Growing up in his hometown of Kansas City, Dennis Williams, a 30 Black Star honoree for 2023, never envisioned himself as a corporate executive. In his community, Black professionals were typically teachers, postal workers, and nurses, making the idea of working as a senior leader in a corporation seem unfathomable. However, today, Dennis holds the esteemed position of Senior Vice President of Social Impact at Warner Bros. Discovery, where he assumes a critical role in shaping the company’s global philanthropic strategies, fostering community and corporate partnerships, managing volunteer programs, and spearheading ESG & CSR initiatives.
In an exclusive interview with BlackStars News, Dennis reflects on his remarkable journey and the experiences that have shaped his life and career.
I come from a family where I was taught from an early age that if you have an abundance of resources in your life then the correct thing to do is share those resources with others. Professionally, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do work that matches my personal belief system and that allows me to use corporate resources to help people and communities grow stronger.”
Dennis pursued an English major at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. After graduation, he taught eighth grade for a year, realizing that his passion for giving back to the community could find another avenue. Fate smiled upon him when an African American executive introduced him to an internship opportunity at Time Warner, HBO’s parent company, setting him on his destined course:
Relocating to New York City in 1997, Dennis encountered another African American executive who offered him a role in HBO’s Human Resources department. Starting as a recruiter, he eventually transitioned to affiliate sales. Soon, Dennis immersed himself in projects aimed at engaging and supporting multicultural audiences.
In a pivotal career moment, Dennis openly discussed his passions during a 2010 meeting with a colleague.
“In 2010, I had a meeting with a colleague where I was open and honest about my passions. That important conversation led to me helping develop and lead their first corporate social responsibility team at HBO,” he said.
When asked about his aspirations by his current boss, Dennis expressed his interest in Corporate Social Responsibility, despite HBO lacking such a department. He shared his vision and was tasked with creating a proposal and establishing HBO’s corporate social responsibility program. This single conversation led to Dennis Williams building and leading HBO’s inaugural corporate social responsibility team—an achievement he holds with great pride.
Since then, HBO has collaborated with numerous nonprofit organizations, addressing a range of social issues mirrored in its content, from domestic violence to gender inequality and the refugee crisis. In line with his family’s value of resource sharing, Dennis implemented HBO & Cinemax’s Community Impact Program, a Production Assistant training initiative aimed at diversifying sets.
An advocate for educational equality, Dennis actively participates in several non-profit endeavors and currently works closely with the LGBTQ Center. When it comes to overcoming challenges, he emphasizes the virtues of patience and persistence, believing they lead to remarkable opportunities. He remains deeply grateful to those who have supported his growth and pushed him toward exciting opportunities, a generosity he seeks to pay forward to others.
“A tough obstacle in the corporate world is that often you are not rewarded at the time that matches your own timeline but having patience and being persistent has helped me overcome that challenge and ultimately led to big opportunities”.
Dennis Williams advises young professionals to allocate time each week for intentional networking activities. As an industry veteran who charted his own course, Dennis stands as an exemplar. He, alongside other pioneering executives, will be speaking at the Black Stars Summit & Awards in New York City on November 2-3.