Yvette Graham has
grown up in Black Data Processing Associates,
BDPA, and is currently enjoying the crest of her term as national president
of the premiere organization for African Americans in Information Technology.
A BDPA leader since
the early 80’s, Yvette Graham has made an indelible impression throughout the
organization since her early years of service with the Chicago chapter, up
through recent years, to emerge as spokesperson and chief executive officer
representing over 40+ chapters across the
I had the
opportunity to chat with Ms. Graham, just after the August 2011 BDPA Technology
Conference in Chicago.
She shares her perspective on attaining success with BDPA as well as key
values she ascribes to. It was a
very special space shared...
President, what would you like to share regarding how your experiences as a
young person helped to shape the woman and leader you are today?
YG: Well I’ve
been fortunate every step of my journey to have the help of special people who
are close to me. Right out of school I was fortunate enough to land a position
with Allstate, which would prove to be a career defining move.
It was actually at Allstate where I received my first exposure to BDPA.
I found out about the corporate chapter there, and was asked to be a
guest speaker to present on "DB2 Relational Databases”.
I had no idea then that I would dare to achieve the many successes I’ve
enjoyed with BDPA. BDPA helped me to be
a stronger professional and leader at Allstate. But I must also credit my strong
church background as an early influence that shaped who I am.
And I would be remised if I did not speak of the support that I have
received from my husband. For 25 years, he has supported me throughout my
journey of who I am today. So you see I’ve had strong support systems along the
way that have helped me to learn and grow.
A strong support system is everything….and you have given us an idea of
how you were able to embrace your success.
Who would you say has been your greatest inspiration from a mentor
YG: In terms of
a mentor role, as far as corporate America goes, I have to say there is
a gentleman from my church who provided many years of guidance and mentoring.
In fact I admire this person so, because he is one of the first African
American officers at
Comm Ed. He worked very hard to
come up through the ranks to become an executive. He is the type of person who
believes in giving back and therefore helped to mentor me professionally.
He has given me a great deal of advice, for example something so simple
like learning from the good habits of people. I have learned how to observe
others as well. To this day I can
refer to the "toolkit” created in my mind that holds those handy tips that I can
use when I need to.
I also can thank my personal mentor, my mother, who really
instilled in me the value of being a lady.
No matter the situation, she instructed me to always be a lady – from
dressing like a lady, to behavior. It’s been something that I’ve carried out,
and it works for me. I don’t try to
be someone other than who I am in any circle I travel in.
Although I interact with a largely male population, I conduct myself in a
manner that people can respect.
BGG: For anyone
who does not know, let’s talk about the many roles you’ve held with BDPA over
the years. Tell us about your
evolution and also the work that launched you to another level?
I had chaired the AllState Corporate
Chapter, which I have to say was a wonderful introduction to the senior officers
at my company. My management was
committed to invest in my development and has been extremely supportive through
The number 1 thing I was so passionate to accomplish was
the work to help our young people. In fact, BDPA created a position just for me,
which was centered on college students.
This presented my first really big introduction to corporate America,
having to create a national internship process.
All of these resumes started rolling in, from all over the United States,
mind you, and I had to articulate to corporate CIO’s and the like, the value of
our program and help to place these students.
I stayed actively involved with all stakeholders to create a strong model
for this program. Eventually
National BDPA asked to take over the program which was the SIP (Student
The work I was able to accomplish there, paved the way for
my leadership role with Chicago.
I continued to learn and develop, with the support and backing of my company to
evolve into a stronger leader, both where BDPA was concerned and also as a
director at Allstate. As president of Chicago chapter, I started
attending national board meetings and began to identify where I could help and a
new level within the National organization, and the rest as they say is history.
As a wife, mother of a college senior, church leader, and leader in
corporate America, you are responsible for so much, on top of being president of
a national organization, which requires a rigorous travel schedule, countless
appearances, chairing untold board meetings, etc. What advice would you impart
for such success for others with high ambition?
I learned very early to balance, but I also have the help of many great
people who do wonderful work. Who you have on your team is very important for
your success. I would say building relationships is so important, I can’t say
enough about the value of good relationships I continue learning many things
from observation. And whenever I am faced with major decisions, I don’t make a
move without weighing all the circumstances and without prayer.
Towards the end of my presidency with National BDPA, I can
say that I’ve grown mentally and spiritually. My time in office was met with
many challenges and opportunities that have stretched me. I’ve learned so much
and I’m not even the same person I used to be.
And it’s funny, but I really never thought that I would be national
president; I had no ambitions towards being national president of BDPA.
Really??! It seems with the
various roles you’ve held at the local Chicago level, and then
moving on to hold offices at the national level, that it would be a logical
transition to position to run for higher office?
YG: No, never
did I think of it. I’ll tell you.
I had worked with so many people along the way - I knew so many people
across the organization (nationally) that 6 different chapters nominated me for
national president, including Chicago.
I looked at the situation from the point of the opportunity was
presenting itself to me. But before
I made one move, I weighed it. I
had conversations with my husband, I discussed with my Chicago Chapter leaders,
and I discussed with my All
organization. I had the backing and
support of all three. If I had not
had the encouragement of any one of them, I would not have run!
Every president has a legacy. BDPA has existed since 1975, now for the
first time, starting in 2012 the regionalization of chapters, will be attributed
to your administration, correct? What challenges were overcome to deliver
this major organizational change effort?
YG: This is
correct, although the research and initial
analysis on moving the organization to a regional model took place under the
prior administration (which I was a part of), it was this administration that
moved it forward by including it within our 2010-2011 Strategy where a team was
pulled together to: 1) design the bylaws to support Regionalization; 2) define
the breakout of chapters aligned to the four regions; and 3) finalize the stage
of electing the Regional Vice Presidents and Regional Directors during this past
delegates meeting held in Chicago.
As far as challenges, I would have to say it centered on
communication. Change is very difficult for everyone, but to overcome that
change we had to ensure that we were communicating the right message to the
right people at the right time. As a leadership team, we had to be sure that we
provided a message for the local chapter presidents, for the local chapter
"incoming presidents”, as well as being available to discuss this with all
members of the organization.
Finally, because this new model was starting under our
incoming president, Monique Berry, we decided that she should be the voice of
this change since it will be led by her. This gave BDPA the opportunity to begin
hearing from Monique, instead of me. I believe all of this helped with the
implementation of Regionalization.
BGG: What are
the greatest advantages to regionalization and what are the important
nextstepsmembers can look forward to?
The greatest advantage of regionalization is that more focus can be
placed on the needs of chapters. Under the current structure of BDPA, it is
expected that the National Executive Committee would be able to design programs
that would support our 40+ chapters. This was a great model in the 70s and 80s,
because we were a growing organization without as many chapters. Now that we
have grown, to better serve our chapters, we needed to put leaders in place that
support the needs of the chapters within a region (for example the programs
needed on the east coast could be completely different that the programs needed
for the Midwest).
BGG: So, what’s
next for Yvette Graham?
I really don’t know!!
There’s a lot of talk and speculation around my next move, to be honest, I
really haven’t fully processed that yet. I’ve had a very full term as national
president with so much activity going on, and I even served as Chair of my
church’s 90th Anniversary Program last year, in addition to
everything else going on in my life!
There wasn’t any time to think about what will come next for me.
I do know that at some point I would
like to hold a corporate board seat, but as for right now, I’m just enjoying my
time! I will just say I’m having fun
considering the possibilities!
This article was written by Sheila
Marionneaux, contributing editor for Blacks Gone Geek.