By Andre LaFontant
Donnell R. White is known as a Freedom Fighter in the city of Detroit. Mr. White wields a passion for equity and nearly two decades of experience in strategic, financial, and operational leadership. As Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, and Director of Strategic Partnerships for TCF National Bank, Mr. White’s responsibilities include attracting, engaging, and developing diverse talent and establishing bridges between TCF National Bank, community organizations, and businesses in Detroit.
Mr. White was appointed to his role in June of 2018. Prior to joining TCF National Bank, he served as Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP) – Detroit Branch. “My time with the Detroit NAACP was deeply rewarding on many levels and has prepared me well for this new role,” he stated to Midland Daily News. “I am eager to get started and look forward to helping one of Michigan’s own build on its established momentum.”
An avid historian and advocate for his community, Mr. White’s offers insights into his role leadership approach at TCF National Bank, challenges misconceptions about the Diversity and Inclusion space, and how he maximizes his position to create more opportunities for others.
Andre LaFontant: Can you tell me more about your role as Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Strategic Partnerships at TCF National Bank?
Donnell R. White: I am responsible for developing and deepening relationships with critical community groups within the geographies where we do business, and creating a robust diversity and inclusion culture within TCF.
Let’s talk about company culture. What does a robust diversity and inclusion culture look like at TCF?
It is a culture that engages all of our team members from our Board of Directors down to our frontline client-facing team members. It is enshrined in the strategic plan and acknowledged as a contributing factor to overall company success. Lastly, it is a culture supported by a willingness to learn and a commitment to respect and value our unique qualities while treating each other with dignity.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding Diversity and Inclusion is that it only focuses on ethnicity and gender. The reality is that we “all” bring a unique perspective characterized by a set of distinct qualities and our own life experiences. My goal is to celebrate and embrace our team member’s Diversity and ultimately create an environment that drives innovation and profitability.
In light of the merger between Chemical Financial Corporation and TCF Financial Corporation, how has your former position with the Detroit NAACP prepared you to overcome challenges such as evolving company culture?
In my previous role as Executive Director of the Detroit Branch NAACP, I faced times when building alliances and leading by consensus was necessary. The merging of the two companies is very similar. Realizing that we are one, one company, one vision, has allowed us to create a seamless transition by aligning the best of both companies to best serve our customers and communities where we do business.
How do you ensure that TCF National Bank is a leader among revitalization efforts in Detroit?
We ensure that we remain a leader among revitalization efforts Through our commitment to Community, Education, People, Environment, and Stewardship, we empower and impact the community through financial literacy and philanthropic support.
Expanding upon that, how can organizations like TCF National Bank ensure they remain relevant and effective in the D&I space while the socio-cultural landscape shifts in the US?
Organizations and their leaders must realize that it is never too late to implement a diversity and inclusion strategy. Identify and enable leadership, budget, and organizational alignment for ultimate success.
Considering your role as a corporate and community leader, what does it mean to be a person of Color in 2019?
I have been endowed with a tremendous opportunity to build an inclusive environment that attracts, develops, and retains the best talent so we can reach our full potential as a company and a community partner. It’s a responsibility that I am honored to have. It is the realization that while you may often be the first or the only one, you have a responsibility to not be the last one.