ESSENCE Appoints New Executive Team


ESSENCE, the leading and only 100% Black-owned media, technology and commerce company at scale dedicated to Black women and communities, today announced updates to its executive leadership team.  These appointments are part of the final phases of the restructuring process aimed at positioning the company for continued growth and maximum impact following its acquisition from Time Inc. 

Caroline Wanga

To date, this transformation has included, among other focus areas, building critical operational infrastructure across finance, human resources and technology; making significant investments across ESSENCE Magazine, digital, e-commerce and experiential platforms – resulting in the brand almost doubling its reach over three years; expanding platforms for other culturally-rooted entrepreneurs and businesses that create economic opportunities for Black communities; introducing heightened capabilities, technology, products and touch points that super-serve the interests of Black women locally and globally – including the launch of ESSENCE Studios streaming platform; refining organizational culture and accountability; and developing a new strategic framework and targeted partner engagement approach – with more to come.  To continue the critical work that they have been leading, Essence Communications, Inc. (ESSENCE) has appointed the following to its C-suite and senior leadership team, effective immediately: 

Caroline Wanga, Chief Executive Officer, ESSENCE (& Chief Growth Officer, Essence Ventures)– Wanga, who has served as Interim CEO of ESSENCE for seven months, has been officially appointed as Chief Executive Officer.  She joined Essence Ventures, parent company of ESSENCE, as Chief Growth Officer in 2020 from Target Corporation, where she served as Chief Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Officer.  Wanga began her Target career in supply chain, serving in a variety of transformational leadership roles, including modernizing Supply Chain, Business Intelligence, Digital and Strategy capabilities.  Prior to that, she held several non-profit roles.

Among other accolades, Wanga has been named Top Executive in Corporate Diversity by Black Enterprise and recognized at Savoy Most Powerful Women in Corporate America, as well as is a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the Talladega College Board of Trustees and the American Airlines Community Council. She previously served on the Intersectionality, Culture, and Diversity Advisory Board for Twitter and as co-chair of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.  Wanga, who was born in Kenya, is an innovative and inspirational thought leader and public speaker and earned her bachelor’s degree from HBCU Texas College.  

Latraviette D. Smith-Wilson, Chief Strategy & Engagement Officer – Smith-Wilson, who also serves as Chief Strategy Officer for Essence Ventures (parent company of ESSENCE), has joined ESSENCE as Chief Strategy & Engagement Officer.  In this newly-created role, the following teams will report to her: Business Development/Sales, Marketing, Content, Creative, Experiential, Video, and Stakeholder Engagement (PR, talent, and strategic partnerships).  With 20-plus years of global experience building brands through a lens of purpose, social impact and inclusion and a career spanning journalism, marketing & communications, DEI and business strategy, Smith-Wilson has worked and held senior leadership roles across newsrooms, agencies, Fortune 100 companies, and entrepreneurial ecosystems, including Sundial Brands/Unilever, American Express, Edelman, Deloitte and National Urban League. 

She has been recognized by Black Enterprise –  Next Generation Women of Power, Café Mocha – Powerhouse Award/Outstanding Business Leadership, Ebony – Women Up, and Forbes – Black Women Leaders to Follow, among others.  Smith-Wilson is a board member and the immediate past Chair of the Board of Harlem United and has previously served on the board of the PRSA Foundation and as the Diversity & inclusion columnist for PRWeek. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and received her double-major bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and her Master’s Degree from New York University.

Avani Patel, Chief Operating Officer – Patel, who previously served as Chief of Staff & Vice President in the Office of the CEO, has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer.  In this role, she will lead the Technology, Finance, and Human Resources functions.  A veteran of the technology industry, her career spans product launch, management / operations and consulting across Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. Patel previously led technology at Sundial Brands/Unilever, as well as professional services at Verizon / Totality Corp.  She has PMP and Six Sigma Black Belt certifications and received her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University. 

Cori Murray, Deputy Editor – Murray, who joined ESSENCE in 1999 and has held various editor roles across the organization, has been promoted to Deputy Editor.  In this role, she will lead the brand’s editorial content team across print and digital, as well as magazine operations.  Murray led the team behind the Jan/Feb 2021 Rihanna + Lorna Simpson cover, and most recently served as Entertainment and Talent Director, curating and editing the celebrity and culture content for ESSENCE’s editorial and digital platforms.  She also cohosts the brand’s leading podcast – Yes, Girl! – which is a two-time Webby Award-nominated podcast and has received 5+ million downloads. 

Murray has served as a cultural critic for numerous outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, and Access Hollywood, had articles published in outlets including the Associated Press and Vibe, and been featured on Stoop Talks (Luminary) and Going Through It with Tracy Clayton (Mailchimp) podcasts.  She was also featured in the OWN documentary, Light Girls, and contributed to the