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In June 2017, W. Thomas Stanley hosted NetApp’s 25th-anniversary celebration at one of its work sites. A 30-year technology industry veteran, Stanley has served as senior vice president (SVP) and general manager of the Americas for NetApp since 2015.

Other positions he has held include SVP, Global Partner Sales and Alliances, Vice President, Global System Integrators and Alliances, and various management roles at IBM, where he worked for more than eight years. Stanley also serves on the Board of Visitors at North Carolina A&T State University, Boys Hope Girls Hope International and is a member of the Executive Leadership Council.

After graduating from North Carolina A&T with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1988, Stanley earned an M.B.A. at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management in 1996.

“The M.B.A. balanced the technical with outcome-based work,” Stanley said. “Understanding technology was important, but the outcome-based discussion was also important. Having an M.B.A. rounded me out.”

Stanley added his wife has often said that although she went on to earn a Ph.D. in engineering, worked in business, and taught at college, there are days she wishes she had an M.B.A.

“An M.B.A. gives you social confidence in terms of understanding businesses, how they operate, and how to add value to the enterprise,” Stanley said. “I think she’s right. Part of the reason I pursued the M.B.A. and why I recommend it is for the exposure and opportunity in terms of experience.”

Stanley grew up about three and a half hours by car from North Carolina A&T University. A love for math during high school and a lack of interest returning to work in agriculture, plus input from his guidance counselors took him down the path of computer programming.

By the time Stanley finished high school, North Carolina A&T’s computer science program was a few years in the making. Stanley was in the third class to graduate with a computer science degree. He has one word for his N.C. A&T experience: Tremendous!

“I met my wife there while she was getting her undergraduate and master’s degree in electrical engineering. So, with our combined 3 A&T degrees, we have a lot of love for the university,” he explains. “Two of our three children are students there. One is a senior (kinesiology), and the other is a sophomore (bio engineering). We have one in high school, who says she’s going to go to A&T as well.”

As SVP in NetApp’s largest geographic region, Stanley endeavors to create a safe space for work-related conversations, but is a stickler for rules on performance and character.

“I try to make sure they view me as someone genuinely interested in them being successful, and I require of them not to be prideful about needing help. Right or wrong, you don’t just represent yourself when you show up. Bring your best self to the job,” he said.

On character, Stanley’s view is that it’s not just what you get done, but how you do it that matters. “How do you treat people, and show up in a meeting? Are you prepared, are you on time, have you dressed appropriately? I tell them that they stand out every time they walk in the room. Be proud of that.”

He cautions against overcompensating. “I’ve done that in my career,” he said candidly. “Where I thought the room was seeing color and not listening to me or seeing me. You’re not always right when you make that assumption,” he warns.

“You have to be careful not to be a victim in a situation which may just be a difference in opinion or point-of-view, or quite frankly may be intended as constructive criticism. You shouldn’t exclude reality, but your priority should be making sure you put forth a quality product every day.”

“The digital landscape is really about data,” he said. “It’s how people make decisions with data and interact with data.” Starting with everyday examples, the NetApp exec asks young people to look at how they can influence banking, commerce, transportation, energy, and health care over the next 10, 20, 30 years. That’s what businesses are trying to do with digital transformation-how they drive revenue, processes, and how they compete.”

“I get to go on that journey with disruptive tech companies, in different industries using different technologies,” he said. “When I think about digital transformation, I try to find programming and technology that changes business and changes lives.”

Still, Stanley says social skills are key.

“For NetApp, it’s not just about technical and business competence. All of the STEM-related skills are critical, but not at the risk of poor social skills. Now, more than ever, people are working in groups and teams and the ability to collaborate with others, to drive joint outcomes, is just critical,” he says.

Tips for students and recent grads.

  • Take advantage of every opportunity to learn.
  • Be comfortable taking the roads less traveled.
  • Get involved in groups that are advancing education.
  • Learn from your peers and mentors.
  • Don’t allow outside interests to outweigh assignments.
  • Make sure you’re doing your current job well. It positions you for the next opportunity.
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