CEO, School of Rock
Dzana Homan is no shrinking violet. A survivor of the war in the Balkans, she immigrated to the U.S. from Bosnia in 1995. She spoke no English, but she had
a fierce desire to live in a free country. Now Homan, who took over the CEO
spot at Chicago-based School of Rock in June 2014, considers herself a classic American success story.
After earning her master’s in electrical engineering from New Mexico State University—she already held degrees in piano and physics from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia—Homan landed a job in robotics at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s R&D center in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. However, she needed to wait six months for grant funding to begin.
Reluctant to sit idly by, Homan took a position teaching robotics at a local Futurekids franchise. She loved the business and her work with children—so much so that she became the center director. Homan never did take that job at JPL, instead sticking with Futurekids, eventually joining the corporate team and being named CEO less than two years later.
Homan, who has since held key roles at education franchises Goddard Systems and Huntington Learning Centers, says her post at School of Rock marries her love of education with her passion for music, which she has studied since age 6. She credits her career success to fearlessness, hard work and a tenacity that influences everyone around her.
“If you are matching up opportunity with gumption—the time that you need to dedicate to this, the persistence and audacity—people are just going to say, ‘You know, if I tackle that woman, it’s going to get complicated.’ They back off and engage with you in a productive way,” she says.
She leads more than 145 School of Rock franchises in eight countries, helping to develop the next generation of musicians. Homan is quick to tout the benefits of children learning to play instruments, including better grades and discipline and higher high-school graduation rates.
“[Playing together] calls out for an incredible capacity to respect other people, to have patience, to not judge other kids based on their age,” she says. “It teaches children to care for each other and respect each other in so many ways.”
Indeed, although she has faced obstacles both personal and professional, Homan prefers to focus on the positive.
“A war zone prepares you for all sorts of things,” she says. “I don’t want to say that everyone should have that exposure, but it puts most difficult things that you face later in life in a different perspective. Unless you’re shooting at me, or someone is bleeding or on fire, I can handle it.”