When Dina Vendetti moved to Dover from Pennsylvania to get a new elementary school off the ground, she didn’t know anyone besides the folks close to the project, and she didn’t understand the unique way Delaware does business.
Then she heard about Leadership Central Delaware, a 10-month Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce business program consisting of 28 select students who meet monthly.
Not only did Vendetti—who now works for the Chamber—walk away with a flourishing network but she was also able to get to the root of how Kent County operates.
“I realized to do what I was hired to do, I needed this,” she says. “I’d already been through my master’s training, but I learned more in this program than I did in traditional education. There are many moments from my career where I can reflect back and say, ‘This is a direct result of Leadership Central.’
“Business transactions here are much more relational than places like [Washington,] D.C., or Philadelphia, and there’s such better access to government agencies and politicians,” she says. “I can make a call and get to the people sitting at the table. Your business matters here.”
In 2020, Leadership Central Delaware celebrated 20 years, and Chamber president Judy Diogo has been at the helm for the past 16. “This is really the diamond of the Chamber,” she says. “Every year at graduation, I’m so proud. It’s almost unbelievable how much the class grows and changes in terms of leadership development.”
The program incorporates expected areas of focus, like strategic thinking, problem solving, community outreach and networking. But emotional skills are just as critical. “We want our students to understand how to empower others, how to give and gain respect, how to truly listen,” Diogo says. “Our instructors cover about 70 different qualities.”
While the program aims to turn out dynamic, innovative and savvy leaders to enrich Central Delaware, Vendetti says the program impacts students’ personal lives, too. “Some of the skills have beautiful carryover into your nonbusiness life,” Vendetti says.
In its two decades of leadership grooming, the program has seen many standouts from heavy-hitters like Bay Health, Dover Downs, Chesapeake Utilities and Delaware Federal Credit Union come through the door. “When people are targeted as future VIPs of their organizations, they are sent to us,” Diogo says. Now with an alumni network in excess of 450 students, Kent County is filled with talent.
The pandemic added a new layer to classroom learning. While there’s already an emphasis on forward thinking, there’s been a doubling down on creative problem-solving skills this year. “You have to be much more creative… to be able to problem solve very quickly, and communication is key,” Diogo says.
The Chamber had big plans to fete the 20th anniversary, but COVID-19 changed that, which means the next era of Leadership Central Delaware is still to come. Of course, being the savvy businesswoman that she is, Diogo won’t share trade secrets.
“Let’s just say there are plans to grow, which we hoped to bring in 2021, but we had to take a step back,” she says. “But hopefully you’ll see some growth in January 2022.”