Deborah Benberry Williams is PNC Bank’s Senior Vice-President and Community Development Banking Market Manager for Kentucky, Southern Indiana and Southern Ohio. And while she has worked hard to get where she is, she’s now pinching herself — the fact that she gets paid to do her job. Learn more about the road Deborah took to land in her dream job, how she spends her free time and her best piece of advice. Meet our newest FACE of Louisville!
Tell us about your career and the path that led to your current role.
I grew up in the California neighborhood, around the corner from Victory Park. I was bussed and graduated early from Fern Creek High. During the graduation ceremony, they would call your name and tell the audience where you were going to college. I remember thinking, “They didn’t say where I’m going to college.” Despite being 13th in the class, nobody told me I had to apply.
I went to Spencerian College, and after graduating I got a job at a public relations company. [Editor’s note: Deborah was the first African American hired at the firm.] While working there, I went to the University of Louisville. I got a degree in communications and graduated summa cum laude, and the company paid for my education. I greatly appreciate the opportunity that the company provided to me.
I followed a co-worker to Leadership Louisville, where I worked for 10 years, and I did some wonderful things there to make some of their programs better. I still tell people that if they really want to know about or engage in the community, then they have to do Leadership Louisville.
Later, I saw an ad in the paper for a community development job at National City Bank (now PNC). I got the job, and I soon realized that community development was not just about the community. I didn’t know anything about banking, affordable housing or any of the other things that go on in community development. As I have learned what this job really is, I feel like I have a challenge every day. But I tell people all the time that I feel like I get paid to give back through the position I have at PNC.
What does community development entail?
I go out and determine the needs of the community, and then I work within PNC’s products and services to make the community better. I do that through loans, services and investments. We do community development loans, which means providing a loan that is going to benefit affordable housing, a low- or moderate-income family in a low- or moderate-income zip code that’s going to help with neighborhood revitalization or stabilization, or a neighborhood organization or small business.
Services include teaching financial education — which is something that I really love to do — to help individuals who may not understand the financial industry or their finances, or who may only need a little bit of a push. That’s one of the reasons I’m so happy that, in the state of Kentucky last year, a bill was passed (HB 132 in 2018) stating that in 2019 and 2020, financial education will be taught in Kentucky schools.
What do you like best about your job?
I like to work with individuals in homebuyer education programs. I can remember the first time, when there was an individual in the class who said she would never be able to buy a home. She told me later that she bought a home and she was so happy, and it just solidified that this is the place where I was supposed to be. I get paid to do this!
What’s the biggest challenge of your job?
Time management. Anyone who knows me knows I put in a lot of hours, but it’s because I really like what I do, and so I want to try and stay ahead of things.
You serve on some nonprofit boards in Louisville. Which ones, and what do you enjoy about serving in those roles?
One of the boards I serve on is the Lincoln Foundation. The Lincoln Foundation mainly helps their Whitney M. Young scholars toward a path to college. And the Community Foundation of Louisville, where I chair the Mission and Impact committee, provides capacity-building grants through their Fund for Louisville program.
I grew up in the California area, and when I was a kid I can remember St. Benedict Center for Early Childhood Education. When I was a kid I said that, when I grew up, that was the daycare I was going to put my child in. And I did that. Now I’m on the board, and it’s been very rewarding to see that organization — where it’s come from and where it is now — and be able to help it continue to grow.
Why is giving back important to you?
It’s important to me because you don’t know what impact you can make on people. I think about how many times folks have come up to me and just said, “Thank you.” It really is rewarding to know that if you’re making one individual better, and they’re making their family better, then you’re making the community better.
Do you have any mentors?
One of my first was Carol Morse, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. I can call her on the phone and we’ll catch up together as if it were yesterday. Chris Johnson, former president of Leadership Louisville, was the one who hired me and was a mentor for me. At PNC, Mary Griffith, who is no longer with us, was a mentor to me.
Tell us about your family.
My husband is Thomas Williams, and we’ve been married 22 years. He is retired from Louisville Water Company, and he renovates properties. We have a son, T.J., who is 20 and a junior at the Speed School of Engineering at University of Louisville, studying mechanical engineering. I do have two adult stepkids — Ashley, who works in the medical field, and Ricky, who works for a manufacturing company.
What do you do for fun?
What I really like to do for fun is fish, but I don’t get to do it often. I always like to travel with my family.
What do you like to read or listen to?
I am reading Becoming, by Michelle Obama, and a little book, 212 The Extra Degree: Extraordinary Results Begin with One Small Change, by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson that’s about how water stays at a plateau, but if you go one degree higher, it starts to boil. So it’s about how you have to take that extra step.
I love New Edition. I can listen to anything that New Edition put out years ago. It’s so funny; “The New Edition Story” was on not too long ago, and I was glued to the TV.
What’s your best advice?
Never suffer in silence. I think, as females, we often don’t want to bring things to the table, so we tend to keep it inside and let it stir instead of having a conversation about it and letting someone know how they made you feel.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My paper calendar on my desk — I did say paper calendar. I know we have Outlook and other things, but this is my Bible. Also, my cell phone and my car.
Thank you, Deborah, for making a difference in the lives of so many Louisvillians. And thank you to Gretchen Bell Photography for the beautiful photographs!