“It’s all about communication, which is an integral part of dealing with people. When they are doing their job and making an effort, it should be appreciated and happen on an ongoing basis.”

When Andrea Zopp became the first woman and the first African-American appointed as the Cook County First Assistant State’s Attorney, she relied on her nerve and ingenuity to navigate her way forward. She drew on these traits repeatedly as her career trajectory took shape.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Zopp began her career in the United States Attorney’s Office where she worked for seven years. Zopp then became Chief of the Narcotics Prosecution Bureau. The demanding role brought her passion for community and her legal expertise together professionally. In her time with the Bureau, Zopp earned a reputation as a well-informed and decisive leader, with many lauding her ability to command respect in a room filled with law enforcement professionals. Her work with the Narcotics Bureau earned her the promotion to First Assistant State’s Attorney.

As a young minority woman in a demanding field, Zopp had to quickly learn how to navigate a culture unfamiliar with celebrating diverse voices. “Initially I thought, ‘Oh, I have to change my style; I have to come at things differently,’” she recalls. But “what I realized [was], I have to get people comfortable with my style. I’m direct, and I’m very honest. I recognize that sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, so I try to do it in a way that wraps some comfort around it. But I’m not going to change who I am.” Equipped with this strong sense of self, Zopp shifted gears professionally and moved into the private sector.

She served on the executive teams of various Fortune 500 companies while remaining in the Greater Chicagoland Area, which had become her home. After a decade in the private sector, Zopp returned to public service as the President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. There she worked again to empower local communities by improving access to resources, an experience that prompted her to run for US Senator of Illinois in 2015. While she was unable to secure the Democratic nomination, she still managed to find victory in the outcome. “It was very successful for me in the sense that I think I was able to raise awareness on a number of issues that I thought were important to people,” she says. Her campaign focused on women’s rights, criminal justice reform, safe communities and education—all causes she has championed throughout her career. Her campaign and political beliefs would soon carry her even further when she drew the attention of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Zopp is a fighter for others and herself, so although unsuccessful in her senate campaign, she would soon find herself as deputy mayor less than three months later in May 2016. When the announcement came, Rahm Emanuel said of Zopp, “From the classroom to the boardroom to the courtroom, she has a long record of opening doors of opportunity for residents in every part of Chicago, and I know she will help create a new standard for our most struggling neighborhoods.” Zopp held this newly created position for two years where she continued her journey to empower the city.

At the end of 2017, Mayor Emanuel announced that Zopp would take over as President and CEO of World Business Chicago. She jumped at the opportunity to help the city in  new ways. As the new CEO, Zopp knew that with a smaller organization she would need to focus in on her leadership skills to connect with her employees. “It’s all about communication, which is an integral part of dealing with people. When they are doing their job and making an effort, it should be appreciated and happen on an ongoing basis – not just during the yearly evaluation or review,” she says. “If you can do that, you are creating an environment of valued employees.”

Her biggest goal is enabling the success of others in the city of Chicago. To empower her employees, Zopp is providing ways for everyone to engage in meaningful events and conversations. She creates opportunities where the staff meets on a monthly basis to drive social events and outings for the office. Their internship program is even run by two younger employees, helping to promote and grow their leadership skills. The organization also offers leadership and substantive development programs.

Her WBC initiatives also promote leadership development within the Chicago community. For example, their Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) program recruits smaller local businesses and assesses their readiness to take on more significant contracts with universities and hospitals. Through her initiatives with her employees and her organization, Zopp hopes that she has utilized her efforts and leadership role in a way that leaves the city and its people in a better place than before.

Fast Facts

Location Chicago, IL
Number of Employees 45
Time in Current Role 10 months
Previous Experience First Assistant State’s Attorney – Cook Country State's Attorney Office General Counsel - Sears Holdings President & CEO - Chicago Urban League Deputy Mayor - City of Chicago
Most Admired Leader Nelson Mandela
5 Things She Can't Live Without My Family, My Faith, Working Out, Sunny Days, Good Books

Interviewed by Melanie Decelles and Alexandria Jones.