Ep 55: Theresa Ancick: Possibilities Present Themselves

Diva Tech Talk was thrilled to interview musician-turned-technologist, Theresa Ancick, now Manager, Enterprise Business Intelligence at Beaumont Health Systems (https://www.beaumont.org), the largest health system in Michigan.  Theresa’s predilection for technology is genetic, since her father was a second-level executive at Michigan Bell (acquired by AT&T www.att.com) in the troubleshooting department. “He was a very logical-minded, smart person,” Theresa shared. “I think I inherited a lot of his logic.”  In high school, Theresa took one of the first computer programming classes they offered, and aced it. “The other thing I did well in was total office procedures.  And considering where I wound up in life, it’s interesting those things showed up so soon.”

After high school, Theresa sang in a band, and traveled around the Midwest. “I had a lot of fun.  But my friends were graduating from colleges and getting married.  I went ‘oh my gosh, I think I might be a loser’ and decided to get off the couch and try and get a life of some sort.”  That new career life began with a brief stint as a waitress, “while I tried to figure things out.”  Then Theresa selected a job “specifically in computers” at Electronic Laser Forms, a now defunct company in Fraser, Michigan, that focused on producing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage forms for prospective home buyers.  She made a financial sacrifice to do that to learn more about computers “because I felt it was going to get me farther in life, ultimately. It was a big risk for me. I was a lot more fearless back then.”  Theresa used that first job to learn everything she could.  “I dove into every nook and cranny of the program, of the company, and soaked it all in.”  

Next, Theresa was hired by Gentry Machinery Builders, in Troy, Michigan to automate that small company’s accounting system.  “They had a complete manual accounting system. So, I started automating the accounting, even though I had no experience with it. Then I started gaining my confidence. I started having really big results.”  Theresa learned everything she could about Gentry’s accounting system (payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger) as well as how to quickly computerize all the functions and reports.  “And I was installing modems, and small networks and things like that” she said. “Tony Robbins (https://www.tonyrobbins.com)  talks about discovering what your passions are; when you get involved with something and lose track of time. I remember getting on my computer at home at 11 PM, and then looking up and …omigosh…. it’s 4:30 AM in the morning! I was in such focus. I loved it.  It was like putting puzzles together.”

This quickly blossomed into Theresa’s first entrepreneurial venture, when the vendor who sold Gentry their computers (Michigan Computer Solutions: http://michcomp.com/)  recognized her talents; suggested she provide the same services to other companies in the machine industry; and referred her to her first new customer. She proceeded to automate that first customer’s accounting systems, but the owner was initially alarmed and gruff.  “The first month it didn’t balance,” she lamented. “Then I figured out that his CPA had miscategorized something. I pointed it out and stayed positive. He was so thankful that he sent me to every one of his friends! Within two weeks, I had to quit my ‘day job.’ “

Naming her consulting company, Accura Business Services Corporation, Theresa did not look back, (“it was a wave that took over me”).  She created a template that included both an external audit trail, and an internal audit trail.  She could modify it according to her client’s needs, and give them a workable system to use “I was very popular in the tooling industry but I also served landscape companies, libraries, restaurants, you name it.  I served over 200 companies, with their CPAs.  It was an education I would not have gotten at Harvard.  I saw companies that were wildly successful, and I saw why.  The inner workings of a company --- it’s a fascinating place to be.  I learned so much.”  

Theresa gave up her own company after the birth of her daughter, who suffered from the very rare “Caffey disease:” infantile cortical hyperostosis.  No insurance company would cover her daughter, so she accumulated significant debt.  To qualify for family health benefits, she took a job at the Help Desk at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center (https://www.morcinc.org ).  This turned out to be another karmic opportunity, since MORC had just become an official nonprofit, and was struggling to adhere to nonprofit financial requirements, and deal with Medicaid billing.  Theresa dove into their billing system, based on her recent experiences and her penchant for “just figuring things out.”  In 9 months, they stabilized the MORC processes; moved from their antiquated tape-to-tape system; and became the one of the first mental health non-profits in Michigan to fully automate their billing system. These advances helped MORC achieve $4 million above projected annual billings that year, due to the efficiencies built into the new program.

Theresa worked at MORC for 10 years, eventually becoming its Director, Applications and Data Management. Along the way, she became aware of data warehousing and its intrinsic benefits to any business or non-profit operation.  “It was this intriguing thing on the horizon,” she said. “I kept my ear to the ground.  Groups were forming. Very exciting time in technology!  Things began to emerge with the Data Warehouse Institute.”  To further explore that technology, Theresa moved to work at Oakland County Community Mental Health (https://www.occmha.org/ ), where new data warehouse initiatives were starting.  “I worked with one of the best database administrators ever,” she said. “He took on the ETL and programming piece.  I took on the mapping and definitions.  And then we incorporated dashboards and reports, and started delivering business intelligence to Oakland County.”   She saw this as her “perfect job,” a place where “we had fun, and worked hard.  There was a lot of respect; we became aware that the more we built each other up, the better we all were.  We were all successful.”  Simultaneously working as a consultant, Theresa took on a similar project at Saginaw County Mental Health, where she triumphantly demonstrated she could produce a single interactive report that comprised all the data requested from 12 different reports. Theresa was extremely complimented when the remark was made: “She gave me a report that I didn’t even know I could ask for!”

Eventually Theresa led an 11-person team responsible for state-of-the art business intelligence and billing systems for OCCMH.  After her daughter made it to her healthier teenage years, Theresa also went back to school at Baker College for her degree. “I have such fond memories.  It was exciting to be 48 years old, and immersed in college with a bunch of 20-year olds,” she said.  

She left OCCMH, (“it was time”) and enjoyed a period of “bopping around.”  As a contractor, she worked for Blue Care Network, an arm of Blue Care/Blue Shield of Michigan (https://www.bcbsm.com/ )  and then for Sun Communities (www.suncommunities.com ) , concentrating at both companies on business intelligence projects.  She migrated to Credit Acceptance Corporation (www.creditacceptance.com) as Manager, Data Warehouse (“they have a very sophisticated system; I was always learning.”).  From Credit Acceptance, she just recently moved to Beaumont Health System: “I feel like I am moving to an opportunity that was meant for me --- the impact for data analytics to have a positive effect on human lives.”

Theresa did experience a certain measure of harassment during her career. Because she was a contractor, “I had to learn how to manage misbehavior in a way that the perpetrator would still see me in a positive light. As I got older, I got more comfortable being a woman, as my professional expertise and reputation grew.  Sometimes, I would just wait for someone to get more comfortable.  I learned the art of demonstrating my capability.”

Theresa’s entrepreneurial advice to others considering starting businesses is multifaceted:  learn to delegate, “think bigger,” stay in learning mode, when you need to know something ask for help, and “when you hire somebody to do something, get out of their way.” Along the way, she saw companies falter because “they tended to micro-manage and they couldn’t get into the next thing.”  In addition, for any career, she strongly recommends that everyone get a variety of mentors to assist and guide them; and “learn how to speak with dignity and respect at all times. You can put exactly what you want out in the Universe fearlessly, and the possibilities present themselves.” Theresa is very emphatic about the importance of human cooperation.  “Collaboration skills are not identified or taught. How you frame things are so important to me.  I grade my staff on how well they collaborate.”

A consistent giver, Theresa does food drives for the Gleaners Community Food Bank (www.gcfb.org/ ).  As an open mic host, she also organizes two major fundraising events per year for multiple sclerosis.  Additionally, she works with the St. Vincent and Sara Fisher Center (https://www.svsfcenter.org/ ) to provide GED testing for people who cannot afford it (“a cause very dear to my heart”). Theresa defines her vision of perfect happiness as being with her grandchildren, and her guitar in a house on a lake (“surrounded by rainbows and unicorns”).

Please feel free to contact Theresa Ancick at tancick@gmail.com or on Twitter @DivaoftheData.

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