that I hope you will continue after my departure. Together, we have built a world-class brand that connects with fans through the power of storytelling and we have attracted and nurtured top talent across the globe.”

“I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to our parent company, Viacom, for their continued belief in the power of the BET brand and their unwavering support of my long and fulfilling career here. I would especially like to thank Bob Bakish for supporting me as I start the next chapter in this exciting journey.”

“I could not be prouder of the enormous amount of talent and creativity at BET Networks today and I will always be BET’s number one fan, rooting for each and every one of you as you continue to break barriers and share your authenticity with the world. I leave with pride, gratitude, and joy for a life-changing professional and personal journey. Continue to do it “for the culture” and much success to you all.  You deserve it.”

Bob Bakish statement:

“Debra’s vision and creativity have cemented BET Networks as a premier network for African Americans and lovers of black culture. As BET continues to move forward, we will always be grateful to Debra for her leadership and commitment to creating top-notch entertainment that both entertains and empowers. Her passion for the BET brand has resulted in countless wins and has allowed BET to stay competitive in a growing media landscape.”

“While we will all miss Debra tremendously, we respect her decision and understand her desire to leave at the very top of the game with a legacy of significant contributions that spans decades.  I have seen first-hand how the network has grown under her direction, and I know that she will bring that same innovative thinking and strategic vision to her future pursuits. Debra has groomed an amazing group of senior executives, and I am confident that BET Networks will continue to flourish under their leadership.”