2020 FCW Industry Eagle Award Winner

Toni Townes-Whitley: A public-sector native comes home

NOTE: Each year our sister publication FCW recognizes an industry leader with an Eagle Award as part of the annual Federal 100 honors. Toni Townes-Whitley was this year's recipient. Here is her story from FCW.com. 
For both work and life more broadly, Toni Townes-Whitley thinks in terms of service and structure.

The commitment to service was instilled early. As the daughter of a senior Army officer and an elementary school principal, “I call myself a public-sector baby,” she said. “We all volunteered.… Our family meetings start with: ‘What have you done to improve the world?’”

When she graduated from college, she chose to answer that question by joining the Peace Corps then working for what is now the Government Accountability Office. “I’ve always had a great appreciation for what government can do,” she said.

The structural thinking, meanwhile, has shaped Townes-Whitley’s entire career. From her start in GAO program evaluations, she effectively worked her way through the entire stack of public-sector IT. There was consulting with Arthur Andersen, the hardware layer with Unisys, systems integration work with CGI Federal and ultimately the “software and app space with Microsoft.”

Even now, as Microsoft’s president for U.S. regulated industries, she seeks to draw lessons from the different sectors in her portfolio — education, health care, finance and state/local government in addition to the federal space — and apply them “across the seams.”

Artificial intelligence is one of those areas where successes in one sector are informing efforts in the others, although Townes-Whitley cautioned against focusing on AI for its own sake.

“The goal here is really to start with a mission … and getting Microsoft and its portfolio better positioned to accelerate the transformation of mission-critical systems,” she said. The cloud infrastructure that her company and others have developed in recent years has laid the foundation for platforms and specific AI solutions that can support such mission transformation.

“That’s the evolution of moving from being a software license provider to a fundamental partner in the mission,” she said.

Understanding those customer missions, Townes-Whitley added, is arguably the most important part of her job — and the most satisfying.

“I come out of this community,” and although her Microsoft career took her to “the other Washington” for a few years, she said, “I’m back. And…I feel particularly honored to have grown up in this community.”

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.

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