Jenny Sankovsky - Leading Innovation at Arity
Jenny Sankovsky is Senior Manager - Innovation and Product Development at Arity, a startup spun off from Allstate Insurance that leverages software, data and analytics to help drivers manage risk. She leads the design and launch of innovative telematics solutions in the automotive space. She sets the product vision and direction, identifying features and iterating on what needs to improve. She also leads product positioning – decisions on how to market the product and through which channels. It’s also her job to identify success metrics and make pricing decisions for the product.
I asked Sankovsky to share some of her career highlights when we met at the Merchandise Mart building where she works and where Arity has its offices.
Q. Could you share your career journey so far? How did you get into product management/development?
Jenny graduated from University of Illinois with a Nursing degree but couldn’t get excited about a Nursing career. She passed the Allstate logic test for application developers and got accepted to the IT department and started programming. After two years, she says, she could program with eyes closed and was no longer challenged and moved to other technical areas in IT. She became a manager and led people, ventured into processes for product delivery, and quality testing. She applied and was accepted to the Allstate rotational leadership program and pivoted to the business side. Then she worked for product operations and was able to connect the business and technology sides. “Having technical expertise helped tremendously”, she says. Next she moved to innovation using her PM and development background – bringing products to market, understanding customer needs. In the meantime, she worked on an MBA from the Lake Forest Grad School of Mgmt. and went on to work at Allstate’s connected car business – now Arity.
Sankovsky has launched “Accident Aid”, a smart device which detects if you’re in a crash, pairs with the Accident Aid app on your phone and a live operator calls you to send aid; she has also launched Star Driver for teens, a smartphone based telematics product that helps teach safe driving behaviors from an early age, and Car Health – car diagnostics that tracks the car’s health and relays information from the engine to the driver.
Q. Beyond skills, what other factors played into your success?
“Ambition, being uncomfortable when you’re comfortable; challenging oneself, doing your job but also looking for other opportunities” are some of the things she lists as being crucial to her success; she wanted to be known for her drive and so she took on extra projects in her spare time. She acknowledges that she was given opportunities by the organization which never held her back for seeking to grow her wings and skill set. From beginning as a programmer at Allstate she is now Senior Project Innovation Manager at Arity.
Q. What are some challenging aspects of your job?
“Figuring out how to grow the product; making the product relevant to customers; how to get consumes to use your product” these are the issues that require careful consideration, she says.
Q. What departments are you touching or influencing or collaborating with?
Sankovsky says that on any given day she could be collaborating with Product development/engineering, product marketing, product research, sales, legal, and finance departments.
Q. In general, what is essential for women to succeed in their chosen careers?
“Adaptability is the biggest one”, she says. Beyond that, “a passion for the job you have”; having a technical background was key for her and she doesn’t think she would have been as effective in her varied roles without it; “not merely understanding problems but also pushing back….it builds credibility and makes a big difference.” Beyond your own efforts, having a good team is usually a contributing factor (to success), she concludes.