Jerri DeVard made a name for herself as one of America's top marketing executives, having led prominent campaigns for such powerhouses as Pillsbury, Revlon, and Verizon. DeVard's dynamic career has led to her membership on a variety of executive boards and organizations. She is a member of the board of directors of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Executive Leadership Council. She is also on the board of trustees of Spelman College and is a member of the Pepsi African-American Advisory Board. In an interview with Gwendolyn Quinn of The Crusade, she describes her richly varied career in simple terms, "I have had the same goals from the day that I married my husband and decided to work, which was to be happy and successful. That's all I ever wanted to do and be. I never wanted the corner office or a particular title…Happy for me at the time was to be recognized for my accomplishments. To be moved along in the organization. To be valued. To have credibility. But it was also to be able to spend time with my husband, family and my friends." She was able to meet her goals.
DeVard was born in Harlem, an uptown neighborhood of New York City with a rich African-American history. Her mother, Jean DeVard-Kemp, taught her the value of education by her own example, earning a college degree, a master's, and a Ph.D. while working as a single mother supporting two children. Jerri DeVard describes her mother as her "hero." As a young girl, DeVard was inspired by the determination and self-reliance her mother showed.
While Jerri was a senior in high school, she accompanied her mother to Atlanta University in Georgia, where DeVard-Kemp taught graduate classes. Many of the women students in her mother's classes had attended nearby Spelman College, an historically black liberal arts school for women. DeVard was impressed with the poise and intelligence of the Spelman women, and she decided to attend college there.
She entered Spelman in 1975, intending to major in engineering. However, she developed an interest in economics and decided to switch her major, graduating in 1979 with a degree in economics. Upon graduation, she took a job with a stock trading company in Chicago, but soon decided to return to school to work on her graduate degree. She enrolled in Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). There she earned her master's degree in business administration and developed a strong interest in marketing and brand management. Marketing is the term that businesses use to mean advertising, promoting, and selling products, but DeVard was interested in people as well. She wanted to understand why people choose the products they buy and what methods work to convince them to buy one item over another. Brand management means applying the principles of marketing to a specific product and developing a sort of "personality" for the brand name of the product so that customers associate positive qualities with it. In addition, DeVard developed a deep interest in the human side of business, which helped her become a successful businesswoman, able to put both co-workers and customers at ease while using creative approaches to sell her company's products.
DeVard did well in graduate school, and when she graduated several companies wanted to recruit her to work for them. She chose a job as a marketing assistant with the Pillsbury Company in Minneapolis. At Pillsbury she began to learn how to apply the principles she had learned in her graduate classes to the needs of a real corporation. She learned to understand the structure of a business organization, to develop goals, plan clear strategies for achieving those goals, and to present her ideas to her supervisors in a persuasive manner.
At Pillsbury, she also learned to take risks and to stand up for herself. When she felt that she was not advancing in the company as quickly as her work merited, she went to her supervisor and asked to be made group product manager, outlining her experience and qualifications for the job. Impressed, her supervisor first asked her to prove her skills for six months, then gave her the promotion and a substantial salary raise. DeVard continued to prove herself, helping the company earn its first "Reggie Award," given by the Promotion Marketing Association. DeVard masterminded the Pillsbury Doughboy's 25th anniversary promotion, for which the company won Best National Promotion.
After 11 years at Pillsbury, DeVard received a job offer from the Minnesota Vikings football team. The Vikings' Minneapolis stadium offered suites that fans could rent to watch their games in luxurious privacy. DeVard was in charge of developing strategies to advertise and sell these private suites. Working in the world of sports and entertainment was an exciting change for DeVard, though her job still involved the same skills she had perfected at Pillsbury, showing customers the ways in which they could benefit from using her company's product.
After a year with the Vikings, DeVard took another job in the entertainment industry, as vice president of marketing at Harrah's New Orleans casino. While she still enjoyed the excitement of working in entertainment and liked her new position of authority, working in a casino posed new challenges for an executive with a family. DeVard had married Greg Smith shortly after finishing graduate school and the couple had two children. Casinos remain open 24 hours a day, and, though DeVard was willing to commit long hours to her job, she quickly found that casino work did not leave her the time she wanted to devote to her family.
In 1996, after two years with Harrah's, she moved back to New York to take a job with Revlon cosmetics. As vice president of marketing, DeVard was in charge of Revlon's color cosmetics line, helping to launch the company's new Color Stay brand. She remained at Revlon until 1998, when she received an offer from the banking giant, Citigroup. At Citigroup, DeVard became chief marketing officer in charge of e-consumer business. She worked there for five years, advertising and selling Citigroup's computer banking services with the goal of gaining new customers and developing the e-consumer line of business.
At a Glance …
Born Jerri Lyn DeVard in 1957(?) in New York, New York; married Greg Smith, 1983, children: two. Education: Spelman College, BS, economics, 1979; Atlanta University School of Management, MBA, 1983.
The Pillsbury Company, marketing assistant, product brand manager, group marketing manager, 1983-93; Minnesota Vikings, director of suites marketing, 1993-94; Harrah's Entertainment, New Orleans, vice president of marketing, 1994-96; Revlon, Color Cosmetics, vice president of marketing, 1996-98; Citigroup, chief marketing officer of e-consumer business, 1998-2003; Verizon Communications, senior vice president of brand management and marketing communications, 2003-05, senior vice president of marketing and brand management, 2005-07.
National Black MBA Association, Spelman College Alumnae Association, Association of National Advertisers; Executive Leadership Council, board of directors; American Advertising Federation, executive committee.
Network Journal, 25 Influential Black Women in Business, 2004; Black Enterprise, 75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America, 2005;. National Association For Equal Opportunity In Higher Education, Distinguished Alumni Award, 2006, Target Market News, Marketing to African American With Excellence (MAAX) Awards, Marketing Executive of the Year, 2006.
In 2003, DeVard received another job offer, this time from Verizon Communications, where she took the position of senior vice president of brand management and marketing communications. She remained at Verizon for four years and was promoted in 2005 to senior vice president of marketing and brand management. Using the skills she had perfected in her previous marketing work, DeVard introduced several innovative advertising campaigns for Verizon, including the "Richer, Deeper, Broader" campaign, which demonstrated how broadband cable could help ordinary people in their daily lives. The unique "Realize Your Dream" campaign invited community participation by holding a contest where teams of students developed business plans using Verizon high tech multimedia products.
Her work at Verizon earned DeVard recognition as one of the nation's top executives. In 2004, Network Journal named her one of its "25 Influential Black Women in Business," followed by Black Enterprise magazine, which in 2005 included her in its "75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America." However, in 2005, Verizon opened a new center of operations in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, more than two hours from New York City. DeVard continued to work at Verizon for two more years, travelling four and a half hours to and from her job. Finally, deciding that the long commute took too much time away from her family, she resigned her position at Verizon. Having worked for 25 years in very demanding jobs, she decided to take a break to enjoy family and friends and determine her next goal.
Advertising Age, April 3, 2006, pp. 14-19.
B to B, October 24, 2005, p. 5.
Black Enterprise, August 1999, p. 56, February 2006, pp. 124-137. Chicago Defender, July 7, 1993, p. 25.
Diversity Journal, November/December 2004.
New Pittsburgh Courier, July 5, 1993, p. C1
"For Sisters Only: Breaking Barriers in Corporate America," Black MBA Magazine,www.blackmbamagazine.net/articles/docs/15-for-sisters-career031.pdf (May 3, 2007).
"Jerri DeVard," The Crusade,http://thecrusade.net/2006/02/aaprc-weekly-jerri-devard/ (May 3, 2007).
"Jerri Devard, High-Profile SVP For Verizon Communications, Resigns Post," Doin' It Online,www.doinitnetwork.com/News/InTheNews.aspx?newsID=40 (May 3, 2007).
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