Beverly J. Watts, deputy director of Wayne County Department of Public Services, does not actively seek awards and honors for the high-caliber work that she performs in and for one of America’s largest counties. Nevertheless, in 2011, she was chosen as one of the Michigan Chronicle’s “Women of Excellence” honorees.
At the time, Watts held the position of parks director, Wayne County Parks Division, where she strategically spent more than $40 million on capital improvements in county parks. As the first African American female to give leadership to this position, Watts was responsible for the operations of two golf courses, an aquatic water park, and a marina.
Looking back, Watts was humbled by the publication’s honor, but continued to work steadfast as parks director. In 2012, she was promoted to deputy director of Wayne County Department of Public Services, a position that she continues to hold as its first African American female administrator. She oversees five major county divisions: administration, roads, parks, engineering, and equipment. She is responsible for more than 600 employees, while successfully managing an annual budget of more than $150 million, with total assets valued at $1 billion.
“I’m honored to have been a trailblazers for African American women in the county. However, I didn’t do so to be honored,” said Watts. “Yet, I’m grateful, but humbled that someone recognizes me for the work and the deeds that I do.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Watts, as a youth had ambitions of becoming a television news anchor. While attending Henry Ford High School on the city’s west side, she was selected to represent her school as a soul teen reporter for radio station WJLB. After graduating, she attended Michigan State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in telecommunication.
Seeing vast opportunities in corporate America, Watts’ first job after college was as a public relations representative for Electronic Data Systems (EDS), headed by multi-billionaire Ross Perot. She worked as a liaison between the company and the Chevrolet Division of General Motors.
While Watts was doing well at EDS, she yearned to do something to help her beloved city of Detroit. “I wanted to help the city that I grew up in because I saw so many negative stories on television.” Watts said. “I decided that I should use my skillset to help make changes for the people of Detroit.”
Although Watts had the will, she didn’t have a connection that would lead her to employment with the city, until she met Mayor Coleman A. Young. Following a long conversation with Watts and a review of her resume, the mayor knew that she indeed had valuable skills that could help elevate the city.
In 1989, Watts began working for the city of Detroit as a provisional appointee in the data processing division. She ultimately moved over to the city-run Cobo Conference Center, where she served as its event services manager, before accepting a promotion to assistant sales manager. During her tenure at Cobo, Watts was instrumental in securing some of the venue’s largest conventions and trade shows. In 2003, she transitioned to Wayne County, where she was appointed assistance director of the county’s parks division.
With a proven track record in city and county governments, and in the convention and trade show industry, Watts has had many job offers. “I had job offers from across the country that I’ve couldn’t have taken over the years,” said Watts, who is single. “But Detroit is my home; this region is my home. I have a commitment to be a part of improving the quality of life for people throughout the city and county. I’ve always felt that Detroit will never flourish if everyone takes his or her talent to another city, when they can stay here and make this city, this county better.”
True to her convictions, Watts continues to live in the city limits of Detroit. While extremely busy with major job responsibilities, Watts makes time to empower others. She is a member of the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO) and American Public Works Association (APWA). Additionally, she is president of the Harbortown Condo One Board Association. For the past few years, she has been on the board of the Detroit River Front Conservancy, which has included serving as the organization’s programming co-chair, as well as co-chairing Riviere28, an entity of the Conservancy that helps young professionals living, working and/or playing in Detroit discover events and activities on the riverfront and Dequindre Cut.
Watts always has advice for young and upcoming professional women in Detroit and across the county. “Never be afraid to follow your dreams,” said Watts. “And don’t be afraid to walk in a path that traditionally has been for men. There are lots of women out here that are making huge professional strides. Keep your passion, and always remember to reach back and bring at least three other people with you. ”
The Michigan Chronicle’s 2015 Women of Excellence will be held on Friday, March 27 at MGM Grand Casino and Hotel in Detroit. For more information, call the Chronicle at 313.963.5522.