How a company leverages technology has a huge impact on how well it performs. The challenge is that not many people have the business and tech savvy necessary to get both in sync toward reaching a goal. That’s part of what makes Tawnya Stone exceptional and this week’s Difference Maker.
“I grew up in IT, however, across multiple industries,” said Stone, VP of strategic partner technology at GreatAmerica Financial Services. She held positions at Philips Electronics and Verizon Communications prior to spending six years at GreatAmerica as an IT project manager. “That role gave me exposure to our internal programs and supporting systems. After working on a few projects, I started to learn our customers’ side of the business. When an opportunity arose to work more on the business side, I jumped and haven’t looked back. I still interface very closely with IT designing solutions, but get to work with the people who use the technology and see the tremendous benefit it provides.”
In fact, working with people–both at GreatAmerica and its customers–is a big part of Stone’s job. Whether she is in the office or traveling, Stone is focused on learning from her customers and partners and then working with her internal IT group to improve their processes. “I love the fact that my job is a combination of developing relationships with people to understand their world and what they need, and partnering with other industry leaders to serve a common customer–all while getting to design cool technology solutions to make life easier or more accurate for our dealers,” said Stone.
Stone said she felt honored to be recognized by her peers. “I feel like this industry is one big family and I am so happy to be included! There are some people that have relationships that go back 20-plus years, so I am lucky to know and learn from them and be able to be a part of such a rich history,” she said.
Among the people Stone credits for helping her find success is her mom. “She always believed I could do absolutely anything I set my mind to and gave me the confidence to believe it myself.” Another person who helped Stone didn’t at first seem to be on her side. “One of my early managers was exceptionally hard on me…with seemingly impossible expectations,” she said. “I initially thought he disliked me, but he confided that he wanted to instill a level of excellence because he saw such a bright future.”
Stone also credits GreatAmerica’s COO David Pohlman as a positive influence. “He is my role model–someone who sees the big picture, understands the details, loves the utilization of technology and is always looking at our world through the customer’s eyes,” she said.
What makes Stone most proud is the number of customer tools and integrations GreatAmerica offers to its customers, and the commitment GreatAmerica has made to help dealers improve their businesses. “It takes more than just determining the specific functionality that should exist. Since IT is always a finite resource and our dealers have their own priorities, it requires deep partnerships and a willingness to help our common customer to accomplish meaningful integrations,” said Stone. She also counts being honored as a 2016 ENX Difference Maker as “a top highlight of my year!”
The best piece of advice about leadership that Stone ever got was to act like she had the job before she actually did. “I can’t even believe how true that has been–being willing to learn more than you need, do more than you should, and help where you aren’t expected has created so many more opportunities than I could have ever consciously planned,” she said.
Stone is optimistic about the future of the industry. “There is so much opportunity for a dealer at this point, but the key for them is to be able to adapt in order to take advantage of it,” she said. She cautions against doing the same things today as have been done in the past and encourages dealers to “embrace new technologies and services, acknowledge new competitors, and seek new partnerships in order to keep our businesses from becoming stagnant.”