Colorado Succeeds sits down with Demesha Hill, Community Relations Manager and Managing Director, Janus Henderson Investors and Janus Henderson Foundation, to learn more about how businesses can help build a better education system.
Colorado Succeeds: We are so happy we could catch up with you, Demesha. You all are making a huge impact on the community. Let’s dive right in. How did you find your passion for community relations work?
Demesha Hill: I started off with Janus Henderson Investors as an Executive Assistant, and that exposed me to so many types of people and positions, which was eye-opening for me. I was able to understand the organization and how I could really contribute. This work is about relationships, making connections – I love what I do.
CS: So you’ve been with Janus Henderson for some time now and have seen a lot of changes. Why have you stayed?
DH: I feel like Janus Henderson is the place where I belong. I feel like there’s this entrepreneurial spirit here. It’s one thing to have a voice at the table, but it’s another to have a voice at the table and then have your ideas or recommendations implemented. That’s where you get that sense of belonging.
I’ve also been able to evolve each role that I’ve had into what I wanted it to be and into something different than what it was when I started, which is kind of enhancing the company as a whole. So, as long as I’m able to be creative and my ideas are welcomed, I’ll continue to be here.
CS: Some of those ideas have taken a close look at expanding your presence in the community. How has that work shifted over the years?
DH: I would say that the company has always understood the business case and has always had the desire to create a more inclusive and diverse work environment. But, I think it’s evolved into “We need to go deeper to create that excitement for people to work in our industry,” because we weren’t necessarily seeing the diversity that we would like to see graduating from the colleges and universities, and in the fields and degrees that we would typically hire for.
So we need to take a step back and get into the high schools and even into the middle schools to plant that seed to let them know that this is a career path for them. You have to really take a long-term view when you’re really trying to shape and change not only our company but the perception of a particular industry.
CS: That is really the keyword there – long-term. Janus Henderson has been working on education initiatives for over a decade now. One big example, working with Denver Public Schools (DPS) in 2008 and supporting the blended learning curriculum. Why is this work important? How does it play into the future of Janus Henderson?
DH: I think with any business you have to evolve with what’s going on. We’re totally a global economy and everyone is leveraging technology. So, just like any other industry you have to leverage technology and figure out what’s the best way for you to use it to sell your products and services.
As a result, we’re always looking for that tech talent to help us stay on the cutting edge and help us process information faster so that we can make those investment decisions to help our investors grow their money. That’s one of the challenges we have because we are competing for talent with other tech companies.
One of the other challenges we have, and why we’re so invested in education, is trying to make sure that people understand our industry and know about our industry. If you didn’t grow up with someone who was a portfolio manager or an analyst or something along those lines, then you really wouldn’t know what it meant to be a person who worked at an asset management firm.
So, a lot of what we do when it comes to going out to the community is exposing our youth to what we do as well as investing in programs that really help develop the talent pipeline. We know that the traditional education system isn’t always necessarily the one that’s going to get students where they need to be.
We need to be innovative, and we’re willing to invest in innovative educational programs that really help our students be thought leaders right in the classroom. We understand how the academic work that they’re learning in the classroom translates into real-life experience.
CS: We love that concept of creating thought leaders in the classroom. You’ve also supported The Succeeds Prize since the beginning. Why has it been important to support innovation in education, specifically?
DH: Like you said, we’ve already been invested in education for so long. But what intrigued us is the opportunity to celebrate teachers who are doing cutting edge things – cutting edge things with limited resources. So, they just took it upon themselves to say, “Hey you know what, I’m going to save up. I’m going to buy a 3D printer and I’m going to do X Y Z,” for example.
Then, we get to see how their innovation transformed that classroom and transformed that school. And, one of the unique things about The Succeeds Prize is scalability. What Janus Henderson has always been about is providing that seed capital to spur innovation. Ultimately, however, we want it to be scalable so it’s not just impacting one school. It goes to two schools and then it goes to a district and then it goes state-wide and then nationwide.
And, I believe those who are doing great things need to be celebrated. The Prize allows educators the opportunity to celebrate among their peers.
CS: Speaking of celebrations, you’ve had many accomplishments in your career and just last year received the Corporate Executive of the Year Award from the Black Chamber of Commerce. How does that make you feel? Does that push you further?
DH: It’s great to be recognized for your work. I was actually really humbled by getting that recognition because you know I’m in the category with presidents and VPs and I show up as a leader, but I never really consider myself a leader per se. I’m just Demesha, and I do what I do because I love what I do. As a result of that though, I feel like I’ve been able to inspire others to get behind me. It reaffirms the fact that anybody can be a leader, anyone can be seen as an executive or a change agent within their organization regardless of the title they might have. It’s all about the way you show up, not only in your workplace but also in your community.
CS: Do you feel that part of your role includes creating ambassadors internally to go out and do this work?
DH: I think that’s definitely my role, creating ambassadors as well as exposing people to what’s happening in the classroom. If you don’t have kids and you’ve been out of the classroom for 10 or 15 years you might not necessarily know the challenges that students are facing. So, part of my job is to give them exposure as well as keep them educated on what’s happening in the classroom. Our employees also learn when they go into the classroom. They’ll sit back and say, “OK, this is how the next generation is thinking. This is what they’re concerned with. This is how youth is using technology.”
CS: Right? Because Gen Z is coming!
DH: Yes, they’re coming, and it’s about how we integrate Gen Z into our work culture. I think a lot of it is not only helping students but it’s also helping our employees understand the different generations and how they’re going to come in and change the workforce.
CS: That’s really seeing ahead. That’s exciting.
DH: It is, and that’s where I think some of the work that I do with diversity and inclusion overlaps with community outreach; you’re exposing employees to new and different environments. We want a diversity of thought within our organization so that people from different backgrounds and different experiences can come together and look at a problem differently and come up with multiple solutions on how they could solve it.
CS: So, now you have all of this experience under your belt. How do we keep moving this forward?
DH: Well, I think we have to do a combination of things. I think businesses really need to use their voice, and businesses need to see what’s going on in the classrooms. One way is to invest in the school districts where they operate, which I feel like will really drive change. I also think making sure students understand the correlation between what they’re learning in the classroom and how that applies to the real world is key.
CS: Your passion for this really comes through, thank you for sitting down with us.
DH: Thank you!
*The interview has been edited and condensed from the original conversation on July 19, 2019. For more information about Janus Henderson Investors, click here.