LINDA DENNY: LEADING WBENC TO NEW TERRITORY
BY YOJI COLE | © 2008 DIVERSITYINC
“It was very lonely in the ladies’ room,” says Linda
Denny, president and CEO of Women’s Business
Enterprise National Council (WBENC), of her time in
management at New York Life Insurance.
Denny was not only a trailblazer at the company,
she was a high achiever in a world that was mostly
men. She started with the company in 1981 as an
agent, and in three years, she qualified for the million-dollar roundtable, which includes the top 4 percent
of life-insurance agents in the country. She became
a sales manager, and even though her territory was
Springfield, Mo., within four years, she was fifth in the
company in sales.
Now as CEO of WBENC, Denny strives to “focus
on who you serve and how to lead an organization. If
I can inspire someone along the way, I’m all for that.
But more importantly, I think I should encourage
them along the way and provide opportunities for
them to do what they want to do.”
WBENC’s main charge is certifying qualifying busi-
nesses as at least 51 percent
women-owned, operated and
controlled and partnering
them with interested corpo-
rations. Denny previously
was vice president. She also
helped launch a sister organi-
zation in the United Kingdom LJAINNDEAT DCERNENNSYHAW
called WEConnectUK. WSMoI m TeHn’s Business En-
WBENC’s efforts are get- terprise National Council
ting noticed. This year’s annual national conference counted 900 more attendees
than last year’s, a 33 percent increase.
“The WBENC certification can truly open doors to
women-owned companies, even for those whose market is not a corporation,” Denny says. “Some of our
members focus on partnering with other WBEs. We
always hear ‘Why didn’t I hear about this sooner?’ And
that’s our biggest challenge—letting women business
MAYOR YVONNE J. JOHNSON: A CALLING TO SERVE
BY DARYL C. HANNAH | © 2008 DIVERSITYINC
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Yvonne Johnson never
thought she’d have a political
career, especially not as the
first Black mayor of her
hometown, Greensboro, N.C.
But she always knew her life
would be devoted to service.
Johnson grew up during
the 1950s, when segregation
was at its peak. When her
mother was ill, she was sent
to live with her aunt and her uncle, a professor of
dairy science at North Carolina A&T University. He
instilled in her the importance of education.
“I never thought, ‘Will I go to college?’ My
dilemma was where would I go,” she says. Johnson
eventually settled on Bennett College, an all-women
HBCU, in her hometown. It was there that she got
her first taste of politics.
“I went to Bennett College when the sit-ins and
Civil Rights Movement kicked off,” she says. “We
never gave a second thought to whether we should be
doing what we were doing.”
In 1964, Johnson graduated and went to graduate
school to study social work at Howard University. In
1968, she and her husband moved back to Greensboro, and in 1993, Johnson got involved in politics.
“I had probably the most diverse campaign committee—there were Asians, Native Americans, whites and
Blacks, and we just worked hard,” she says. Johnson
was successfully elected to the city council in 1993
and became mayor pro-tem in 1999 as a member of
the council. Last year, Johnson was elected the first
Black mayor of Greensboro.
She has installed an international advisory council
to make sure the city’s government was adhering to
the 87 different ethnic groups in Greensboro.
Johnson believes her most important task is service. “Service is just a rent you pay to be on this earth,”
she says. “I’ve been paying rent a long time.”