For Stephanie Reese, Director of Business Strategy and Planning at USAA, a constant desire to help others and strengthening everything and everyone around her has propelled her career forward. She takes on life with optimism as she sees every circumstance and challenge as a chance to learn and grow. This has afforded her continual opportunities to be mentored by thought leaders throughout her career at USAA. A dedicated community leader, Reese makes an impact serving on the Junior League of San Antonio Board of Directors, paving a path as the founding chair for the Diversity and Inclusion committee. Reese shares on the tribe of women who make up her personal heroes, the impact the Junior League of San Antonio has had on her life, and the family values that have shaped who she is today.
On her career journey:
My career journey is one that is atypical of my character. Since I was a young girl, I have always been a planner and one who stayed in my comfort zone. I love lists, maps, and having a clear set of goals within reason. However, my best laid career plans were thwarted by unexpected circumstances during my undergrad years. Switching schools and majors changed the course of my life and I ended up graduating with a Psychology degree from UTSA. I started my career at USAA in the Banking Call Center at the urging of my parents and the recommendation of my aunt, who worked there and is now retired after many years. I jumped in without knowing a soul, a literal understanding of human behavior, and the closest thing to experience that I had was a personal checking account and credit card account that could have looked a lot better.
There I was, taking calls and helping others with their finances while learning from them as much as they were learning from me. One thing that was incredibly fulfilling was the amount of trust that we put in each other. Complete strangers working towards a solution together. I found working for this phenomenal company with a strong mission laid out a path that was completely unplanned. I took the time to learn from some of the best process and project managers within our company, due to my curiosity of “fixing” things. I was able to take that trust that was earned from my early days at USAA and develop it into relationships that stretched across the entire company, and eventually led to chances to be mentored by some of the best leaders in the industry.
On what makes her unique in her industry:
I have an insatiable desire to learn. Subject matter does not matter, just as long as it is new to me and I can learn at my own pace. My parents and older sister instilled a love for books at an early age, so when I have an opportunity to learn I jump at it. I believe my love of learning and the ability to help others is what sets me apart. I approach life and its issues as an opportunity to learn and grow. I use that as a guiding principle when in strategy sessions that effect long-term goals, or near-term decisions that will impact multiple communities of employees. Growing up in a large family, I was constantly made aware that decisions were made based on what is best for the whole and not one individual. I make high impact decisions every day, but constantly keep the person or group of people on the receiving end in mind when executing those decisions. How will they feel? Will they be whole in the end? How can we make something better?
On her passions outside of work:
I have a strong passion for people and helping all communities of people. The gift of generosity was passed down from my grandparents to my parents. My parents instilled this love within their four daughters while we were small. We didn’t have much growing up, but no matter what circumstances we may have been in, my parents were always willing to lend a hand to others. After a few years of volunteering with USAA’s Volunteer Corps, I wanted to do more. I joined the Junior League of San Antonio eight years ago and have never looked back. I can give back to my surrogate hometown of San Antonio in ways I never dreamed.
Along the way, I have been able to be mentored by some of the greatest female minds of our city and meet some phenomenal women along the way. The Junior League empowered me with the strength to take my own personal and professional development to new heights, and this magnified small opportunities into great milestones. For the past five years, I have been elected and/or appointed to the Board of Directors of the Junior League in roles that focused on our membership. I love learning about and meeting new people, and creating opportunities for them to succeed. The roles in which I have served have allowed me to follow that passion and see projects from start to finish. I served as the founding chair for the Diversity and Inclusion committee of the Junior League and set forth a three-year roadmap for the membership and what its impact would be on the city of San Antonio. The Junior League enabled me to take on larger projects within my career that led to larger, more influential roles. Without the Junior League, I would have never found my voice and be able to speak up for those that have yet to find theirs.
On her personal female hero:
I was raised by a strong tribe of women, my mom and sisters, grandmothers, numerous aunts and cousins made up seventy-five percent of my family. From a young age I was taught strength in silence, faith through all times, and a perseverance that can only be cultivated from within. My mom is my hero and it seems that time stands still when I or my sisters have a problem only she can solve. She constantly drives us to be more and never lets us forget where we come from or who we are.
My grandmothers, Mamu and Mamo, were the same way; faith-based women whom, despite not having plenty of material things, filled their children with priceless lessons and values. I cannot exclude three additional incredible women who shaped me into who I am by showing me how to be my authentic self: my sisters – Jennifer, Vanessa, and Ashley. If it weren’t for them, I would not have had the courage to start or complete half the things I set my mind to.
There are many more women who are personal heroes, and many others see them every day as well. They are the mamas in the grocery store that are trying to get the items on their list while wrangling two to three little ones, the women working two to three jobs to make sure their families want for nothing, even those young girls who work hard and excel at something they were told they “couldn’t do.” All these women and girls are my heroes, because I see myself in them.
Better yet, I see my little girl, Gemma, in all of them. I want to be able to look back and tell her that those women and girls paved the way for her and I want to be that person for her as well.
This profile was (Em)Powered by USAA.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.