Jana Cohen Barbe is a true powerhouse and a lady of global stature and thinking. She is someone who focuses on globalisation in her professional life, an advocate for women and youth and someone who builds cross cultural bridges in governance, in business and in communities around the world.
Q: Jana, if you were to describe yourself in 150 words, what would you say?
A: I am an evolving wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, lawyer, advisor, advocate, equestrian, farmer, traveller and optimist who took the road less travelled and still does not know where it leads.
Q: How did you get where you are today, and did anyone (or something) help you along the way?
A: I have taken the unconventional path and I have been nurtured, and mentored by too many remarkable individuals to name, beginning first with my parents who encouraged me to be an independent thinker and who taught me the importance of intellectual curiosity and fulsome debate. I began my career in the typical way for a young lawyer in the United States: I joined a large prominent law firm and worked around the clock. I then opted to leave the firm to work for a not-for-profit social service agency as its first General Counsel and to develop affordable housing for individuals with severe and persistent mental illnesses and histories of homelessness. I then returned to the private practice of law after five years. The time I spent doing public interest work defined my career and gave me the specialized knowledge that clients have kindly valued. I suppose it is a lesson in what happens when luck and support meet passion and determination.
"She who works hardest wins"
Q: Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career!
A: I am immensely proud to have founded Dentons' affordable housing, community development and tax oriented investing practice and to have seen it grow to a position of national prominence. It is a highly sophisticated practice that is dedicated to investing in and enhancing our communities utilizing creative tax structures. It is reflective of Dentons' values and our clients' values.
Q: What’s your superpower?
A: I asked a number of people to help me with this question and they all said essentially the same thing: "your super power is your ability to work incessantly, with no sleep and no visible signs of wear." They said I was a "machine." I hate that. So I will take this question and the consistent answers offered by others, and learn from the experience. I do not want my superpower to be my stamina. I do not want to be a machine. I am in search of a new superpower.
Q: What are the most important learnings for you in leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?
A: For me, the lesson of "authenticity" has been paramount and defining. I am someone who, for a long time, sought external validation and approval. When I learned that the only approval required came from within, I found the freedom to speak from the heart and I aspire to lead from the heart.
Q: What advice would you give to younger women who want to succeed in the workplace?
A: Do not let others define you or your definition of success. And do not take "no" for an answer. Rigidity serves the status quo. Have the courage of your vision and your values but build a strong network of supporters, cheerleaders and team members for those moments when your courage fails you, which it will invariably do. Success is a team sport; and integrity, graciousness and resiliency will always serve you well.
Q: Luck and timing vs. hard work: Which one is more important?
A: They are all important, but I have always believed that she who works hardest wins. For sure, work ethic beats talent, in my view.
Q: What is your approach on the issue of fake news? And how can we equip our societies –and youth- to think critically, filter and process information?
A: When did the world become a place where the truth no longer matters? I find that so disturbing and so frightening, but I acknowledge it to be our new realty. We have leaders who lie without compunction and who function without ethical constraints. We must hold them accountable for their words and their actions, and accountability must be a grass-roots effort. It cannot be left to the media or the legislature. It begins and ends with each of us. I think that is also true of empowering youth. I grew up in a home where all things were discussed over the dinner table and all views (and all people) were welcome. We must encourage our youth to ask questions, to challenge view points and to learn to defend their own views with fact, and that requires direct engagement on our part. Again, it begins and ends with each of us.
Q: What makes a Global Thinker?
A: A global thinker is a broad thinker who is not constrained by insular views or parochialism. It requires tolerance, openness and a capacity for empathy.
Q: Anything else you may wish to add?
I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity and in awe of so many on the GTF Board of Advisors. I am eager to engage and to learn.
Jana Cohen Barbe
Partner & The Former Global Vice Chair, Dentons US LLP
Jana Cohen Barbe is a Partner and the former Global Vice Chair of Dentons, the largest law firm in the world. Since its inception, Jana has been integrally involved in the development and implementation of a strategic vision that created a top tier global legal business with 149 locations in 61 countries.
In addition to serving on the Global Board of Dentons, the Global Advisory Committee and the U.S. Board, Jana chaired the firm's Financial Institutions Sector - the largest sector of the law firm - as well as its pre-eminent real estate practice. Jana advises leading global financial institutions and insurance companies on community development and social investing; her substantive expertise bridges tax, corporate, partnership, finance and real estate law and she is ranked among the best real estate attorneys in the world.
Equally committed to serving her community, Jana is the president emerita of Thresholds, Illinois' oldest and largest provider of supportive services and housing to individuals with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Her service to Thresholds, which serves more than 9,500 adults and youths each year, has spanned more than 25 years.
Recognized for her transformative and pioneering leadership, Jana is a frequent author and speaker on women in business, globalization, entrepreneurship and authenticity.