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Derica Rice, Consortium alumnus, Indiana, 1990

Derica Rice: Consortium alum’s differences have made a difference

Because he was a little different, Consortium alumnus Derica Rice met the queen of England — and his wife.

Because he was a little different, Consortium alumnus Derica Rice met the queen of England — and his wife.

Rice, Eli Lilly and Company‘s executive vice president of global services and chief financial officer, is quick to note that his Consortium fellowship opened those opportunities and more. Rice received his MBA in 1990 from Indiana University-Bloomington. One of those opportunities started at the very beginning of his association with The Consortium.

Rice’s Orientation Program was on the campus at Washington University in St. Louis. At the time, organizers placed men and women in separate dorm suites.

“The administrators looked at my name and thought I was a woman,” Rice said. “They put me in the female suites.”

Too late to make any adjustments, that’s where he stayed throughout OP — and that’s how he met his now wife, Robin R. Nelson-Rice. She also received her MBA from Indiana in 1990, and her marketing career has included positions at AT&T and Eli Lilly. She serves as a volunteer on a variety of community boards and institutions, including the Indiana Museum of Art.

Gratitude for The Consortium

Both Rices are members of The Consortium’s Eagle Club, showing the highest level of financial commitment from individual donors. Derica Rice said it’s a natural result of the opportunities he received from The Consortium.

“I have a great deal of gratitude for The Consortium,” he said. “In hockey terms, I scored a hat trick: I got a degree, a career and a best friend and soul-mate all in one swoop. It laid the foundation for me to have the career I have at Lilly for 26 years now.”

Since then, he’s traveled the world, working for Lilly in international assignments including CFO for Lilly Canada; CFO for European operations based in London; and general manager of Lilly United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. Rice also serves on the boards of directors at Target Corp.

Rice originally heard about The Consortium as an undergraduate at Kettering University, where he was studying engineering.

“I decided I didn’t want to do engineering any longer. I thought I’d go to law school. Then, my roommate came home and said there’s this thing called an MBA,” Rice said. With no business background — and no business school at Kettering at the time — Rice assumed he couldn’t qualify. When he researched The Consortium, he realized he had a shot.

Differences in Diversity

Rice said he’s been fortunate in his career as an underrepresented minority to have experienced more positive than negative experiences related to workplace diversity.

“Have there been negatives? Absolutely, and sometimes they’re quite subtle, about how people acknowledge and recognize the differences,” he said. “Diversity is more mainstream in the sense that it’s more top of mind. Diversity is starting to encompass the elements that we dream of. It really is about getting the most out of each and every individual.”

Living internationally has also shown Rice that attitudes about race vary tremendously in other parts of the world. He noted that social class and lineage seemed to make more of a difference in the United Kingdom than race — though he did tend to stand out as an African American man at UK business functions.

Queen Encounter

Remember our reference to the queen earlier? Rice had the opportunity to meet her twice in the early 2000s — largely because he stood out in a crowd.

The first time was in 2001, shortly after President George Bush’s inauguration and after Tony Blair had returned from a visit with the new president. The event was a top-level business meeting for corporate leaders in the UK. “I am the only one in the room who looks like me. I met everyone in the room and I never moved” — including members of the royal family, Rice said — because they moved around the room toward him.

A second meeting occurred a few years later.

“My wife and I were invited to this white-tie ball, with probably 1,000 people there. And we were among the very few people who look like me,” he said. As the royal family bid greetings to every third or fourth person in the queue, Prince Albert went out of order, noting he hadn’t had the chance to meet the Rices. That’s when Rice had his second encounter with the queen — though he acknowledges they haven’t exactly exchanged cellphone numbers.

“You have no idea about the doors that one opportunity can open. I never left the state of Alabama before I was 18,” he said. “Now, I’ve spent almost half of my career outside of the U.S. Could you imagine being in those kinds of situations? It was through The Consortium that all of that was enabled.”

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