Cheryl Watkins Snead '18

President & CEO
Banneker industries

Award Profile

Courageous Thinking and Action
As a young girl, growing up in New Jersey, Cheryl, had always shown a passion for the science, math, and engineering world since she was a child. “I love math, I did love science, I love taking things apart and putting them back together and I loved to design and solve problems so I truly had a passion to be an engineer and that’s what I did study.” Cheryl’s career exemplified her pioneering and inspirational spirit. Cheryl was the first African-American woman to graduate from UMASS Amherst with a B.A. degree in Mechanical Engineering. After honing her engineering and management skills at General Electric and earning her M.B.A degree from Purdue University, Cheryl exemplified great courage and charted her own path in 1991 by founding Banneker Industries, Inc. In starting Banneker Industries, Cheryl had some road blocks. She was a woman of color in a predominately male business. She went to many banks for financing, but was denied. That did not stop her. She took on a financial partner that worked for a bank and enabled her to buy the machine shop and start Banneker. Five years later with a handshake and a check, she bought out his portion and owned Banneker outright where her incredible life was taken to a whole new level.

Vision & Innovation
Cheryl was an incredible soul whose vision helped establish Banneker into the company it is today. In the early 1990s, shortly after taking over full ownership of Banneker, Cheryl knew that it was time to change the business. Manufacturing in the northeast was not was it used to be in its prior heyday and there was no relationship between manufacturers and their customers, contracts were awarded and lost for pennies on the dollar. Cheryl not only had to create a new vision of taking the company from manufacturing to supply chain management, but to also innovatively act on that vision with courage.

Inspiring Leadership
For those who knew Cheryl, you personally experienced her dynamic energy, trailblazing spirit, and infectious smile. She had the innate ability to lift-up those around her while maintaining the ambitious and energetic focus of a true leader. In a recent TEDX Providence talk back in the fall of 2017 Cheryl spoke to her views on successful leadership.

“I lead with passion, but I also lead with compassion. I view myself as what’s called a servant leader, someone who leads for the benefit of others. And it is a value, it is a trait I look for in everybody I surround myself with whether it is my friends, my co-workers, my peers in the business world, or students or people that may join our organization. Leadership is not about a title, leadership is about a purpose and a vision and when you can have a vision and a purpose that benefits a greater good then you are a servant leader. I think if we all had the mindset of being servant leaders, the world would be a better place. I do want to be remembered when my career is over, when my life’s journey is over that I managed with enthusiasm, I lead with passion, but I would add four words to it, as a servant leader.”

Community Mindedness
While an immensely successful businesswoman, Cheryl was also humble, patient, and a passionate advocate for many, especially the empowerment of youth, people of color, women, and small businesses. Throughout the years of business growth and success, Cheryl never stopped giving back. She served on various non-profit and for-profit boards locally, including BankRI, Amica Insurance, Bryant University, the Greater Providence Chapter of The Links, Inc., and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) among others. Privately, Cheryl also mentored not only high school and college youths, but also many business men and women in New England.

The L.I.F.E. Program introduces high school students (many from the inner city) to exciting business and professional careers. Course content includes geography, international business, foreign affairs, and multicultural relations, as well as skill building, career planning, team building, time management, and course mapping. The kids have many opportunities to learn from Bryant University mentors, faculty and staff, as well as local leaders. Privately, Cheryl also mentored not only high school and college youths, but also many business men and women in New England.

JA Mission Moment
When I look back at all of the mentors that I’ve had in my life some people were mentoring me and I didn’t even realize it at all. But they all had a common theme and if you think about it, the people who you look up to there is something about them that you want to emulate. And what they picked up in terms of me managing with enthusiasm is that the people who I’ve learned from all had a trait in common and that trait is do what you love or don’t do anything at all.

At Banneker Industries we refer to our organization as “Team Banneker.” And we truly work together as a Team. As successful as my husband Roland Snead and I may think we are, we understand that the success comes from the ideas and execution of the Team and therefore we empower them to think and act as Entrepreneurs. I can tell you that one of our shining stars is Junior Jabbie, a fellow classmate and recent grad. Junior joined us as an intern in his Senior year here at Bryant and is with us today as he furthers his education in Bryant’s MBA program. The value he has added to our organization both personally and professionally is immeasurable and he is destined to be one of our future leaders.