John Yena

Chairman of the Board, BankRI
Chairman Emeritus, Johnson & Wales University

Award Profile

Courageous Thinking and Actions
A native Rhode Islander, Jack knew the high times of Providence — from Shepards to Gladdings; the Outlet Company to the Majestic Theater. After witnessing the steady decline of the once vibrant downtown community, he implemented the university’s first strategic plan in 1996 to revitalize the area — with Johnson & Wales at its center. Under Jack’s leadership as president, JWU purchased land on Weybosset Street left vacant aft er fi re destroyed the old Outlet Company and transformed it into the university’s heart and soul. Today Gaebe Commons features two residence halls, a dining facility, the university’s Downcity library and a large, open green space where students enjoy a tranquil urban sanctuary.

Vision and Innovation
Through his vision and persistence, Johnson & Wales University has expanded from a junior college using rented facilities in downtown Providence into a world-renowned university with approximately 17,000 graduate and undergraduate students from nearly 100 countries. While fostering the university’s dramatic growth in Rhode Island, Jack made bold, innovative moves overseeing the opening of three regional campuses in North Miami, Denver and Charlotte. In 2001 Jack analyzed evolving industry trends and realized the need to strengthen JWU’s financial foundation to sustain its growth. Th is formed the basis of the university’s second strategic plan through which the university’s endowment grew from $9 million to $180 million.

Inspiring Leadership
Jack created a university culture where mentoring became an intricate part of both the student and staff experience. He set the example by rolling up his sleeves and meeting with students in classrooms, dining halls, study areas, on Gaebe Commons and in lecture halls while encouraging administrative managers to mentor their staff. As a coach, he recruited and mentored a number of student-athletes from the Hartford and New Haven area, helping them become successful young men following graduation. Th rough his stewardship and vision the university revived its involvement in intercollegiate athletics in the 1990s, becoming full-fledged members of the NCAA Division III. Since then, the university has hoisted more than 50 championship banners in 17 sports, reflecting the athletic prowess of its student-athletes. The academic prowess of more than 200 student-athletes, though, is even more prolific with Jack’s influence upon the academic culture: The cumulative grade-point average of JWU’s student-athletes has maintained itself above 3.00 for most of the past decade.

To strengthen the university’s leadership, Jack established a Senior Management Academy, leadership classes for up-and-coming faculty and staff , and mentorship programs. While these initiatives focused on serving the mission of Johnson & Wales, they also strengthened the foundation Jack established at the beginning of his tenure.

Community Mindedness
Jack encouraged community service while developing leadership qualities in students, faculty and staff — emphasizing the immeasurable rewards of enriching oneself, the university and its surrounding neighborhoods. Following this tenet, Jack has served on numerous boards including the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Vocational Resources Inc. of Providence, the Children’s Crusade, the Coalition for Community Development in Providence, ITT Technical Schools, Daniel Webster College, Bank RI, Th e Providence Foundation, RIPEC…Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, The Downcity Task Force, H.E.L.P…Health and Education Leadership for Providence and RIIHE…Rhode
Island Independent Higher Education Association. In 1998, he was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity for the U.S. Department of Education.

JA Mission Moment
I recently hosted a high school senior for the JA Job Shadow program at Johnson & Wales University. I think that I might have enjoyed the day as much (if not more) than the student. I marveled at her enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and positive approach to almost everything we did that day. I began to re-live through the student’s eyes the power of mentoring in my own life. I recalled a particular high school teacher who convinced me that by failing to prepare…that you’re preparing to fail. A very special college professor convinced me that a goal is a dream with a deadline. And of course…Morris J.W. Gaebe who modeled sticking to your values as your values are your foundation.

Junior Achievement empowers young people to own their economic success and has numerous programs that introduce young people to successful community-minded organizations and individuals who are willing to spend some personal time mentoring young people. I think it was Oprah Winfrey who said “surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher”. I can’t think of a better way to lift young people than to surround them with Junior Achievement!