Giant Food Inc. yesterday named a local black executive to its board of directors, resolving questions that arose at the company's annual stockholders meeting last year about lack of minority representation on its board.
Giant appointed Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr. -- who recently retired from the U.S. Army and serves as a director of several corporations -- to its board. Giant spokesman Barry Scher said the company's decision had nothing to do with race or shareholder pressure. Robinson was among about a dozen blacks on the list of candidates for the board, Scher said.
Giant Chairman Israel Cohen and Samuel Lehrman -- the company's two voting shareholders -- chose Robinson and Max N. Berry, a Washington attorney, to replace two retiring board members, Scher said.
Robinson also serves as a director of Communications Satellite Corp., McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Independent Test and Analysis Corp. -- a Ford Aerospace Corp. subsidiary. He said yesterday he was not aware that his appointment was the result of shareholder pressure.
"I can't say it has anything to do with race," Robinson said. "That was never discussed with me." He said he is the only black member of the other three corporate boards on which he serves. "It's not a unique position for me to be in," he said.
The situation that Robinson finds himself in is not unusual and reflects the slow pace at which U.S. companies have named minorities and women to their boards, according to corporate consultants and executives.
"Locally, there are very few women and minorities on corporate boards," said Barbara Davis Blum, president of Adams National Bank. "When they do put somebody on, it's the same person who's on other boards ... as though there was a very small pool of people that are acceptable to corporate boards."
While no one tracks the number of minorities and women on Washington area boards, some national figures are available. Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm, said the number of Fortune 500 corporations with minority board members actually declined recently. In 1988, 33.2 percent of the boards surveyed reported minority representation compared with 31.6 percent in 1989 However, the percentage of corporate boards with minorities was up 6 percentage points from 1985 to 1989 -- from 25.4 percent to 31.6 percent.
"The catch is that there aren't any black chief executives of Fortune 500 companies," said organizational consultant Edward W. Jones. "If the criterion is that you are a CEO, then no blacks qualify. The same is true to a lesser extent of women."
One local executive, who asked not to be named, said few local companies have a good record on women and minorities on boards. "When you look at the boards, they're a bunch of older white men in dark suits. It's overwhelming."
Others dispute that record. W. Reid Thompson, chairman of the board of Potomac Electric Power Co., said Pepco has had a number of minority board members in the last 20 years. "In a way, it's difficult to find quality board members in general. But it's no more difficult to recruit a woman or minority than to recruit other good board members."