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.
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.
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.
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.