Born to Serve
Former Cummins executive retiring from post with Save the Children
Given his upbringing, it’s perhaps no surprise Rick Stoner would end up bringing the business skills he learned at Cummins to Save the Children, the global charity dedicated to helping children in need.
Stoner will retire as Save the Children’s SVP International Programs and Chief Operating Officer on Oct. 1. He is the son of Richard B. Stoner, Vice Chairman of the Cummins Board of Directors for 20 years and a close associate of visionary Cummins’ Chairman and CEO J. Irwin Miller.
Miller and the elder Stoner shared a passion for civil rights, a belief in the life-changing power of education and a world view that extended far beyond the borders of Indiana. They would pass down those qualities to their children.
“My father had a tremendous influence on me,” said Rick Stoner, 66. “His values, his sense of fairness and his drive to improve all aspects of community life inspired me. And you couldn’t grow up in Columbus at that time without being influenced by the culture. The culture and the community leaders were very service oriented.”
Stoner’s upbringing may have led him to Save the Children, but without question his nearly 23 years at Cummins has had a huge influence on the global charity.
During his 13 years with Save the Children, Stoner put a major emphasis on making a difference for children by improving systems, strategic planning, succession planning and increasing accountability throughout the organization. He also worked to help strengthen collaboration globally.
Stoner says the differences between Cummins and Save the Children are not as great as one might think. The charity’s divisions are a lot like Cummins’ business units, he said, and the two entities have “very similar values despite different missions.”
A momentous decision
A decision Stoner made after graduating from Yale would also have a major impact on his life as well as his career. Stoner decided to join the Peace Corps, serving in Ethiopia as a teacher in a small rural community.
The move started a lifelong love of Africa that would influence his decision to join Cummins. Stoner also met his wife, Elizabeth, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
Stoner decided to go to law school after the Peace Corps, following his father’s footsteps by attending Harvard. He subsequently joined then U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton’s staff in Washington, D.C.—“another great leader and life-long mentor,” he says.
Joining Cummins at that point was the furthest thing from his mind but then he was approached about becoming General Manager of the Company’s Africa operations based in London. That just happened to be where his wife’s family was living after fleeing unrest in Ethiopia in the 1970s. On both a personal and professional level, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
For the better part of 15 years, Stoner lived in England, serving as General Manager of the Company’s Africa and Middle East operations, then Manager of the Daventry engine plant, and Managing Director of Holset Engineering (Cummins Turbo Technologies today) before returning to Columbus to take on a number of other executive assignments.
For a time, he supervised a promising young executive named Tom Linebarger.
“He always wanted me to be excited and motivated about the work I was doing,” recalled Linebarger, now Cummins Chairman and CEO. “He was just a really good human being and the kind of person you might expect would be very interested in working with a group like Save the Children.”
The big change
While he enjoyed his work at Cummins, Stoner never lost his passion for teaching and development work and his love of Africa. He began having conversations with his supervisors about his interests. Eventually, it was suggested that he check out Save the Children.
Stoner found that he liked the organization’s mission and approach. He met with the group’s top leaders and they felt he could bring something valuable to the organization.
But they did not want him to go directly to Africa. Stoner was told if he spent two years in Save the Children’s headquarters in Connecticut improving the organization’s child sponsorship operations and learning more about Save the Children, they would find him a post in Africa.
He first became a Cummins executive on loan to Save the Children in 1999. Then in 2001, he officially left the Company and became a full time employee with Save the Children. Stoner helped implement major improvements in the child sponsorship management and programming model and was then on his way to Africa.
“I had gotten my dream job,” he said.
A new career
Stoner would end up spending six years in Africa with Save the Children, overseeing the agency’s efforts to help children in eleven countries. Africa represents about 40 percent of Save the Children’s total operations.
He traveled back to the United States fairly frequently in that position, which was good because his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (Richard B Stoner died in 2008). When Rick Stoner’s two daughters were married, he and Elizabeth knew it was time to move back to the United States.
At that time, Save the Children globally was organized largely along National Member lines. Stoner was asked to help find a way to merge the various in-country operations so Save the Children would operate more efficiently. He says the lessons he learned at Cummins served him especially well.
While Stoner is proud of that work, he’s also very proud of the schools he helped to start in Africa – some replacing mud huts that were serving as many as 120 students in a classroom.
“That has been a tremendous experience,” Stoner said. “The children are so motivated to learn. The schools we established have created opportunities that weren’t there before.”
For the past year, Stoner has been serving as Save the Children’s Chief Operating Officer. In that capacity, he’s been looking for good leaders, developing succession plans, including his own, and urging managers to improve their systems while helping Save the Children transition into a global organization.
“The kinds of things a Chief Operating Officer would do at any company,” said Stoner, who plans to continue serving the organization as a part-time volunteer after he retires.
Stoner has made a huge difference at Save the Children, according to Glyn Price, who himself is a former Cummins executive. Stoner was one of Price’s supervisors at Cummins and his example inspired Price to retire early and join Save the Children to pursue his passion for helping the people of Haiti.
“Rick brought an awful lot of business thinking and strategy to the not-for-profit business,” Price said. “That’s definitely his legacy here.”