February 13, 2020
The contributions of Central Indiana’s black community have provided us with products and solutions founded on diversity of thought, experience, and above all, a passion to see communities everywhere thrive and flourish. These ideas and principles continue to offer tremendous value across sectors, specifically in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries. Our region is fortunate enough to call one of the nation’s most well-known, philanthropic pharmaceutical companies home, with a reputation that spans both nationally and globally.
While he expects no accolades, Eli Lilly and Company’s Director of Global Services Solutions Information and Digital Solutions Terry Morris has not only embodied what hard work and values ingrained in faith and family can do professionally – he’s reinvested his strengths back into the community through volunteerism and intentional impact – something he considers his life motto.
Originally on track to become an engineer, Morris graduated from Florida A&M University in 2000 with a degree in computer and information systems, with hopes of also becoming a teacher. However, when an opportunity presented itself for him to visit Indianapolis to participate in a career planning conferences for college students at Lilly, he followed the opportunity, which quickly ignited an ongoing journey in the sciences. That journey included many professional achievements in six other positions prior to his current role in the company.
A lifelong learner by nature, Morris decided to further his education at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, graduating with a master’s degree in policy analysis in 2010. He wasted no time integrating his passion for service in education with his background and skills in IT, a fusion that would also open doors to his involvement and volunteerism with Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), where he currently serves as the national president. The organization’s local chapter, Indy BDPA, found its way to the region in the late 1980s and continues to provide young African American students and professionals with the tools, resources, and network to be successful contributors to STEM careers.
In fact, Delano Robinson, United Way ELEVATE Volunteer of the Year finalist, was nominated for his work with Indy BDPA and is preparing to conclude his term as president of the local chapter this year.
“Terry’s authentic leadership is contagious,” said Robinson, who also works at Lilly and considers Morris a mentor. “He naturally demonstrates how to grow and persevere as a leader using faith and passion, and he reminds us when you do that, anything is possible.”
But if there’s one thing we took away from our interview with Morris, it was his insights on the significance of this month and on being a champion for equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are perspectives that he attributes to leaders who have turned conversations into action both at Lilly and in life.
“Black History Month is our opportunity to pause, reflect, and highlight the contributions of our communities,” said Morris. “It’s important for every generation to take this pause and understand where we come from to build a positive trajectory to the future. Otherwise, we run the risk of allowing the negative aspects of our history to repeat themselves.”
In the last 20 years as a Lilly employee, Morris has witnessed transformations that he is confident can only continue move the needle on equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives that are necessary for any industry’s organizational goals. And while he admits this work can be extremely rewarding, it also poses a large risk for companies and organizations everywhere – and Morris cautions leaders to be hyper-sensitive and aware of what can happen if topics surrounding equity are not carefully stewarded.
“Lilly isn’t only on a quest to make our medicines and the lives of our patients better, it’s setting the example in the equity context as well,” he shared. “This organization took a risk, knowing the nature of its complexity, because we are well-positioned both locally and at-large to tell our story through an experiential lens. Our leadership reinforces the idea that if you are not thinking with a diverse and inclusive mindset, you will not lead here – and that has set a new, necessary benchmark for how our work will be measured going forward.”
That mindset follows Morris outside of work, an area of his life strongly led by his moral, faith-driven values after witnessing poverty through his travels and within communities here at home.
“When you witness poverty, you have two choices: ignore it or do something about it,” he explained. “The time I have here is ever so short, so I choose to redistribute what I’ve been given back into my community, my job, and my people.”
In his spaces of influence, Morris has used his talents in workforce development to advance the skill sets of his mentees and young professionals who share his love of community impact, especially for those who come from communities where resources and tools to be successful in this space are scarce.
“The rapid advancement of automation is demanding a generation of employees who have both working knowledge and an interest in technology,” he continued. “Communities where tech is underrepresented will be impacted by its evolution, therefore, it is crucial that we generate impact on the pipeline to have talent available when that time comes, otherwise they won’t be recruited. This is no longer decades away – it is moments away – so the opportunity to make a difference is now.”
A professional with a background of this magnitude may seem like he rarely ever has any free time, and yet, Morris didn’t miss a beat sharing some of his favorite spots to frequent, including the Jim Irsay YMCA and several restaurants on the city’s north side with his family.
Lilly may be fortunate enough to call Terry Morris one of their most influential employees, but United Way is equally fortunate to witness his selfless, community-centric mindset at work in a space we’ve only been successful in because of our partnerships with corporations like Lilly – and we are proud to recognize him as our STEM spotlight for Black History Month.