Kerry Siggins Of StoneAge On How They Are Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

Orlando Zayas, CEO of Katapult
Authority Magazine
Published in
10 min readNov 9, 2021


Educate employees on personal finance. Many people never learn about personal finances and how to manage their money and investments effectively.

Most of us take it for granted that we can open a bank or a credit card. But the truth is, according to the World Bank, close to one-third of adults — 1.7 billion — are still unbanked, and have no access to a transaction account. About half of unbanked people include women in poor households in rural areas or out of the workforce. What can be done and what is being done to promote more financial inclusion? Authority Magazine is starting a new series about Companies Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion. In this series we are talking to leaders of companies and organizations who are helping to promote financial inclusion.

As part of this series I had the pleasure to interview Kerry Siggins.

Kerry Siggins is the CEO of StoneAge, Inc., the global leader in designing and manufacturing high-pressure waterblast cleaning tools and robotic equipment used in the industrial cleaning industry. Headquartered in Durango, Colorado, StoneAge is employee-owned and recognized as a Top 100 Company to work for by Outside Magazine. She is also a speaker, blogger, and host of Reflect Forward, a weekly podcast on exceptional leadership.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Montrose, Colorado, a rural town on the Western Slope, with my mom and younger brother. My mother is the hardest working person I know, and I watched her spend endless hours to ensure my brother and I had a good life. In fact, when I was 12, she decided to go back to college to get a teaching degree and drove 60 miles each way to attend college while maintaining two jobs. It was incredible to watch, and it taught me that I could do anything if I put in the effort. Like many teenagers, high school was bumpy and I was wild, pushing boundaries anywhere and everywhere. After getting in a bit of trouble, I decided to put my head down and do everything I could to earn a softball scholarship at Colorado School of Mines, a highly rated engineering school in Golden, Colorado, just outside of Denver. My hard work paid off, and I left Montrose for Golden, swearing I would never live again in a small rural town.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love to read and there are so many fantastic books out there. But I would have to say one of the most impactful is “First Break All the Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” by Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup Organization. I read this right before taking my first people management role well over 15 years ago and it was a game-changer. It opened my eyes to talent management, people development, and the value of focusing on building upon strengths rather than improving weaknesses. We still use principles from this book at StoneAge and it’s required reading for our new managers.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I love this quote from Calvin Coolidge: “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” This quote is my mantra because I believe the only way to get good at doing hard things is to do hard things. When I was named CEO of StoneAge at the age of 30, I knew I had so much to learn because I was so young. I put in the effort to grow as fast as possible. I made so many mistakes along the way, but I kept living this mantra “all growth depends on activity.” I believe it’s in big part why I am where I am today.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership means many things, but most importantly, it means investing in people. I believe deeply in helping people understand how their talents fit into the organization and giving them opportunities to try new things, develop new skills, and grow personally and professionally. Once you have the right people on your team, you must make sure they are in the right roles, aligning their talents with their job. There is nothing more important than building an exceptional team made up of extraordinary people. You won’t get far without great people and great teams. I spend a lot of my time developing and investing in my team. In fact, my team calls me the “Human Engineer” because of the emphasis we put on developing people and making sure they are in the right roles.

I recall a time when I overpromoted a person on our team. She struggled, unable to effectively fulfill the requirements of the job. She was demoralized but didn’t want to quit. Committing to courageous communication, we discussed how the role wasn’t right for her, but it didn’t mean she failed. She gained valuable insight, and so did I. She agreed to take a different position within the company, and within three months, she was flourishing. We promoted her again just a year later.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Soon after being promoted to CEO, I met with a customer in Houston who told me that he was surprised the founders had asked me to take over running StoneAge. “I don’t think you’ll make it,” he said. “Too tough of a business for someone who isn’t technical and doesn’t have field experience.” In other words, “you’ll never make it in this industry because you are a woman.” Can you imagine how demoralizing this was? I wanted to crawl out of his office. Instead, I asked him questions and let him teach me about the industry. Every time I was in Texas, I went to see him, and I asked him more questions. After a while, I was able to get him to laugh and share new information with me. He introduced me to his company’s executive team, and they became one of our largest customers. Ten years later, both serving on an industry board, he said to me, “You’ve done a great job running StoneAge. Your products and service are in a class of their own. You proved me wrong.” All the time and effort I put into building the relationships paid off. I was able to turn a nonbeliever into a believer, someone who helped and supported the company and me. And I did it by refusing to slink away with hurt feelings.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of our readers are on the same page. What exactly is Financial Inclusion?

Financial inclusion means that everyone can access money no matter race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc. It means that people can earn a livable wage and create financial security for themselves and their families. It means that society is removing roadblocks that keep disadvantaged people from advancement opportunities.

What does it mean to be “unbanked”?

Unbanked means that you do not have access to bank accounts such as checking and savings, nor access to credit. It is a deterrent to financial inclusion.

For the benefit of our readers, can you explain some of the typical reasons why a person might be unbanked? Why can’t they just walk into the local bank and open an account? Why can’t they simply open an account online?

Some people choose to be unbanked due to a lack of trust in banking institutions. Some believe they don’t have enough money to put into a checking or savings account, so why bother? Others believe that banking fees are too high; they don’t want to pay annual fees or be penalized for not maintaining a minimum balance. Finally, some banks refuse to open accounts to those who have a history of bouncing checks and not paying overdraft fees.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your work to promote Financial Inclusion? Without saying names, can you share a story about a person who was helped by your initiative?

StoneAge is an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company, and the whole premise behind our employee-ownership model is financial inclusion and transfer of wealth. We believe that all employees should share in the company’s success, not just a few at the top. Every year, we give employees stock as part of their compensation package in a retirement account. Their accounts grow with the addition of more stock and stock appreciation. The company buys them out when they retire, leaving them with a potentially significant nest egg, depending on how long they’ve been with the company. If they leave the company before retirement age, we buy them out and roll the funds into an IRA. We also set aside 10% of our profits and share them with employees each year. Everyone is an owner, and everyone is included.

Our ESOP benefit has changed the lives of many of our employees. One recently said, “I would have never had a retirement fund until I came to StoneAge. I thought I would have to work forever! Now, I actually believe I will be able to retire when I am 65.”

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for businesses to promote financial inclusion?

Income inequality is a significant issue worldwide, and businesses should care for economic and social justice reasons.

First, income inequality also means education inequality. Businesses need educated and trained talent. If an increasingly larger proton of society can’t access quality education, companies will suffer because they can’t find talent to help them grow. Second, income inequality creates financial crises. The 2008 financial crisis happened in large part due to shady sub-prime loans. People took on more debt than they could handle, both through mortgages and consumer credit, and when they couldn’t make the payments, everything melted down and hurt businesses.

Then there is the social justice perspective — equality matters. Everyone deserves access to education, financial services, safe schools, fair wages, etc. It’s not hard to do the right thing and businesses must lead the way. We can significantly impact income inequality if we change our mindset from “the corporation’s purpose is to maximize value for shareholders” to our purpose is to “maximize value to key stakeholders — the first being employees — and to take care of our planet.”

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps Business Should Take To Promote Financial Inclusion”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Educate employees on personal finance. Many people never learn about personal finances and how to manage their money and investments effectively. Bring in a financial planner or educator to give classes on personal finance, provide free access to money management courses, and add financial counseling to your EAP services. At StoneAge, we do all three of these things and it’s made a significant difference in how people manage their money.
  2. Increase your company’s minimum wage. If the federal minimum wages had kept up with productivity, it would be over $24/hour. Many businesses have models that can’t handle this increase (which is worthy of a different conversation). Still, the reality is, if we don’t start paying people more, our problems are only going to get worse. Consider taking your company’s minimum wage to $20/hour. The difference it would make in the lives of your lower-wage earners would be tremendous as financial distress adds to poor performance and lack of productivity.
  3. Consider company-wide profit sharing or ownership opportunities. Ownership in companies creates wealth. But investing in the stock market isn’t feasible for many; it’s too risky, and there is no ability to impact the outcome of companies’ profits. But ownership in the company you work for is different. Employees who participate in ownership plans are more engaged, productive, and happier, creating more profitable companies. Leaders should figure out ways to get stock and profits into the hands of the people who build value: their employees. You can take the first step by creating a profit-sharing plan or designing your stock granting plans to include all employees.
  4. Contribute to organizations that tackle the issues around financial inclusion. Businesses can partner with or donate to organizations that help teach financial literacy to underrepresented populations. These organizations can have significant impacts within communities, but they need funding and community partners to create holistic programs.
  5. Only work with banks that offer programs to underrepresented groups of people. Action follows the money. Don’t bank with companies that prey on uneducated or poor people. Instead, ask your bankers to show you how they are helping people become bankable and creating programs for women and minorities to access funds to start businesses.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would start a movement that inspires more founders to consider employee ownership as a succession plan. In fact, I am working on this right now! In Colorado, Governor Polis created a Commission for Employee Ownership, and I was fortunate enough to be named a Commissioner three years ago. We are focused on education, advocacy and support for founders and leaders interested in pursuing employee ownership. I genuinely believe it’s a viable, equitable, and healthy way to transfer ownership and wealth into the hands of the people who create value: employees!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Adam Grant. His mission in life is to help make work less sucky and he is a big believer in building strong, healthy cultures that work for everyone. I’d love to interview him on my podcast, Reflect Forward.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me at and be sure to check out and subscribe to my blog and podcast. You can also use my website to book me for a speaking event. I am also very active on LinkedIn, posting content that comes straight from my heart and mind. Or you can tune into my weekly podcast, Reflect Forward, where I interview interesting and inspiring leaders and give advice on being a more exceptional leader. It’s on all major podcast platforms.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!