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Executive Profile

Winning Record

Terry Stone, who broadcasts college basketball games,
is regarded around JP as a pretty good coach herself

By Jerry Blackwelder

The learning curve for most northerners transplanted to North Carolina consists of three things: 1) acquiring a taste for barbecue; 2) knowing not to assume that the iced tea you ordered is unsweetened; and 3) recognizing that “y’all” is acceptable English usage.

But Terry Stone’s book on Southern Living when she moved here five years ago included a couple of chapters pertinent to her executive roles at Jefferson Pilot Corp., the venerable Greensboro company that dates to 1907.

While some North Carolinians probably aren’t aware that Jefferson Pilot is one of the largest life insurance providers in the nation and has company-wide assets of $26 billion, they are aware that its broadcast arm has brought Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and football to their TV sets for decades.

That’s where Stone, 58, who in addition to serving as chief financial officer and executive vice president for Jefferson Pilot is the president of Jefferson Pilot Communications, admits to having needed a little extra schooling. “To people who knew me 15 or 20 years ago,” she says, “the fact that I run a sports company is amusing, because I’m not viewed by that group as having either the greatest expertise or involvement in sports.”

But while she isn’t a frequent participant in sports, save for an occasional game of tennis, her expertise in the business end of sports — JP produces similar packages for the Southeastern Conference — rivals that of the other many aspects of her job.

And with this knowledge has come the understanding that her phone is likely to ring the most in late February and early March, a stretch of several weeks when friends and acquaintances just happen to call to catch up. “I learned very early on there’s this question of tickets,” she quips in reference to the mad scramble for ACC and SEC tournament basketball tickets.

Some people spend their business careers with the same company, making the occasional advancements and eventually retiring from the same working environment where they began.

But not Stone. “I’ve had a lot of different hats generally,” Stone says. “My career has been much more episodic, which has suited me.”

Stone concedes that her business journey was not laid out in advance, but rather has occurred by happenstance. Nevertheless, “there was good evolution for me as things happened,” she says.

Stone grew up in Boston, and because her father was a high school teacher the value of education was emphasized from the moment she could open a textbook. She enjoyed her high school years at the Latin School, Boston’s public school for college-bound students, along with a “very diverse group of kids from all corners of the city.” Already an achiever, Stone became the first child in her family to go to college thanks to a full merit scholarship to Wellesley.

At Wellesley she embraced the collegiate culture and envisioned herself as a college professor. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in French literature from Wellesley in 1966, Stone watched as many of her classmates went on to academic graduate schools or medical schools. She opted instead to learn more about the inner workings of business, and enrolled in the prestigious Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She professes “huge admiration for the folks at MIT,” crediting them not only with providing her with an introduction to management and business but also for “converting me to someone who was employable in the business world.

“I was fortunate that I didn’t want to become an investment banker when I was at Wellesley,” Stone recalls, citing both her lack of business exposure at the time and the fact that women were often not yet given significant roles in the corporate world.

By the time she completed her master’s degree at MIT in 1976, she found corporations more receptive to hiring women in key leadership capacities and landed a job as a principal with Morgan Stanley & Co. In her 14 years there she specialized in advising clients on insurance and financial matters, which led The Chubb Corp. in Concord, New Hampshire, to hire her in 1990 as senior vice president. In 1995 she became executive vice president of The Chubb Corp., a year after being named president and CEO of subsidiary Chubb Life Insurance Co. of America.

She describes her experience at Chubb as “fantastic from my standpoint because it was the first time that I was given operating responsibilities.” She quickly determined the company had tremendous potential, but needed refocusing. She set out to identify the personnel within Chubb to take the company where it needed to go and worked with them to make it a stronger organization.

Stone positioned the company as a high quality player in the life insurance business, offering variable policies and equity products to upscale customers. Now she says she may have done her job too well, as Chubb Life became an extremely attractive asset. Chubb’s growth attracted the attention of Jefferson Pilot, which saw a good fit within its life insurance umbrella.

When Jefferson Standard Insurance company began 95 years ago, it was the largest corporation ever launched in North Carolina. In less than 50 years it placed more than $1 billion of life insurance in force. In 1968 Jefferson Standard joined forces with Pilot Life Insurance Company, another Greensboro-based insurer, and the two officially merged in 1987.

Chubb Life Insurance Company of America was acquired by Jefferson Pilot, and is now known as Jefferson Pilot Financial Insurance Co. The acquisition of Chubb Life and three other companies made Jefferson Pilot not only one of the largest life insurance providers in the nation but also among the most financially stable, according to all industry rankings. Today, Jefferson Pilot has more than $210 billion of life insurance in force across the country.

Stone describes the Chubb acquisition as the “right thing strategically for the company to be allied with a large life insurance company rather than a property and casualty company where it had been housed.”

From Jefferson Pilot’s standpoint, Chubb’s product line was a “very important dimension to add to their capabilities,” Stone says, adding that Chubb’s distribution network “has become very much the centerpiece of a lot of our distribution strategies here at Jefferson Pilot.”

Then there’s Jefferson Pilot Communications, which began in 1922 and now owns and operates radio and TV stations from Miami to San Diego, including WBT and WBTV in Charlotte. The sports production division was new to Stone, but as she proved with her introduction to business at MIT, she was again a quick study. “It didn’t take more than a few seconds being here to appreciate how very involved almost everybody in this region is with these teams,” she says, “and it’s a wonderful thing because they are sports as they should be.”

The long-standing relationships with two of the country’s premier collegiate conferences are extremely rare in these days of high-stakes bidding among major network players for sports broadcast rights. Stone feels the fact that Jefferson Pilot has been able to maintain the conference contracts “says a lot not only about the professionals and how we do the business, which is as good as anybody, but the ability to partner and have the interests of the conference at heart just as they want us to.”

Credit for the success and growth of the broadcast company, Stone says, goes to the “icons of the business” who were in key leadership capacities. Once assuming the reins of the company, she was able to bring her financial background and expertise to the table, which became valuable when the economy took a downturn last year.

Advertising revenues from the company’s collegiate sporting events and radio and television stations were consistently strong throughout the years because Jefferson Pilot could prove its effectiveness in the competitive broadcast marketplace. The broadcast stations hold strong positions in audience shares in major markets, and the football and basketball games are guaranteed to deliver both the audience and demographics advertisers want.

Finding themselves suddenly in an economic market of traditional corporate advertising budgets being reduced or even eliminated was unsettling to the professionals in the broadcast company. Stone was able to redirect their thinking and keep their eyes focused on the goal.

“You can’t make advertising revenues grow in the market if they’re not going to grow,” she says. “But you can get more of what’s there than anybody else, so keeping the focus when the pressure was on the overall economic environment was an interesting challenge and we came through it very well.”

Keeping personnel focused properly and encouraging them to reach their potential has been a hallmark of Stone’s leadership in every work environment. In fact, it’s her favorite aspect of business life. “People love to make progress. They love to excel and do great work, so it’s just fun to be able to coach them to do even better,” she says.

She applies that same philosophy to her responsibilities as chief financial officer at Jefferson Pilot. Having worked with banking and insurance issues throughout most of her career, Stone was no stranger to the financial side of business. Jefferson Pilot’s financial operation, she found, had been staffed over the last few years with highly qualified professionals who understood and took pride in their work. “I was fortunate again, just as I was coming into the communications job, to have great people doing the financial functions,” Stone recalls.

She described the operations as “a very finely-tuned organization both in financial reporting and investor relations, so I could concentrate on adding value instead of solving problems.”

Stone’s episodic business career has been characterized by one central theme. Each stop along the way was a blue-chip corporation, the best of the best in its field. “It’s been important to me to always choose high quality institutions,” Stone explains, with the primary reason being “you get to work with such incredible people, so most of what I’ve learned about business has been because I’ve had the opportunity to work for, or in the environs of, extremely impressive people.”

Additionally, in a corporate atmosphere there are many different personalities and ways of approaching business, allowing Stone to study the methods used by effective business people. “You can find people and say ‘I really like the way they do the business,’ and you can see people and say ‘I wouldn’t have done it the way they did, but it actually worked,’ and maybe you can translate that into something that you wouldn’t have thought of doing to move the ball forward.”

Having once aspired to teach, Stone takes pride in her knack of helping people achieve in the workplace. “I’ve been able to develop people because I have a sense of what they might do if they are given the opportunity,” she says. “I tend to like to give them some direction about how to move forward, let them go at it, and then give them feedback. There’s a lot of guidance and teaching that goes on in those situations.”

Stone’s curiosity and desire to learn from effective people extends to her nonprofit activities, of which there are many. She serves as vice chair of the United Way of Greater Greensboro; as a trustee at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; as an active participant in Forward Greensboro, an economic development group; as a board member of Greensboro’s Eastern Music Festival; and as director of NCCBI, among others.

Neil Belenky, president of the United Way , praises Stone’s marketing instincts, ability to understand issues in the context of the marketplace, and her genuine interest in improving the local community.

Belenky describes Stone as “very easy to be with,” citing her quiet self-confidence, unassuming nature and professionalism. “Terry is very analytical in her approach,” Belenky says. “While others are concerned about the trends they see, she’s looking for trends they don’t see.        . . .  She loves to engage in issues of substance and has an insatiable curiosity.”

Stone’s lifelong commitment to education remains strong today, and is demonstrated by her service to her alma mater as a board member at MIT and through her support of UNCG. Sue Cole, U.S. Trust Co.’s CEO and president and first vice chair of NCCBI, works with Stone on the UNCG board. “Terry is a delight to be with,” Cole says. “She’s extremely strategic in her thinking and very objective in looking at issues. Her analytical thinking blended with compassion really makes her unique.”

That sentiment is echoed by UNCG Chancellor Pat Sullivan, who notes that Stone is an active trustee who also regularly attends university events. “Terry has been extremely supportive of the university,” Sullivan says. “She has wonderful insights into the needs of the community and has the concern and abilities to respond to them. She’s a great resource for problems and potential problems.”

In addition to her responsibilities at Jefferson Pilot and her myriad of volunteer activities, Stone enjoys spending time with her husband of more than 30 years, Rick, a retired executive and New Testament scholar “whose career has been almost as episodic as mine,” and their son, Charlie, who just completed his junior year at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham. She is a voracious reader, diving into a broad variety of books from fiction to history, business and biographies. Given the time, she likes to travel and play “non-serious but fun tennis.”

Stone cites many influences in her life and career, among them her parents, husband and son. She clearly admires those from whom she can learn and be inspired to new heights, ranging from her colleagues at Morgan Stanley many years ago to Jefferson Pilot’s David Stonecipher.

They, along with many others, can take credit for influencing Stone’s success today, including her never-ending desire to make a contribution and have an impact on both the bottom line and those around her.

“I just like to make a difference,” she explains. “That’s really what motivates me. I think you just keep moving along and doing good things and look around and meet people and good things happen.”

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