Interview with Dennis Newell, Executive Director of the Valente Girls Foundation
The Executive Director of the Valente GIRLS Foundation, Dennis Newell, is a constant source of positivity and wisdom at the Valente Loft. I had a chance to sit down with him to chat about his career background as well as those who have inspired and mentored him. As you’ll read, we are fortunate to have such a giving and knowledgeable leader running the Valente GIRLS Foundation with the mission of inspiring young girls to dream big and achieve.
Dennis, tell us about your career background.
My career began over 50 years ago. My Dad was a petroleum distributor and prior to leaving for college, I went to work with him on Saturdays. When I graduated he said to me, “Dennis, you’re probably going to go into the petroleum world, maybe even take my business at some point in time. The best advice I can give you is running a gas station.” I said, “You’re kidding me, I’ve got a diploma, Dad. You want me to get grease under fingernails, wash windows and do all the stuff that a service station operator does?” “Yeah, and someday you’ll thank me,” he said. And he was right. I ran a gas station for a year and a half. Every one of my employees was older than me and I got baptized by fire. They were stealing from me and not showing up to work on time. Needless to say, I learned quickly. Then I went to work for him for about 8 months and quickly realized that I didn’t want to be under my Dad’s wing; I wanted to go out and prove it to myself that I could excel with a major oil company. So I interviewed with all majors, joined Shell and was with them for 25 years in Los Angeles, upstate New York, the Houston corporate office and wound up here in Bellevue 35 years ago managing the Northwest division for Shell. And when they announced the decision to move the office out of state, I decided not to relocate because I love it here. So that’s my petroleum background.
The other major experience was with Costco Wholesale for 15 years. Following a successful career there, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse and came to Valente to contribute my wisdom and develop a foundation for young girls, which we call the Valente GIRLS Foundation.
How has philanthropy been a part of your life?
It started by observing my Dad who was a member of Kiwanis Club and did a lot for the local community. I’ve had a huge altruistic streak running through me for as long as I can remember. In every location I’ve lived, I have been an active volunteer—in LA with the Chamber of Commerce, on a committee called the Watts Summer Games that worked with young residents in South Central LA, getting them out of the hood, circulating, networking and developing their social skills; to coaching girls softball in Houston, to Rotary Club where I’ve been a member for 27 years. I also serve on the Husky Marching Band Foundation board. We raise money for instruments and uniforms. Furthermore, I serve with a Department of Defense agency called E.S.G.R—Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. Lastly, I am renewing my role as a children’s reader at Barnes and Noble. Volunteering and contributing through community service is a part of my fabric.
What draws you to the work of the Valente GIRLS Foundation? Why do you feel this work is important right now?
What draws me is the huge gender inequity present in the world and I want to be a part of the solution. Our mentee participants will be exposed to concepts and role models that inspire them to dream big and achieve. The result will enable them to make good choices and enhance the quality of their life.
Did you have a mentor or someone who influenced you in your career? What did you learn from them?
I had a lot of influencers, but no formal mentor until about 30 years ago. Early on, I credit my Dad, his wisdom and his role model activities. Later on in life I learned that I am best served by selecting an individual with exceptional character and wisdom and asking him/her to be my mentor. My selected individuals have always been flattered and have accepted my request. It’s like the bit of advice I still give to my children–if you’re a C tennis player, play tennis with B’s and you’ll learn much more. So, I asked a fellow named Phil Smart Sr., who owned the Mercedes dealership in Seattle, if he would be my mentor. I met with him now and then in his office and sometimes at Children’s Hospital where he volunteered. He was there every Wednesday for 40 years. On two occasions, I met him for dinner in the cafeteria at Children’s, then would follow him around in the halls to see how he influenced young children. Phil was a saint and great mentor.
While at Costco I asked a Senior Vice President, John Matthews, to be my mentor. He gladly accepted and proceeded to coach me on a regular basis. I will be forever grateful for Phil and John’s advice and willingness to help me grow.
What is in store for the VGF in 2015?
We are about ready to conduct our first class for young girls. I’m visualizing 15 in the audience and a guest speaker that will present her experiences and potentially rewarding careers. We’re going to walk before we run. Then later on, we will consider asking professionals to serve as mentors for our participants. Early on I see us conducting classes on life skills such as the importance of investing at a young age, personal safety, business, etc. There are a lot of subjects to cover and there are a lot of great individuals that have agreed to present a wide range of opportunities for girls to consider.
How can others get involved in the organization?
Just ask. We will consider all requests to mentor and present topics. And, we will also consider all referrals regarding mentees.
You are always filled with words of wisdom. Is there a mantra, motivational thought or quote that particularly resonates with you right now that you would like to end with?
A mentor from a distance was the late Zig Ziglar. I’ve attended many of his presentations and even had the pleasure of having a breakfast conversation and directly benefiting from his wisdom. He was a proponent of kindness and caring in relationships with clients, family and friends as exemplified by his primary mantra: “You’ll have everything you want in life if you just help enough other people to get what they want.” That goal and his genuine desire to help others has guided me and continues to provide immense rewards in my life. Sometimes that reward stems from merely connecting two people that I believe would benefit by creating a win/win relationship.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
One other quote that I glance at often and it rings true to me reads: “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” I’ve known for a long time why I’m here on this planet—it is to teach and to deliver joy to others. So when the opportunity arrived to join the Valente Girls Foundation, my clarity helped me close a door at Costco Wholesale and open a door at Valente so that I can give my gift away. I’m now able to draw from my wisdom bank and immediately apply the principles learned in 75 years of life experiences. I look forward to continuing the wisdom bank withdrawal/deposit scenario.
If you would like to connect with Dennis or learn more about the Valente GIRLS Foundation, you can contact him at Dennis@ValenteGirlsFoundation.org.