A Q&A with CEO Emilia DiMenco (BUS ’80, MBA ’83)

“Opportunity is the first step to independence.”

Emilia Dimenco
Emilia DiMenco (BUS ’80, MBA ’83)
President and CEO, Women’s Business Development Center, Chicago

This academic year marks the 100th anniversary of women enrolling at the Driehaus College of Business. To commemorate this milestone, we cast a spotlight on successful alumnae who are making meaningful contributions in the world of business and leading the way for future graduates.

As the daughter of working-class immigrants, Emilia DiMenco knew she needed to work hard to have a better life than her parents. She excelled in math and science classes, worked her way through DePaul’s business school and eventually landed a job in the management training program at Harris Bank (now BMO Harris). DiMenco became the first woman senior vice president and later the executive vice president in the corporate and commercial bank at BMO Harris. In this Q&A, DiMenco talks about breaking glass ceilings and using her experience to help other women do the same.

What is the path you took to get where you are today, including what happened that was planned and what was serendipitous? 

What was planned, coming from an immigrant, working class, bilingual family, was that I would get a college degree to have a better life than my parents. Hard work and education were considered the next step to a better life for me. Math and science were subjects that I enjoyed and excelled in; however, I did not have interest in the medical field, and engineering was not a field I really understood then. At the time, the business world was opening up to women, and my interests and capabilities aligned with finance. 

Working my way through school, I was employed at an investment bank and realized I did not like what appeared to be client relationships that were transactional. So when I graduated, I only interviewed at two major traditional banks. I received job offers from both and accepted a position in the corporate banking management training program at Harris Bank. I accepted the position because I connected with and liked the people who interviewed me. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I spent 30 wonderful years at Harris and became the first woman in the corporate banking department to become a senior vice president and run the middle market, asset-based lending and community banking support services banking groups. Four years later, I became the first woman in the corporate banking department to become an executive vice president and ran the business banking and middle market lines of business.

What was serendipitous was that my personal advocacy for women and minorities as colleagues and customers led to greater career/life focus and resulted in my leading the bank’s diverse market strategies and holding board seats on the Bank’s Foundation and Political Action Committee. It also led to board seats for leading women’s organizations in Chicagoland, including the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC). As my time at BMO Harris was coming to an end, the transition to providing more support to the WBDC became a logical one for me. And, while it might seem serendipitous that I lead this organization today—taking over from two founders, Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal—maybe it was always meant to be.

They say women lead differently. How do you lead, and can you share an anecdote about your leadership style?  

The style that I have developed over the years is to be as informed as possible by studying a problem or topic and discussing it with various stakeholders to understand multiple points of views. After considering various options, I discuss these possibilities with the impacted parties and come to a conclusion.  Bottom line: ideas and solutions are discussed and socialized so the team is not surprised and has the opportunity to ‘buy in’ to and, hopefully, feel part of the solution.

Do you have any advice for young women seeking to get where you are now?

The business world has changed considerably since I began my career, so doing everything I did most likely no longer applies. What continues to apply is that knowledge is power; hard work continues to matter to excel; and taking risks is required to get ahead. Staying focused on possibilities and solutions and pursuing them with courage no matter what profession you choose is the advice I would give someone starting out.

Interested in developing your leadership? Learn more about majoring in business and graduate programs in business at DePaul.

Read more about DiMenco and other DePaul business alumnae in Business Exchange​, the alumni and friends magazine of the Driehaus College of Business.