Five business leaders were inducted into the New Jersey Business Hall of Fame last night. The event is Junior Achievement of New Jersey’s (JANJ) signature program that benefits the organization’s High School Heroes youth leadership initiatives.
Four laureates and the inaugural recipient of the Trailblazer Award were recognized for their visionary leadership, high standards as role models for New Jersey youth, and their impact in positively shaping their businesses and communities. Those honored included: Caroline Armour, chief financial officer for Verizon Consumer Group; attorney Thomas Earp, co-founder of Earp Cohn P.C.; Mike Renna, president and CEO of South Jersey Industries; Brenda Ross-Dulan, founder of strategy consulting firm The Ross-Dulan Group, and Cid Wilson, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility.
The celebration, held at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, focused on the work of JANJ, the aspirations of High School Hero participants, and the continuing impact of JANJ on the thousands of K-12 students throughout the state who represent the future of New Jersey’s workforce.
High School Hero Benedicta Adjei, a student at Hamilton High School West, first joined JANJ in 2022. She explained that when she started going through JANJ programs, she began to leave her comfort zone and gain more confidence. “It has helped me personally and professionally,” Adjei said. After high school, Adjei hopes to obtain a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science while double minoring in genetics and business. “After that, I hope to get into a post-graduate program and later open a clinic that provides genetic services for individuals,” she said.
Adjei introduced Brenda Ross-Dulan, founder of the strategy consulting firm, The Ross-Dulan Group. The recipient of the inaugural Trailblazer Award, Ross-Dulan explained that a trailblazer is a pioneer and an innovator; a person who makes bold and courageous moves.
“Trailblazers not only have a vision, but they also have the courage to act on it. They understand the power of their purpose and the power of their presence. Those are the things that give them courage. That makes them do what others will not do. … To get something that you never had, you must do something that you never did,” Ross-Dulan said.
In discussing how to achieve a successful career, Laureate Mike Renna, president and CEO of South Jersey Industries (SJI) and an NJBIA board member, advised students in the audience to follow the “ABCs”:
Laureate Thomas Earp of the law firm Earp Cohn, who has served JANJ for more than 30 years, discussed the impact JANJ board members, past and present, have had on him: “I learned so much from them – analyzing issues, listening to others, and making decisions. They truly showed outstanding business intelligence. I learned something new at every board meeting,” he said.
Earp also commended the High School Heroes who inspire their peers. “They have an intense interest in business and in the real world. That makes me optimistic about the future of our country,” he said.
Laureate Caroline Armour from Verizon added that JANJ’s commitment to empowering the next generation of talent has no bounds. “I am extremely grateful to be part of that journey,” she said. “To students in the room, you give me incredible hope for the future.”
Saying that motivation is what gets one started, and habit is what keeps one going, Armour told students to “make it a habit to start believing in yourself.”
“Make a habit of challenging yourself; to try new things and take full advantage of the resources and tools that are accessible to you through JA. JA’s mission is to help discover the possible. It is possible to pursue your dreams,” Armour said.
Laureate Cid Wilson of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, who is both a JANJ and JA USA board member, said that supporting today’s youth truly makes a difference in the world.
“Our youths reflect what we know. When we think about all the fiscal challenges that we face, we know that through the incredible leadership of JA USA and JANJ, these future leaders are not just only going to make a profound positive difference, but they will also be contributing and paying it forward in the areas in which we live,” he said.
Jack Kosakowski, president and CEO of JA USA, who was also at the event, said that teaching financial literacy, workforce readiness, and entrepreneurship skills are at the core of what JA does. Yet, with all the problems in the world today, Kosakowski said that JA goes beyond that.
“What we really do is give young people hope. We are facing a situation globally in which young people need role models,” he said. Speaking to current and future JA volunteers from the business community, Kosakowski said, “You are not just helping students. You are helping to create a more peaceful world.”
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