By Sheila Durant, Esq. and Gary Norman, Esq
This story first appeared in Women Leadership Magazine
Alicia Wilson is a powerhouse who has a quiet charm that defines her more than words. Doubtless, she is a proven leader. But what and why is that?
A friend to many leaders within the legal, political and business communities, Alicia quietly sat among a group of aspiring young leaders for a coffee conversation. According to a member of her audience, however, within minutes, her magnetic charm captivated nearly everyone as she candidly reflected on her career which began as a Baltimore attorney and has since elevated her to influential status as Managing Director and Global Head of Philanthropy for the North America Region where she oversees 40+ JPMorgan Chase North American markets and, collaborates intentionally with senior leaders across the firm to drive meaningful impact in U.S. and Canada. This includes helping to steward the $2 billion philanthropic commitment as part of the firm’s broader Racial Equity Commitment.
Before JPMorgan Chase she served as the Vice President of Economic Development of Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health Systems where she leads a dynamic core team of power players “driving John Hopkins strategy and initiatives as an anchor institution in and around Baltimore. Alicia also held roles as “the senior vice president of impact investments and senior legal counsel for the Port Covington Development Team where she was instrumental in securing a $660 million TIF for the $5.5 billion redevelopment.
At first glance, one might think that her meteoric rise at 40 years of age has been easy. Candidly, however, Alicia is quick to point out that her journey could not have happened but for a solid education, strong mentorship and her own family driven personal ethics to trust in self, strive for excellence and be service driven. In short, she never forgets to focus on the lesson that needs to be learned by young people of the dangers of “artful sabotage” on the way to leadership. You don’t want to miss your moment! It’s important to not get career sidetracked by the “quiet bigotry of low expectation.”
Finding and having a strong mentor over 15 years such as Ava Lisa- Booker, a Senior Partner at McGuire Woods, surely helped. Under Lisa-Booker’s seasoned legal wings, already armed with a strong family ethic, Alicia was able to stay on her path – trusting that there is a divine destiny in the God-given gifts in everyone. Alicia also believes that no one can define you given that no one being is an accident. Environment impacts who we are. The story doesn’t end there. We must harness the unique gifts we have and figure out how to be our best selves by finding and trusting that our job is to build a trajectory of excellence. Our birthdates are no accident. We all have a duty to build on who and what we are and to prepare to maximize our gifts.
Born into a loving, kind spirited close family that did not sweat the small stuff, Alicia found ease in her salesman father’s mantra that sales were far less important than placing products with people. According to Alicia, as a jovial even tempered salesman who practiced “listening” to his clients, her father’s life lesson was embodied what he understood to be the “value of appreciating how people live and the importance of taking those differences into how he interfaced with them.” In other words, while money was important, it was not his paramount driving force. As an example, he knew and never forgot that his customers’ purchase of an expensive set of World Book Encyclopedias in the 60”s was understood to be a “huge deal” …an unseen value added financial commitment against multiple personal sacrifices based on a source of hope and pride for the family “beyond the product”.
For Alicia, in the spirit of her mother, opening a door to a promising young person from a humble background means more than providing a door of opportunity. And, so it is with “Maryland Youth and the Law”, a nonprofit organization and partner to the legal community which considers her to be one of its’ success stories. The program works in the nonprofit provider pipeline program for young people in secondary school providing them with an opportunity to excel in jobs and leadership roles within the legal field. Alicia is one of its success stories. By staying on her trajectory of excellence, she exemplifies what is possible and how many places one can go when given a chance. The seven week program equips their young people with a legal employer while enabling education and providing critical networking skills.
Actively working with charitable organizations, Alicia was recently elected Chair of the College Bound Foundation and she is the first African American and youngest Board Chair in the 30 year history of the organization. Alicia holds an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a juris doctor from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
Alicia takes an uncharacteristic wholistic approach to all of the aspiring young people who seek her guidance. Looking back, like the poet Khalil Gibran’s climber from the plain, her impact and strength is not readily discerned for they are not in her intellect nor in her accomplishments. Her power is her genuine love of people and what she makes them feel. “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution.” Around Alicia, in the spirit of her mother and father and those who have mentored her, there is “space” to not sweat the small stuff. In that sweet spot, trust, ingenuity and creativity is born and real leadership becomes possible.