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Lisa W. Wardell: The Only African American Woman CEO in the S&P 400

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Women In Power

“People ask me all the time, how does it feel to be the only African American woman CEO in the fortune 1000s,” said Lisa W. Wardell, President and CEO of Adtalem Global Education.

“And I always say, it’s a great responsibility and I take it and I’m so proud of it, but at the same time, it’s a horrible statistic when we think about how our demographics are in this country and that it just shouldn’t be that, given the talented women that we have in the workforce.”


During her tenure, Wardell steadily climbed up the corporate ladder, landing herself as a member of Adtalem’s board of directors in 2008, and moving on to become the President and CEO in 2016. In 2019, Wardell was appointed Chairman of the Board.


“So when I think about my journey to becoming the CEO of Adtalem Global Education, I was on the board for eight years,” Wardell mentions. “I became a board member because of two reasons and really two people. One was Charles Tribbett [III] of Russell Reynolds and the second person was Bob Johnson, the person that I worked for at the time, who had the foresight to say, ‘Yeah, I want my executives to be on public boards, and getting that experience while they’re in their career at a relatively early stage.”



Under the leadership of the only African-American female Chairman and CEO in the S&P 400 Index, “Adtalem’s stock price has tripled, and gender and ethnic diversity has increased at the Adtalem board to 62%, and within Adtalem’s senior leadership to 79%,” with stock increasing up “approximately 250 percent during her tenure.”


Wardell, a philanthropist, mother of six, mentor, and sponsor, has also “led the higher education sector in implementing new standards in transparency and financial literacy, and in cultivating quality partnerships to fill critical global workforce needs. Her strategic and mission-focused leadership positions Adtalem’s global community for sustainable success.”


“Your life and challenges you are overcoming are assets in your life” ~ Lisa Wardell


Wardell is a first-generation college graduate, who from a very early age learned the value of rolling up her sleeves and getting to work. Having her first job at 14 and working her way through college were experiences that helped the CEO not only understand how to be a servant leader and to lead by example, but to be a “quick study and learn to adapt as situations change,” she mentions.


As a businesswoman and a person with many roles, the CEO has her own, very unique way of transforming challenges into opportunities. She focuses on being intentional. “To me, that means purposely putting thoughts into actions to drive measurable results.” By taking on each role, exceeding expectations, assessing and then moving on to the next role, while also consistently seeking feedback and incorporating that guidance into her professional life, Wardell was able to carve a space on the top of the ‘proverbial glass ceiling’. “Being intentional has helped me stay on track with what I want to accomplish and is helping me build Adtalem into an organization that is a truly diverse meritocracy.”


Women account for less than 10 percent of the CEO positions in S&P 500 companies, and Wardell is one of the elite female leaders to do so. When asked, “What would you consider is the key to your success in life?” she mentions 4 key factors and advice: 1) Find a mentor and/or sponsor to help navigate corporate America; 2) Listen to and act on the tough feedback; 3) You can have a career and great family; young children are able to appreciate and learn from your efforts; 4) Do your job the best you can, because every job is worth 100 percent of your effort. Know that you are strong, capable and empowered and that you belong in the room.


Wardell earned her bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and her law degree from Stanford Law School. She earned her master’s degree in finance and entrepreneurial management from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.


Adtalem Global Education Inc. owns and manages higher education institutions that serve students worldwide, offering undergraduate and graduate programs in healthcare, law, business management, engineering and technology, sciences, liberal and media arts, and nursing.


The purpose of Adtalem Global Education is to empower students to achieve their goals, find success, and make inspiring contributions to our global community.

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