DSU board chair earns Delaware Business Hall of Fame honor

Delaware Business Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Devona Williams was first appointed to DSU’s board of trustees by then-Gov. Jack Markell in 2012. Submitted photo

CLAYTON — Dr. Devona Williams was, she notes, born to be in business.

One of her first memories is working with her father in his part-time business venture, a water ice truck in Philadelphia. She recalls dishing out water ice, the soft pretzels with mustard, collecting change.

“Every run, I got a cut out of it,” the Clayton resident said with a laugh. “My dad used to tell me, ‘If you have your own business, you’ll always be able to set your own goals, live your dreams and be able to practice the values and things that you believe in. You can control your own destiny.’”

It’s fitting, then, that she is being inducted into the Delaware Business Hall of Fame.

“It was a surprise, and it’s quite an honor,” she said, noting that some of her former bosses had been inducted years before. “To be in the company of some of the people that I know received it in the past, it just made me feel really special, really honored and proud to be a part of it and humbled by it.”

Founded in 1986, Dr. Williams is the president/CEO of Goeins-Williams Associates Inc., a consulting business that has helped more than 5,000 individuals in hundreds of organizations increase their performance, productivity and effectiveness. The list of GWA clients includes AstraZeneca, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Christiana Health Systems, the DuPont Corp., the state of Delaware and others.

In her business, she strives to work with her clients as a team to meet their objectives. She believes in integrity and operating with a “standard of high excellence and ethos.”

“I say, underlying a lot of my work, also, is strong belief in diversity and inclusion and equity, as well,” she said.

And as her business strives to accentuate productivity, Dr. Williams wears a lot of hats. She is the author of “The Intentional Consultant: How to Grow a Sustainable Practice.” She created the national bestselling Spice of Life Diversity Card training tool. She is a member of the Governor’s Supplier Diversity Council and is a past president of the Delaware chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

“If I say I’m going to do something or I’m committed to doing something, I do it,” she said. “I’m a planner by trade. I mean, that’s my common thread. I’m a performance consultant in my business, so I work toward results.”

Most of her energy for public service, however, is targeted toward Delaware State University.

She was first appointed to DSU’s board of trustees by then-Gov. Jack Markell in 2012 and is currently serving her second six-year term after being reappointed by Gov. John Carney.

After being elected as the vice chairperson for the board in 2017, she was elevated to acting chairperson in January 2018 and subsequently elected permanent chairperson six months later.

She was particularly drawn to working with education because “she spent so much time in school,” she joked. She received her doctorate in urban affairs and public policy from the University of Delaware.

“My parents always taught me that education is the key to success, and certainly, when you’re a woman or you’re a person of color and you’re in situations that are not typical or (with) people from the background that you might have, that education is the equalizer. At least, I was taught that, and I believe that,” she said. “Because of that, I have a passion for education, for women in leadership, for being able to work in an educational setting like I am now with Delaware State University.”

With all her accomplishments, Dr. Williams was also part of 2020’s historic cohort of inductees for the Delaware Business Hall of Fame. This year’s trio of honorees represent the first Black entrepreneurs to be inducted since the hall’s establishment in 1990. Also among the recent inductees were William “Bill” Allen Jr., founder and CEO of ALW Sourcing LLC, and Dana Herbert, expert pastry and savory chef and founder of Desserts by Dana.

“I suppose that goes with the current climate of organizations realizing that there are people in our midst who’ve been doing things all along that have not necessarily been recognized because they don’t fit what we think an exemplary leader might look like,” she said. “We tend to think that they’re men. We tend to think that they are certain backgrounds, but they’re really all amongst us, in every walk of life.”

While that is the case, it didn’t stop Dr. Williams from thinking she was being asked to serve on the selection committee, rather than being honored herself.

“In my mind, so few women have ever been selected for that award that I just figured it wasn’t an award that was meant for me and for other reasons, as well. I didn’t know any people of color who had ever been selected, so I just thought it was asking me to be on the selection committee,” she said.

When Dr. Williams started her business, she never saw anyone like her, in practice full time, and hardly saw any women.

There are barriers that exist for Black entrepreneurs still — the wealth gap — and Dr. Williams, looking toward the future, said more needs to be done to help young entrepreneurs develop.

“Junior Achievement’s recognition that this is important to show role models who are of color, I think that does inspire young people to know that, yes, they can have a business, that they can build a business, and it can be sustainable, and they can have a living off of a business that they might create,” she said.

Having government programs — or other entities — support minority businesses is also important, she said.

If you look back at the people who have been recognized, starting in the ‘90s, a lot of them were CEOs of Fortune companies, she said.

“We know that the numbers are still very scant when it comes to people of color who are in the C-suites, who are holding those top positions in corporations, as well as in the boardroom. And those are areas that are really deficient and need to change,” she continued. “They just need to change. Companies need to recognize that workplaces need to be diverse, inclusive and equitable, and it starts with having leadership at the top and, also, in the boardrooms.”

While, at first, she thought, “OK, good, now I can retire,” after she was inducted, she really wants to use the momentum from the recognition to continue to give to the community, particularly young people.

Leadership, she said, is not about how great one is as a person, but what a leader can do for those around them. As she listened to her fellow inductees, Mr. Allen and Ms. Herbert, be inducted alongside her, that was the common thread, she said.

“It’s not about what you’re doing for yourself, it’s really about what you’re doing for other people,” she said. “So I think, being recognized at this level, is a clarion call for me to say, ‘OK, how do I use this to better help others grow and develop as leaders?’”