Leona Thomas - DELEGATE, Business Transformation
Leona is a business transformation and enablement executive who focuses on shaping businesses for the future. Leona is currently VP of Operations at Wylei, Inc., a Predictive AI cloud-based machine learning and marketing automation pioneer. Leona joined Wylei just as Wylei prepared leave its incubator community launching into its own. Leona is a critical member of the leadership team building Wylei’s future as Wylei continues create new and innovative digital marketing solutions that are revolutionizing digital marketing,
Before joining Wylei, Leona founded Enabling Investments, LLC where she provided executive consulting to Fortune 500 and large non-profit organizations. She is also a key Board Member and the Strategic Planning Chairperson for the William Way Community Center. Before this Leona was the Global Transformation Director for Hibu. She also spent ten years with CSC’s Strategic Management and Consulting Practices where she founded CSC’s Global REACH Practice, launching CSC’s Global Chemical Regulatory and Sustainability Practice, as well as leading several major transformational initiatives for key clients including launching SEI Investment’s eCommerce Software as a Service Platform and their first 10 ecommerce product lines.
Leona earned a Bachelor’s of Science and Engineering in Electrical and Computer Engineering and an Executive MBA from Drexel University. She is also a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma International Honor Society.
About my company
Wylei is a venture-backed next generation Artificial Intelligence cloud-based machine learning company that uses advanced predictive algorithms to take the guesswork out of web, email, mobile, and video campaigns. By analyzing customer profile and real-time contextual data for meaningful patterns, we can make predictive CUSTOM CONTENT decisions about what content will be most impactful to your individual audience members. Wylei also analyzes "in-flight" performance of the campaign to spot non-obvious variables that have led to some of the highest conversion rates in the industry.Wylei fixes the major shortcoming in today's digital marketing. Everyone realizes they need to test their content and optimize their campaigns but today's A/B testing solutions force you to select a single winner that leaves a large percent of your target audience not getting the right [or generic one size fits all] content. Enter: Wylei's AUTOMATED RELEVANCY ENGINE. Better than A/B testing is the ability to use pattern matching and go beyond simple segmentation of your audience into the idyllic land of recognizing your prospects and delivering them personally relevant content. Wylei's Adaptive Content(TM) delivers emails that adapt to the specific context of open, based on where, how, and when the email is viewed. Wylei’s patent-pending machine learning engine automatically identifies best-fit patterns for each individual and delivers content with the highest odds of conversion, right when the email is opened.Wylei is a trusted partner of major international brands such as Marriott, Adidas, Dell, and Time Inc.https://www.wylei.com/predictive-emails
I chose this career path because
I didn't choose this career path as much as it chose me. Looking back I can see how business transformation, building and reshaping companies, is really what I was meant to do.
Growing up I thought I was going into biomedical and electrical engineering building AI driven robotic artificial limbs. I actually spent the first several years of my career in engineering and biomedical research - positions that I loved. But unfortunately changes in NIH funding rules forced my out of my biomedical research position.
I was working my way through my undergrad position at the time. The new NIH rules required at least a Masters degree forcing me to reconsider my options at the time. Eventually I found it. After going back to school full time and now raising a family, I got an opportunity to leverage my technical to start a technical solutions consulting group out of my living room.
That consulting firm got me through college - and unbeknownst to me, changed the direction of my career forever. After graduating college, I joined CSC (Computer Science Corporations) Consulting’s strategic management and system integration practice. My first project was CVS’s RX2000 program, one of the first centralized pharmacy systems with automated insurance processing. CVS’s RX2000 program dramatically changed CVS, helped revolutionize the retail pharmacy industry, and changed my life forever.
While there, I learned about and was taught the concepts of true enterprise architecture – techniques that shape and translate business strategy into business processes, operations, and technology – key foundations in building and reshaping businesses. These skills enabled me to lead and drive key business changing initiatives for multiple companies, including creating SEI Investment’s industry leading Software as a Service Solutions, one of the first of its kind in financial services.
Over time my skills have shifted away from technology and more focused on business strategy and operations – but those key foundations in problem definition, operations, and design I learned from engineering and enterprise architecture stay with me every single day.
I prepared for this career by
The best preparation I received was from my grandmother who was a elementary and middle school teacher - and that is how to think, how to learn, to never stop learning, anything is possible, and never accept something just because someone told you so - validate it for yourself. Those skills enable me to take on new challenges every day and to do things others thought weren't possible.
In terms of formal training, I started studying programming in junior high and electronics in high school. Highly unusual for an inner city school system in the late 70's and early '80s - luckily I had teachers who cared and steered me in the right direction.
After high school, I received an engineering scholarship and an engineering trainee position with Digital Equipment Corporation where I met several women and minority engineers who are still mentors to me today. I also learned engineering, process design, and Total Quality Management (TQM) - all skills I still use today.
I received a Bachelors of Electrical and Computer Engineering and an Executive MBA. Formal studies provided foundations - but I've learned so much more from applying those foundations in the workforce and being willing to take on new opportunities.
The biggest challenge I've overcome
There are multiple answers to this question.
From a personal perspective, I grew up in what could easily be classified as a "broken home" with divorce and many family challenges. Yet the village that stepped in to help support me ensured I graduated high school and ended up at an Ivy League institution.
Unfortunately what it didn't enable me to do was PAY for that Ivy League institution - and thus 1.5 years after fulfilling my dream of going to college, I had to leave. At that point, I thought I blew it - I thought I ruined my life for ever. Luckily I listened to my grandmother who reminded me you only fail if you give up trying - and 10 years later, many evening school classes, and returning full time while supporting a family, I graduated from Drexel University with a Bachelors of Electrical and Computer Engineering and 10+ years of real world work experience. And a great opportunity to relaunch my career.
Later I ran into challenges when CSC's Corporate organization refused to provide same sex benefits even though my division wanted to offer them. So in the midst of a rapidly growing career, looking at an opportunity to make partner within the next 1-2 years, I left CSC to find a company that would support my family and my lifestyle. Basically I was starting my career over once again.
There have been other tough times in my career - you don't this type of work without knowing you're taking a risk or trying to do something no one else has every single day - but even when we appear to hit a wall, I remember my grandmother's words to take a step back, evaluate the situation, and realize there's always another way!
My greatest strength(s)
My greatest strengths really are a combination of things.
- My desire and ability to learn new things, which allows me take on new opportunities and adapt.
- My ability to teach and share, which I believe helps me help those around me.
- My ability to bridge communities and bring people together - creating stronger teams and stronger organizations.
- My unwillingness to give up even if I have to go another way.
- A willingness and a love of trying new things, which means I'm always challenging myself to grow.
All of these things have contributed to the accomplishments in my career, and just as importantly with my family and community as well. The professional skills I've developed in business transformation, business strategy, strategy execution, operations, and enterprise architecture wouldn't be possible without all of the above.
Nor would I be the person I've become without them.
My greatest accomplishment to date
Professionally, my greatest accomplishment is creating a CSC Global Reach Practice in new European Chemical Regulations providing services and expertise to strategically negotiate complex regulatory and industry changes threatening their European base markets and moving the CSC into a new industry and turning $600K investment into over $20 million in the first year revenue and launching CSC's Global Chemical Regulatory and Sustainability Practice.
Personally my greatest accomplishment is the family and community of friends I've built over the years - and all the the things I've seen them all contribute to their communities.
My personal/professional goals
Like me, my personal and professional goals are always changing, always continuing to evolve. When I meet one goal, I set the next one. When I see a new opportunity that I believe in, I reevaluate my over all goals for what's right for me. When a see a chance to make a difference in people's lives, I might just revamp the whole thing.
I didn't grow up in the Methodist faith but when I heard Hillary Clinton paraphrased Methodist faith quote “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.” it rang 100% true.
While I went into corporate america, I grew up in 2 families of teachers, social workers and civil rights leaders. I believe the best thing I can do is share my knowledge and help create new opportunities for those who don't always get them and to follow in the footsteps to mentor and teach the next generation as others did for me.
Professionally I have some near-term goals, like seeing Wylei successfully launch and grow into a company ready to transition into its next phase. Longer term, I want to understand enough of the investment and entrepreneurial space to invest and coach people starting their own businesses. The new growth and the new opportunities in this country aren’t coming from the large corporations as much anymore, the days of life time employment with a single company is fading fast – the best thing people is to learn how to create new opportunities for themselves and others. If they can do that, regardless of who they are working for, they will always have a better opportunity for the future.
What/Who has inspired me the most
The people who inspire me the most are a combination of mentors and family who have guided me over the years. These include grandparents, my great grandmother, aunts, chosen family and friends who all have several things in common. Each and everyone of them:
- Showed me the importance of community, teaching, and helping others - not by talking about it but by doing. Giving me some of the best examples anyone could ever ask for.
- Treating everyone with respect. Recognizing everyone for the unique individual who the are, and the value that brings.
- Holding themselves to higher standards than they held others.
- Striving to be a better person every single day.
My goal in life - is to live up to the standards and expectations of those who created the path for me and to share that path for the next generation and those who wish to join me.
I most want to be known/remembered for
The diverse community of people I brought together and who are truly friends
The difference I’ve made in the community and the lives of others.
The chosen family I have built over the years – and the people they have become.
I participate in the following organizations/memberships
I am a board member and chair of strategic planning for the William Way LGBTQA Community Center of Philadelphia.
Drexel Alumnae Assocations
Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society
Society for Information Management (SIM) and SIM Women's Executive Leadership Program
Alliance for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)
Beacon (formerly Greater Philadelphia Senior Executive Group)
Lesbians Who Tech
I have received the following Honors/Awards/Scholarships
Inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, 2010
Received CSC’s 2009 “Making a Difference Award” for establishing global REACH solutions.
Nominated for CSC 2000 Global Award for Technical Excellence.
Received Philadelphia Technical Team Innovation Award, 1999;
Philadelphia CSC “Hero” Award for Quality, 1997;
I support the missions of these charities/volunteer my time
I am a Board Member and Chair the Strategic Planning Committee for William Way. William Way is the LGBTQA Community Center for the Philadelphia Region where we provide services and support for over 70,000 people a year with a staff of ~15 and over 400 volunteers. It truly represents what community can do when people come together.
I also volunteer for the SIM Women's Executive Leadership Council which focuses on creating and supporting women leaders in technology and mentoring the next generation.
I created and built a professional development program for a Portland Women's Technology Group that included a professional development training that has since been utilized by multiple people and organizations.
I will often help and support volunteer organizations throughout the Philadelphia Community including 50 Shades of Purple - Working to Prevent Bullying.
I often present and speak for organizations and classes and I am particularly interested in those involving youth.
I enjoy the following hobbies/interests
Spending time with my very large chosen family who live throughout the world.
Volunteer and Community Work
Sports, including martial arts and rugby.
Hanging out and spending time with friends.