Mr. Rand, then serving as chief executive of AARP, appears with President Barack Obama in 2009. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Barry Rand, who helped diversify the top ranks of corporate America as executive vice president of Xerox and chief executive of Avis Rent a Car, where he was one of the first African Americans to lead a Fortune 500 company, died Nov. 7 at an assisted-living center in Norwalk, Conn. He was 74.

His death was announced by AARP, the lobbying group for seniors, where Mr. Rand retired as chief executive in 2014. The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife, Donna Rand. Mr. Rand resided in Stamford, Conn.

Mr. Rand, a native Washingtonian, joined the office-copy-machine giant Xerox in 1968, fresh out of American University. He was hired, USA Today reported, when he marched into a recruiting session — after the company had already rejected him — and declared: “Everyone needs good salespeople. Therefore, you need me.’’

Sales, he found, allowed him to prove his abilities beyond any doubts that managers might have harbored because of racial bias.

“The one thing about sales is that there is a definitive objective performance evaluation,” he told the New York Times. “The customers either say yes or no. So you build up a record of performance that is hard for people to deny.”

In short order, he became one of the top sales representatives and then managers at the company, which was known for cultivating minority employees at a time when other corporations were less welcoming.

As he ascended the ranks, he helped lead Xerox as it struggled to contend with increasing competition from Japan. In 1992, he was named executive vice president of worldwide operations, a position that put him in control of 70,000 employees and $18 billion in revenue — and in a prime spot to succeed Paul A. Allaire as chief executive. The post ultimately went to G. Richard Thoman, formerly of IBM.

Mr. Rand did not attribute the decision to racial factors, his wife said. There was “only one spot there,” she continued, and he “just wasn’t the guy.”

He resigned in January 1999 — “I aspired to run my own company, and that wasn’t going to happen at Xerox,” he told the Times — and took a hiatus from corporate suites, traveling with his family around the world.

In November 1999, he was named chairman and chief executive of Avis, the second-largest rental-car company in the United States. According to news accounts, he was championed by Kenneth I. Chenault, who later became one of the highest-ranking African Americans in business as chief executive of American Express.

Mr. Rand led Avis as it expanded its operations to include not only car rentals, but also automobile fleet management for other companies. His time at the helm proved brief, however; he stepped down in March 2001 as Cendant Corp. completed its acquisition of Avis.

Addison Barry Rand was born in the District on Nov. 5, 1944. His mother was a teacher and later a principal, and his father was a postal supervisor.

Mr. Rand graduated in 1962 from Archbishop Carroll High School, a Catholic school in the District where he was one of only a few black students. He served as class president before receiving a bachelor’s degree in marketing from AU in 1968.

He later attended Stanford University, where he received a master’s degree in business administration in 1972 and a master’s degree in management sciences the following year.

At Xerox, he helped establish a support network for minority employees. He credited his father with reminding him to insist upon fair compensation for his work. Early in his career, he was named the top salesperson in the Mid-Atlantic region and received a trophy. “When I showed it to my dad,” Mr. Rand told the Times, “his very practical reaction was: ‘Where is the money?’ ”

After his tenure at Avis, Mr. Rand was chief executive of Equitant, a management services company later purchased by IBM. With AARP, where he was hired in 2009, he helped lobby for passage the next year of the Affordable Care Act, a signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration.

His civic involvement included service as chairman of Howard University’s board of trustees.

His first marriage, to Jane Ribeau, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 28 years, the former Donna Holt of Stamford; and two children from his second marriage, Christopher Rand and Allison Rand, both of Brooklyn.

Mr. Rand confessed that his successes were at times tinged by sadness, because there were so few other black business executives to share in them.

“There are so many blacks with ability — superior to mine — that have been trapped by a lack of opportunity,” he told the Times. He said he understood why some aspiring black businesspeople might be discouraged but called upon them to forge ahead.

“Their feelings were certainly verified by the statistics,” Mr. Rand said, “but you can’t get so frustrated by the past that you don’t pay attention to the opportunities of the future.”