Fulfilling wishes

ADP’s Debbie Dyson affirms commitment to children and community


Debbie Dyson, President of National Account Services & Client Experience at ADP and a fast-rising star at the international payroll and human capital management company, happens to be a huge Michael Jackson fan.


Although possibly not quite as huge a fan as some in the audience of Invincible: A Glorious Tribute to Michael Jackson when it played at NJPAC in the summer of 2015.


“I’m a bit of a Michael Jackson nut, but you could tell there were some fanatics there, wearing the one glove and all that,” she remembers, laughing.


But while she loved the show – even the hologram of Jackson – for Dyson, the real surprise of the evening was NJPAC. A recent transplant to New Jersey from her native California, Dyson had won the tickets to the Jackson show in a raffle and said that discovering the Arts Center, with its “luxurious” theater and restaurant, was like finding “this hidden treasure.”


It would not be her last visit to the Arts Center.


“It couldn’t have been more than a month later that John (Schreiber, NJPAC’s President and CEO) reached out about the opportunity to join the Board. And I thought, well, everything happens for a reason. It was kind of weird how it all fell into place!”


Dyson now sits on the NJPAC Board of Directors, and was instrumental in working with ADP when it became the sponsor of the Arts Center’s Community Engagement Department, increasing the company’s long-standing annual support for NJPAC in order to boost its efforts to bring the arts and cultural literacy beyond the Art Center’s campus and into schools, parks, houses of worship and community centers throughout Greater Newark. This new partnership expanded ADP’s dedication to NJPAC beyond its already-significant support for the institution, which dates back decades.


“Our former CEO, Josh Weston, clearly has a passion for NJPAC, and there’s a little bit of honoring the commitment of what Josh has contributed. But at the same time, we’re a very large company, we sit in New Jersey, this is our corporate location. And our commitment to the arts is phenomenal because we can see the impact,” she says.


“But I think the mission – in terms of how NJPAC has evolved and continues to evolve, reaching back into the community, is incredibly appealing to ADP and matches our very diverse, very inclusive mission.”


NJPAC’s Community Engagement programming, which ranges from literacy and performance programs offered at libraries throughout Essex and surrounding counties, to NJPAC’s annual weekend of Martin Luther King Day celebrations, “fits all the values we strive for,” Dyson says.


“It’s like we’re standing behind this with you, and it has our name attached to it,” Dyson explains. “When John was on stage at the MLK event, and he called us out as the community partner, that meant a lot to us.”


Particularly, she notes, when the gospel concert featuring Mary Mary turned out to be such a rousing performance.


“It was packed, people were in the aisles,” she remembers. “It was an unbelievable event. I was like: ‘Are we at church?!’”


The new partnership also fits Dyson’s personal mission – paving the way for more women like her to make their mark.


Dyson, who started as a client account manager at ADP decades ago – “answering the phones,” she says – is now a direct report to the company’s CEO. Her stratospheric rise led to her being named one of Black Enterprise magazine’s 300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, among other honors.


She says that her success at the company was never a personal goal per se, but simply an outgrowth of a won’t-quit work ethic. “I try to stay present and in the moment, and let the results and the work speak for themselves,” she says.


But one of the perks of having reached the C-suite at a massive company like ADP, she says, is the opportunity it gives her to give back.


“My philosophy is: How do I pay it back, pay it forward? How do I help others?” She notes that her mother, who passed away about nine years ago, reinforced her passion for educational causes.


“She grew up in a very different time, a very challenging time for an African-American female. And she asked me, with the good fortune I’ve been given, to try to help children who were not able to get an education – because she was one of those children. So I’m on a mission. I’m happy with my work, but at the same time, I want to fulfill this wish.”


So to this day, she’s known at ADP for never saying no to speaking opportunities, or to younger colleagues seeking advice.


“My admin, Pat, will tell you: I do not say ‘No.’ It makes it hard on the calendar sometimes, but I never, never say no. You want me to come talk to the girls in your junior achievement club? No problem. I’m there.”


And working with NJPAC, particularly its Community Engagement programming and its Board, fits into that personal mission as well, she says.


“The passion here for children, and for education, and hope and opportunity, that’s what appealed to me – what more could I ask for?” she says.


“Who ever would have thought that this gift would be laid in my lap that gives me the opportunity to try to do something more?”


March 28, 2018