From intern to foundation president of General Electric: The inspiring story of Deborah Elam

Stephen Nartey May 17, 2023
Deborah's style of leadership is inspired by three pillars - diversity, philanthropy, and inclusion. Photo credit: Dining with Deb

Over the last three decades, Deborah Elam has built a niche for herself as a woman of strong character and a high achiever. Her journey from intern to Foundation President at General Electric was paved with hard work, dedication, and the determination to strive for excellence.

Her style of leadership is inspired by three pillars – diversity, philanthropy, and inclusion. She believes true leadership requires an intellectual discourse with the working community and engaging in bold conversations on sensitive issues to promote efficiency. Through this strategy, she has gained much recognition in many corporate circles for her outstanding feats, including her achievement as GE’s first black female corporate officer.  

Deborah had her formal education at Ursuline Academy, which laid the basis of her leadership skills and critical thinking, and continued to Louisiana State University, where she studied sociology for her Bachelor’s degree. She later attended Southern University in Baton Rouge for her Master’s of Public Administration.

While pursuing her graduate studies, she applied for an internship at General Electric (GE) in Rockville, Maryland, and secured a job at GE’s world-renowned World Human Resources Leadership Program.

Over the next 15 years of her career at GE, she rose through the ranks, serving in different portfolios, and was appointed as Global Head of Diversity in 2002. She later became one of the senior women in the company when the board promoted her to an officer. Since then, she has been taking leadership roles as a result of her stellar qualities.

In 2013, she was made head of the GE Foundation while supervising works at the GE Corporate Headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut. She also helps GE employees to identify with their communities to project the core value of inclusively that GE stands for, according to Ursuline Academy.

Deborah drives this agenda through the use of highly impactful programs to improve work output. One classical example is the multicultural woman’s boot camp, which gives women from different backgrounds the requisite skills to be successful. The main goal of her vision is to enhance GE employees and improve business results in line with the global mission.

One of her proud achievements after having climbed to the top executive position at GE is to inspire women in the corporate world. She has worked hard in achieving many firsts along her career path to send the signal that goals and dreams can be attained irrespective of where one starts. On her LinkedIn page, she describes herself as a unicorn that uses her horn to break the glass ceiling that held many from her community back, while paving the way for others to enter into those unfettered waters.

Deborah set up Corporate Playbook in 2017, a business consulting firm that focuses on executive coaching and strategic solutions to expand her vision. In 2018, she took it a step higher by organizing Dining with Deb, where she brought professional women from diverse backgrounds together, to deliberate on how to break barriers in religious, racial, and political echelons of society – she has far impacted over 500 women barely a year after launching the platform.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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