Women's Roundtable board member Tonya Cockman, chief executive officer at Clear Defense, believes that leaving a legacy is one of the most crucial responsibilities of the Women's Roundtable. She lives by the words, "It doesn't matter how well you do in life, but what kind of legacy you leave behind."
Cockman found her way to ECU from a small town in Virginia with a plan to stay one semester and then transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill. Luckily, some things do not end up going according to plan. The unexpected happened--she fell in love with ECU. Greenville captured her heart and the town surprised her with its captivating school spirit, culture and people. Tonya pledged sorority Tri Sigma her fall semester, along with well-known actress Emily Proctor, and double majored in fashion merchandising and business administration. She graduated from ECU in 1991 and began working for Ralph Lauren, spending time in New York City. With Ralph Lauren, she launched the Safari Line in North Carolina before eventually settling in Greensboro.
In 1999, Cockman's father called her with a proposal – he wanted her to join him at his company, Clear Defense. The company mainly worked in athletics, working with the NCAA and the NBA to create the glass for basketball backboards and hockey arenas. Her father believed that coupling his business with her marketing skills would be a profitable business move. She took the offer and never looked back. Clear Defense also had defense contracts with the military, including one with the Pentagon where their glass was used in some areas of the building. Little did anyone know this contract would change the entire dynamic of the company.
On September 11, 2001, a plane crashed into the Pentagon. In the parts of the building where the plane hit, Clear Defense glass was part of the structure and protected the people inside the building.
"People have come up to me and told me that they stood behind our glass for protection against the melting walls and extreme flames…and it saved their lives," said Cockman. "That means so much to me, that we could help in this way."
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, changed the world's view and security was everyone's first priority. After Clear Defense glass withstood these extreme elements, the company's focus on sports was altered. Their main expertise became providing defense contracts to the U.S. government and military. These types of contracts revolutionized their business and they now provide all the glass used in the military, including all vehicles. Cockman feels honored that they can help those who sacrifice so much for our country to remain safe.
"It may seem small in retrospect, but we help them see clearly through those windows, and it feels good that we can help them in some way, no matter how small or big," she said.
Cockman is passionate about empowering women and has worked with several different women's rights foundations, including Women to Women in Greensboro. With this community spirit, Cockman also wanted to get involved with ECU, but didn't know where to begin. Her sister-in-law, Caroline Cockman, invited her to the Women's Roundtable Legacy of Leadership event in 2007, and Tonya was enlightened. She knew several women attending the event and enjoyed it so much that she wanted to be part of the Women's Roundtable's mission to encourage and empower female students and future graduates of ECU.
Cockman hopes to leave an enduring legacy for future generations of women and is committed to improving ECU's current endowment; she has pledged to see it grow and develop. She is proof that women can accomplish great things, and believes that success and giving back to the community is a responsibility of those who can.
"There's nothing better than doing good while we're doing well," said Cockman.