Written by Jameca Patrick-Singleton
(editor: Tanya Terry)
In our continuation of celebrating March as Women’s History Month, the Courier is highlighting another woman making a difference in the Flint community. In this interview we are highlighting Tonya Burns, a local entrepreneur and advocate in the Flint community.
Flint Courier: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tonya Burns: My name is Tonya Burns. (I’m a) Flint resident an entrepreneur, business owner and community activist. I am a mother of three children. I have always been passionate about issues that affect our community and believing that Flint is a great place. Although we have a lot of work to do, especially with the Flint Water Crisis, I believe that working together we can heal and build our city back better.
Flint Courier: How does the service that you provide impact the community?
Tonya Burns: The service that I provide for people in their homes gives them peace of mind and security that they will be protected. Having an alarm system also helps homeowners and businesses financially because you receive a discount rate for insurance. Also, for seniors who want to live in their homes and to maintain a sense of independence there are medical alarms to assist with them in case of a medical emergency.
Flint Courier: You are the first Black woman to own an ADT company in Michigan and Illinois. Please tell us about that and what you think it means to the community and to young girls who may be watching you?
Tonya Burns: I am the first Black female to own an ADT Dealership in the United States based in Flint and Chicago, Illinois. I began working for the company which was led by a Jewish man and within six months I was running the location in Troy, Saginaw and Flint. I quickly learned all aspects of how to operate the dealership including: installation, marketing and staffing, while increasing sales and profits for the business. The owner of the company had become very comfortable with me running the business and came to me and asked if I wanted to purchase the company and I said ‘yes’ We had a 30-day agreement to wrap up all sales and aspects of obtaining the dealership for which I did. Within 30 days, I changed the name, I expanded into Illinois and moved my Troy office to Madison Heights.
ADT had approximately 900 dealers and my dealership was in the top 10 for sales and customer satisfaction. Within two years while covering the Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, various other cities in Illinois and Michigan, my company received numerous awards for sales and customer service while exceeding expectations by corporate company guidelines.
The alarm industry is a White male dominated industry. It was difficult to get into and most of my competition felt I had no place in that industry. With them having that thought that drove me to perfect my skills and increase my sales and understand who my customer was by using target marketing. I learned quickly that my target market was middle income African-American people, and that’s ADT corporate’s main target market.
All of my employees had to give back to the community. One example is Habitat for Humanity. When they were building homes in downtown Flint, I put in alarms in all the homes that were being built and paid the monitoring for free for three years. (And) my technicians volunteered their time. I also installed a large majority of local Flint churches by giving free equipment.
Being a woman and a mom of a daughter, I took my daughter to work with me every single day possible. She learned the business as if it was her business with her name on it. I (also) employed young ladies for summer programs as well as mentored young ladies throughout the year. The young ladies learned many professional skills such as: professionalism, presentation skills, customer service, filing and product knowledge. I wanted to make sure that young girls and young women could see that if you put your mind to it that your gender didn’t matter. It was my norm to work seven days a week and I never cut my phone off to this day.