Tommy Preston Jr.
Vice President of Ethics, The Boeing Company
Tommy Preston’s family had lived in his hometown of Clemson, South Carolina for generations. As a child, he recalls sitting with his grandfather on a porch one afternoon. His granddad pointed toward Clemson University, just five minutes distant.
“Because of the conditions during my youth, I was not allowed to set foot on campus unless I had a job cleaning it or mowing the lawn,” said his grandfather. “Tommy, you’ve got an opportunity to do more, and I expect that.”
Preston has not only met but exceeded his granddad’s expectations.
Today, he is vice president of ethics at The Boeing Company, a position he holds after previously building a national reputation for his work in law, aerospace policy, and Boeing’s business operations.
“I lead a team of global professionals focused on articulating, amplifying, and embedding Boeing’s values across our entire global enterprise,” said Preston. “Our team fosters our culture by reinforcing expectations and standards for compliant and ethical behavior and by providing ethical guidance to Boeing employees.”
His grandfather would beam with pride at another achievement: Preston simultaneously co-chairs Boeing’s Racial Equity Task Force, which collaborates with stakeholders to advance key measures of equity, diversity, and inclusion within the company.
In addition to the positive influence from his family, Preston credits his success to teachers he had while attending public schools, most notably to Deanie Shonka, his history teacher at D.W. Daniel High School.
“She urged me to try out for the high school mock trial program. I did it even though there were no lawyers in my family, and the only ones I knew were actors on TV,” he explained.
Preston added, “I’m a lawyer today because of her.”
His teacher’s support didn’t stop when the gavel ended a mock trial.
“One day, Ms. Shonka pulled me aside after class,” recalled Preston. “She said, ‘I’ve nominated you for a scholarship. Now, you must do your part completing the application.’”
It was a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholars nomination – an opportunity for Preston to receive a highly selective, full-ride scholarship for outstanding minority students. He received that prestigious scholarship his senior year. It supported his undergraduate education at the University of South Carolina.
“One teacher changed the trajectory of my life,” said Preston. “It’s a reason why I feel so passionate about public education. I know firsthand how caring teachers can shape a student.”
Preston went on to become student body president at the University of South Carolina, and he befriended a fellow student body president at Clemson University – Josh Bell – who eventually became the founding executive director of Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) in 2011.
Years later, their paths crossed again after Preston earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law, ran a successful private legal practice for years, and then joined Boeing.
Believing wholeheartedly in the mission of TFASC, Preston joined its board of directors when Bell served as executive director.
Then, when Troy D. Evans succeeded Josh Bell as executive director, Preston made key introductions to make the transition successful, and he stepped into the role as vice chair of TFASC’s advisory board. Preston’s extensive network and expertise in business and public policy have provided valuable guidance to TFASC through the years.
His leadership also led Boeing to become a significant supporter of TFASC, giving over half a million dollars over the past decade, and he has even personally mentored TFASC teachers.
Preston feels TFASC offers a win-win for South Carolina and Boeing.
“When Boeing came to South Carolina in 2009, one of the first things we realized was that we wanted to build a workforce in a place without generations of aerospace workers,” he said. “We need students coming out of public schools to have the skills to fill jobs at Boeing, so we made a concerted effort to support education across the board.”
Preston views TFASC as an innovative program that is helping to move the needle on educational equity and progress.
“Thanks in part to TFASC teachers in our classrooms, we’re now seeing schools in our own backyard being able to produce the skilled workers and problem-solvers who can support Boeing and all the other high-tech and non-traditional industries in the state,” he said.
“To me, it’s personal,” emphasized Preston. “When I see the care, attention, and brilliance of TFASC teachers in classrooms, I see Ms. Shonka making a difference in my own life.”