Karen Williams

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Associate Publisher, Marketing
Essence Magazine, New York City

Extremely driven and focused during high school in Oxnard, Calif., Karen Williams expected to relax in college with more leisurely majors — like sociology or psychology. Her father, Cornell Williams, had other ideas. “He was not going to pay for a degree in sociology or psychology, only economics and business,” Williams says. She graduated from UCLA in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

After graduation, Williams joined ARCO Chemical as an internal auditor. “It paid the most money and allowed me to travel the world, but I had a more creative side that I wanted to fulfill,” says Williams. She obtained an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management in 1993 and turned to a career in brand management. She is now associate publisher, marketing at Essence.

Williams’s play-to-win approach helps to counter the effects of the soft advertising market. She has forged successful partnerships — with CNN, for example, to co-produce CNN & Essence: Reclaiming the Dream. She is also focused on building the audience for Essence.com.

Prior to joining Essence in 2007, Williams was a marketing maven at Johnson & Johnson, Hearst Magazines and Disney-ABC Television. She cherishes her volunteer work with such organizations as Inwood House, the New York Junior League and Dress for Success. She hopes to run her own nonprofit one day.

“I spent the first part of my career having tremendous success in the corporate arena. But it’s my personal passion to train, develop and secure the next generation of young, African-American women,” she explains.

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