” Trust, but verify, then send data …” – Venessa Harrison

RALEIGH – Born in Raleigh to a family that included 10 children raised by a single mother, Venessa Harrison rose through the corporate ranks at AT&T to become president of the communication giant’s operations in North Carolina. A champion for her native state, she pushed for early deployment of AT&T fiber, helped land the North Carolina Next Generation Network, and now is pushing broadband access for all communities in the firm’s service area. For her efforts, Harrison is one of the first five people named to WRAL TechWire’s Hall of Fame. Here’s an in-depth Q&A about her life, career, memories and challenges.

“I am humbled to be considered among this group of progressive and innovative technology leaders, men and women striving to meet the needs of our communities,” Harrison, who recently moved back to Raleigh from Charlotte, told WTW as she received the HoF honor on Tuesday night in Raleigh. Also honored were Dr. James Goodnight of SAS, Dr. Charles Hamner, longtime head of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, veteran entrepreneurial leader Monica Doss and venture capitalist patriarch Dennis Dougherty.

[Note: Watch the video included in this post to see the HoF inductions.]

A big fan of John Grisham and the TV show “Madam Secretary,” Harrison says she loves to “relax, relax, relax” when not working. As for a favorite saying, she channels Ronald Reagan – with a twist: ” Trust, but verify, then send data …”

Our Q&A follows:

  • Whom would you like to thank most for your life and career that covers 35 years at AT&T?

I’m thankful to a host of people, beginning with my mother who instilled in me the promise of a strong work ethic and education. I also thank the many AT&T leaders who truly believed in diversity from the beginning and were committed to the development, growth and advancement of our world.

  • How were you drawn to AT&T? How has starting as an operator prepped you for the rise thru the ranks and become such a believer in technology?

When I began my career in Operator Services at AT&T, I wasn’t pursuing just a job. I was pursuing an opportunity for a career with a company that was quickly growing in the information technology industry and that could provide me the opportunities to succeed.

  • What is your proudest memory of your AT&T tenure?

One of my proudest memories is the day my daughter referred to my success over the years in what was once thought of as a male dominant industry.

She looked at my career and recognized the importance of integrity, strong morals and hard work. I was truly proud that my experience inspired her.

  • What is your proudest achievement outside of work?

My proudest achievement outside of work is providing guidance for students to go to college and watching them graduate. These are students that didn’t see college as a possibility.

  • Why do you remain involved in broadband initiatives such as NCNGN and AT&T’s own fiber efforts in NC?

AT&T’s work with the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN) project is a successful example of private sector investment and deployment, facilitated by the public sector. The municipalities and universities participating in NCNGN have committed to assuring a level playing field for internet providers building fiber networks, streamlining policies around permitting and inspection, and helping with community education to ensure that residents understand the benefits of AT&T’s Fiber network and services.

  • Why do you believe so much in giving back to the community? [She serves on the Board of Trustees of North Carolina A&T State University, the North Carolina Chamber Board of Directors, the North Carolina Business Leaders for Education (BEST NC) and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA). She is a member of the CEO Advisory Council for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.]

Giving back is a life lesson that I learned at an early age – to whom much is given much is required.

While life deals each of us challenges, there is always someone who can’t overcome their challenge as well as others. I believe it is incumbent of each of us to always look for ways to lift others up and make a difference.

  • Why excites you most about entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship allows individuals to express their ability, authority, and freedom to develop enterprises that make a difference. Their creativity equals excitement.

  • How important is entrepreneurship to NC’s future in your view?

AT&T is committed to enriching and strengthening communities across the country through the AT&T Foundation. AT&T supports programs that address quality-of-life issues, with an emphasis on improving education and advancing community development.

We work with other leading companies and entrepreneurs to incubate cutting-edge ideas, like connected vehicles and home security. We have six centers where we have been redefining innovation that’s been open for six years. We meet on an average with over 500 start-ups annually. {Learn more at http://about.att.com/innovation/foundry ]