Education: BA in English, University of Michigan; JD, Howard University School of Law, Washington, DC

First Job: Fielding telephone calls at a government human services center

What I'm Reading: The Art of Friendship, by Sally and Roger Horchow

My Philosophy: “To overcome adversity, you must first transcend it.”

Family: Husband, Lyndon; and a daughter, 12

Interests: Travel, reading, photography, outdoors

Favorite Charities: Jack and Jill of America Foundation, which supports leadership in youth, particularly in the African American and Hispanic communities


Debra Hunter Johnson 

Vice President, Global HR Services

award winner

To women who aspire to become corporate leaders, I would offer an important tip: Have a flexible mind, particularly on matters related to people. Today’s diverse workplace presents a variety of challenges to leaders. By its very nature, it requires an open mind to understand different perspectives. Just when I think I have my mind sufficiently “open,” a curve ball comes and forces me into new discoveries about how human “disconnects” can affect the workplace.

My latest discovery is that age influences how we view the world, and it ushers in a whole new set of challenges for today’s current leaders. For instance, baby boomers grew up with a positive outlook on life. They expected to have a better quality of life than their parents. This generation, to which I belong, grew up believing that if you worked hard, you’d be rewarded. Generation X does not view the world this way. They saw the Challenger tragedy, the stock market crash, the AIDS epidemic. And Generation Y is colored by the events of September 11. These experiences have caused these younger generations to view life with less optimism in many cases. Some saw their parents work hard only to get laid off. Therefore, many want to work to live, not live to work. Immediate gratification and rewards are the order of the day—not years of toil.

The big question is how do we motivate them? These differences in the generations are not good or bad, right or wrong—simply different. With the traditional baby boomer work ethic, we clearly must meet them halfway to make a connection—and be prepared to listen and learn. I believe the younger generations are the change agents that corporate America needs to ensure future viability and relevance. With their technical skills, ability to multitask and zeal for fulfilling personal lives, they may be the key to future innovation and growth. Be patient with the younger generations. They have a lot to offer.

I would also remind future leaders that flexible thinking helps one navigate in an ever-changing world. Those with flexible, nimble minds still can be competitive and vital for decades into their career. With vitamin supplements and plastic surgery helping to sustain youthfulness, age in the workplace will be defined less by physical clues and more by the ability to adapt and work in an ever-changing environment.