Denise M. Thomas – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Women on the Leading Edge of Business

Denise Thomas
The Effective Communications Coach

Denise Thomas is the president and owner of The Effective Communication Coach, LLC, a consultancy focused on transforming emerging and existing professionals into great leaders by mastering the art of effective communication and networking. Her clients include Kraft Heinz, Associated Bank, Northwestern Mutual and Manpower Group. Organizations she’s consulted and coached include the National Black MBA Association, Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

Born and raised in Evansville, Illinois, Denise moved to Milwaukee in 2003, at the age of 27. Growing up as an only child, she learned early on how to entertain herself by scheduling meetings with her Barbie dolls.

“My parents—who have been married for 51 years—recognized that I was a bright student, but excessive talker. My father was the financial supporter for the family and my mother was my mom-manager. She introduced me to reading when I was three years old. Consequently, I was a pretty fluent reader, but loved to talk which became evident based on feedback my parents received from teachers.

“I appreciate the fact that my mother didn’t consider that trait as a negative. She would take me to the library and during story hour, most of the children would sit there quietly and listen as the librarian read to them. I, on the other hand, would ask if I could read the story and sometimes I wouldn’t ask; I just started reading aloud,” she said with a laugh.

Recognizing her gift of gab, Denise’s mother signed her up for talent shows—especially during Black History Month. At one of her first competitions, Denise recited a poem written by Maya Angelou. She didn’t win, but at 11 years old, it was Denise’s introduction to speaking in front of large audiences.

“I wasn’t nervous at all. I think that’s when I knew I had a gift. After that, I received invitations to speak at various events as a teenager and throughout college. It’s meaningful to have someone in your life who identifies your gift and makes you aware of it even before you are. That’s what happened with me. My mother, Maurene Thomas, was always big on me owning my gift. She was a native of South America who immigrated to the United States when she and my father married. She constantly emphasized the education and opportunities in the United States and she helped me take advantage of those opportunities,” she said.

Denise earned a bachelor of arts degree in business management from Cardinal Stritch University and—in her words—she ‘earned an upper- level degree in the ‘School of Life.’ She fully credits her grandmothers Essie Thomas and Agatha Schroeder, former Milwaukee Times Black Excellence recipient Carmen Giles, and others for setting standards and creating pathways for her success.

“I didn’t purposefully start using my gift in 2015 until I started my LLC. Then, in 2016, I graduated from the Cardinal Stritch African American Leadership Program pioneered by Dr. Jeanette Mitchell. It was there that I developed my company’s mission statement. My journey has never been a sole effort. People like my mother and Dr. Mitchell used their gifts to help others, like me, recognize our gifts.

“There are many individuals whose shoulders I stand on, and it is my responsibility to prepare my shoulders to be stood on as well—for the next generation. That is not an option; it’s an obligation.

“My absolute, non-negotiable passion is to make sure young Black girls know their worth and the royalty they come from. I try to make sure that those young Black women I interact with know that they can do absolutely anything that they know is part of their gift. Too often, Black women in particular, face so much negativity, including undermining, condescending, and disrespect. Knowing your worth will help you navigate through that. Specifically, I work with groups like PEARLS for Teen Girls and the Girls Group that is part of the Boys & Girls Club. We (Black women) are the most oppressed species on planet earth; that’s a fact, not a feeling,” she said.

Denise serves on the Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin Board of Directors, Mount Mary University’s Communications Advisory Council and on the Cardinal Stritch University College of Business Advisory Council in Milwaukee. She is member of The Links Incorporated—Milwaukee Chapter, TEMPO Milwaukee and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s Women United Leadership Council. She is also a lead facilitator at St. Norbert College as part of the School of Business’s Center of Exceptional Leadership and a co-instructor for the Cardinal Stritch University Mission Fuel Leadership Program. She is also a certified Hogan Assessment and CEL360 Coach.

Denise is the mother of two future leaders, her daughter Dominique and son Daren.