Joan Verplanck: Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s Second Female President and CEO
A Rosie outlook: Verplanck brings fresh ideas to Delaware.
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Joan Verplanck grew up in Detroit when it was known for Berry Gordy and Buicks—not bankruptcy. Like most baby boomers in the 1950s and 1960s, she avidly watched “American Bandstand,” and she still recalls the Army recruitment ad that ran during the popular TV show.
“You’re sure to go higher, and when you retire, you’ll only be 38,” says Verplanck, reciting the commercial jingle. She pauses and snaps her fingers. “I was so ticked when I turned 38 that I hadn’t joined the Army.”
Don’t let her fool you. Verplanck, now in her 60s, isn’t ready for a hammock. She’s as jazzed about business as she is about The Supremes or the Temptations. The Delaware State Chamber’s second female president and CEO looks perfectly at ease at the conference table in her spacious downtown Wilmington office. Seeing the chamber staff and its volunteers get excited about new programs thrills her. “I feed on it,” she says.
So how did this Motown girl wind up in the Small Wonder? Forget DuPont, Bank of America and the other usual suspects. Verplanck’s path to Wilmington is laced with serendipity and forged by hard work. She took a hammer to the glass ceiling long before many people even realized it existed.
But it’s her geographic route to the presidency—not her gender—that may ruffle a blue hen’s feathers. For more than 25 years, chamber presidents have risen through the ranks, as an employee or a board member—or because they’re well-known Delawareans. Such was the case with Jim Wolfe, Suzanne Moore, John Burris and Bill Wyer.
Verplanck, who started the job in February, has neither lived nor worked in Delaware, unless you count time spent at the University of Delaware to earn the Institutes for Organization Management certification.
As of September, she was doggedly making the hour-and-a-half commute from her Princeton, N.J.-area home, which was on the market. (She plans to buy in Delaware.) In a state where there’s one degree of separation—and where the state chamber dates back to 1837—some might label her an outsider who can’t possibly understand the Delaware way.