Most people wouldn’t dare leap for a job in an industry in which they had no prior experience. But Jerri DeVard isn’t most people. A marketing maven known for getting results, she not only springs into new territories-she always lands on her feet.
A Spelman College alumna, her decision to change her undergraduate major set the stage for an amazing 20-year career. “I was working hard to earn As and Bs,” says DeVard, 40, who left an engineering concentration to study economics. “After the switch, there was an immediate improvement in my performance, and I knew I had found what I wanted to do,” says the 1979 graduate.
After a short stint as an account executive in a Chicago firm, DeVard went back to school and earned an M.B.A. in marketing from Clark-Atlanta University Graduate School of Management in 1983. The New York native landed a job as a marketing assistant with Pillsbury Co. later that year. Within a decade, she became group marketing manager of the cake mixes division with a $110 million portfolio.
In 1993, DeVard grasped an opportunity with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings as director of suites marketing for the $10 million business unit of Metrodome Luxury Suites. A year later, she became vice president of marketing at Harrah’s Entertainment, where her efforts netted the casino its highest gross. She went on to become vice president of marketing for Revlon’s $700 million Color Cosmetics division in 1996 (see “20 Women of Power and Influence in Corporate America,” August 1997).
DeVard’s career, unique for the broad range of unrelated industries on which it is built-brand management and sports marketing, for example-begs the question: how did she do it?
“Jerri has an incredible ability to see things from the eye of the customer,” says Stephen P. Joyce, vice president and managing director of Citibank, where DeVard was appointed vice president of new business development in March 1998. “Her energy level is infectious, and she inspires others to want to follow her lead.”
The fact that she seamlessly transitions from one business to the next-despite having no prior experience-is mind-boggling to everyone but DeVard. “Most people tend to bookend themselves into an industry,” she asserts. “But my skill set is based on customer need-creating a profitable desire for a product, service or relationship.” This allows her to go wherever the opportunities are.
This broad skill base is exactly why Citibank snagged her when it wanted to acquire new customers and strategic partners. “In financial services, the walls that once separated personal banking, insurance, investing, etc., are breaking down,” says Joyce. “Due to the breadth of her experience in various industries, Jerri is perfectly suited to work through these rapid changes. She can shift with our customers’ needs.”
This ability has also been challenging for DeVard. “It’s not easy to continuously learn a new corporate culture and figure out how to get things done within it,” she reveals. “What you’re told the job is and what it actually is are usually two totally different things.”
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