Teach Who You Touch: Denise Dornfeld’s Full Circle Philosophy
By Dorothy Bliskey
Denise Dornfeld, who grew up in Clyman (population 420), is an amazing woman who has excelled in the corporate world – partly because of a teacher who encouraged her to take speech class in high school. Taking the class changed her life, giving her confidence and boosting her self-esteem.
“I was incredibly shy in high school,” Denise, now 64, said. “My English teacher, who noticed I did well in her class, said she’d really like me to take speech class. I didn’t want to — I never really wanted to look people in the eye. But she kept asking, and there was no way I was going to disappoint her.”
That class changed everything for Denise – from boosting her self-esteem, to jump-starting her leadership ability, to believing she could do anything if she tried. “It gave me confidence. That teacher took the time with me and made me understand I could be more than a small-town girl. I will credit her with that forever,” Denise said. “Ten years after I graduated, I saw her at a wedding and got a chance to thank her for changing my life. I promised her I was going to make something of myself. She’s passed on, but I think about her often.”
Those three words, “make something of myself,” came to be an understatement.
Without a college degree, Denise went on to excel as Chairman/President of AlliedPRA, a $90 million dollar California company that does big ticket special events for corporations and associations. During her 32 years there, Denise took the reins, traveled the world and helped the San Diego-headquartered company expand from just 3 offices to 29. It’s an inspirational story of how a shy small town girl left her mark on the corporate world, touching fellow employees and clients with her expert leadership style.
Denise’s motto as a leader was “Teach who you touch.” The idea was to create an atmosphere of coaching. “You have to care about your colleagues,” Denise said. “I cared about my employees as much as my high school English teacher cared about me.”
“Corporate America can be cold, but our company was one that had heart,” she said. “I truly believe that every corporation has to have heart. America has to have heart.
“It’s not all about the money. It’s about caring and mentoring your employees. My motto of teach who you touch is so important because each of us needs to affect the future of the people we work with. I am passionate about the human condition.
“What’s important are the people that affect you and make you feel like you matter,” Denise said, noting bosses she had in the early years had that positive effect on her. “I was blessed to work for phenomenal bosses who believed in me and gave me free rein, just as I was blessed with a phenomenal high school English teacher who saw my potential. She gave me confidence to believe that my opinion, if presented properly, would matter.”
At Denise’s retirement party in 2017, it was clear in those final moments that her leadership style and motto had made an impact. “One of the greatest retirement gifts I got was a sterling silver heart necklace with the inscription, Teach Who You Touch. It has a ruby for the month I started and a diamond for the month I retired 32 years later,” she said.
“That company was so good that, as a surprise, they even flew my family in for my retire
ment party. As I was entering the stage, there was my family entering the ballroom.”
Denise’s advice for young people trying to decide what career to choose is simple.
“Follow your passion, not what someone else wants you to do,” she said. “Don’t let people squash your dreams. Stay focused, understand what it takes to get there, and stay passionate about your desire.
“Some of those in today’s generation seem to want a quick fix. There is no quick fix. It takes caring, compassion, and focus.”
As she moves into her retirement years, Denise’s passion is with her family and friends. She and her husband spend time at either their San Diego home, their Ft. Meyers, Florida home or with her two brothers and stepfather. One brother lives near their hometown of Clyman and the other in California. “Our family is close, and I love this special time in my life. I love coming back to Wisconsin for extended vacations where I can return to my roots and relax with family.”