EP 62: Melissa Kennedy: Everyone Can Innovate

Diva Tech Talk was excited to interview K. Melissa Kennedy, best-selling author, and Managing Partner/Global Innovation Facilitator at 48 Innovate (http://www.48innovate.com/) a novel platform for generating employee-driven problem-solving through nimble entrepreneurial practices in only 48 hours.  

Clearly a “change-maker,” Melissa owes her technology orientation to “good old Dad” who was a network administrator and “would invest any money we had at home in gadgets.” Melissa’s family had a Commodore 64, an Apple IIe and her father “really exposed me and my brother to technology at an early age.” In high school, she “dabbled” in tech; but went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina (http://www.unc.edu/) with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications.  “I graduated right when the Dot.com bubble burst,” and went on to work for North Carolina State University (https://www.ncsu.edu/) as the campaign co-leader for an education bond referendum, where she heavily used email as a primary method of reaching her audience. “20 years ago, that was a big deal.” The initiative was a great success.  Melissa’s team was able to ensure voter approval of $3.1 billion in higher education bonds --- “the largest higher education bond in U.S. history!”  She went on to drive the university’s first comprehensive marketing campaign. Since NC State was becoming a tech powerhouse, Melissa’s involvement there “serendipitously launched my career in more STEM-oriented” directions.

As successful as her career at the University was, “the pace was just way too slow for me,” Melissa said. So, she employed “information interviews” to ascertain “the fastest way from a university/government path” to the private sector.  She decided that returning to school was her best accelerator, and obtained her NC State master’s degree in marketing, with a focus on technology companies.  She “ended up creating my own study abroad program. It was really cool to be in a situation where you learn the traditional graduate level material, but it was like a startup in a way: where you could test, try and evolve” the focus of the program. For Melissa, this “opened the door, and gave credibility and validation” so she could move from higher education and government to work for what was then a startup provider of cloud-based e-commerce solutions – Channel Advisor (https://www.channeladvisor.com/ ) That company enables retailers and manufacturers to integrate, manage and optimize merchandise sales across hundreds of online channels including Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook and more.

Then Melissa want on to join tech powerhouse, Cisco Systems, (www.cisco.com). “That’s when my career exploded.”  Beginning in field marketing, she concentrated on medium-sized businesses as part of Cisco’s Commercial Business Unit. Cisco was “going down market” and beginning to target companies of 5000 employees or less.  Melissa felt like “I had a real impact on the business because I applied some of my skills from a startup I worked with, in ecommerce, to this big networking giant. I worked with 3000-4000 channel partners, helping them scale their marketing efforts.” Among other initiatives, she helped launch an informative online TV show: TechWise TV (“way before Google bought YouTube!”).  Melissa loved “being a part of a team willing to take some risks.”  She credits her ability to work cross-functionally across many organizations as being key to her 5-year Cisco success; and is grateful for this period allowing her to experiment with a variety of marketing techniques, processes and technologies usually resulting in positive outcomes but also sometimes failing.

From Cisco, Melissa jumped headfirst into the world of entrepreneurship. “I just went all in,” she said. “I got introduced to StartUp Weekend” (https://startupweekend.org/) a nonprofit 54-hour event convening North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham Triangle designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and experts from all domains to do amazing things. “You would bring together people willing to go from concept to company” she said. “No money exchanged hands.  It was a pure exercise of teaching people, exposing people and developing an ecosystem, locally.”  Melissa facilitated over a dozen StartUp Weekends around the world (“from Rio de Janeiro to Cedar Rapids, Iowa”). Through her StartUp Weekend involvement, Melissa learned a lot of valuable lessons.  “It’s being in a safe place” that engenders learning something new.  “And you can take pieces and apply them through the rest of your career.”  She notes that “StartUp Weekend really helped the work I am doing today.”

Having had a variety of roles, what is Melissa’s advice for job seekers? Engage in information interviews. “It’s unbelievable how much information and advice people will share.”  Learning through her own career pattern, Melissa’s current company was born from insightful observations.  “Big companies have a problem moving fast,” she said. “The startup world taught me that there are tools and skills you can apply within big businesses to help them innovate.  And more importantly, you can help them enable and empower their employees to do cool stuff!”  She views her central mission as “making work meaningful, fun and productive, again.”  48 Innovate offers a methodology to help companies move from idea to concrete ‘executive proof’ plan in 48 hours or less.  “It uses pitch skills.  It uses design thinking.” She also deploys some “traditional” strategic management tools and planning, all wrapped into one fast-track program.   “Organizations can bring cross-functional teams to solve their greatest challenge or address their opportunity in 48 hours.”

“Innovation is simply change that matters,” Melissa said. “One small change can make a big difference.  Everyone can innovate, because everyone can observe and take action on one small change.”  Innovate 48 allows teams to reach across “silos”.  “Innovation is an experimental process. You have to enable cross-functional teams to do things, differently. Experiment and then scale. You have to teach people to work cross-functionally.”  Melissa also says that 30, 60 and 90-day follow-ups (“sprints”) are all part of the Innovate 48 process to ensure that cross-sharing takes place after the initial sessions, and that progress is being made, not just within the innovation team but throughout their organizations. “I’m passionate about helping other people do things they didn’t think they could do. I use technology in all of my work.”

Melissa has three tips for would-be entrepreneurs, startup founders, inventors:

  1. “You don’t have to know everything. If you get hung up on needing to know everything, you’re wasting your precious time, energy and talent.”  For things at which you are not naturally talented nor proficient, contract it to someone else, or consider partnering. Save your talent for what you do best.

  2. “You have to develop a ‘good enough scale.’  We’re plagued with perfectionism.  That sucks your energy and your genius.”  Melissa suggests evaluating your tasks and where you spend your time. Understand what the best use of that time is, given your talents, your skills, your unique “genius.”  Prioritize the high value tasks; concentrate on them.

  3. “The pursuit of innovation is all about practice.”  Practice being uncomfortable in times of uncertainty. Practice succeeding.  Melissa advises: “Start an innovation practice.  Start small. Do small things that are not part of your normal routine. Build the “strength muscle of being comfortable in the uncomfortable.” Then start applying for innovation opportunities (pilots at work, projects outside of your normal routine, etc.)

Melissa has written a book, that is now an Amazon (www.amazon.com) best-seller: The Innovation Revolution: Discover the Genius Hiding in Plain Sight,  to “share the things I learned.”  Following her own advice about taking risks she says: “It was a great experiment for me.  I had never written a book before. It was a ‘trial and error’ experience.” She discovered that “writing a book is lonely.”  A born collaborator (“that’s the premise of all of my work!”), Melissa found the isolation that authorship necessitated to be challenging. “There were days I wasn’t sure I was going to finish. But I persevered.”  And the book has been a “gateway for me to help others.”

Discussing failure “it hurts; it’s a little blow to the ego,” Melissa says. “Acknowledging it is painful, but it’s the first step.”  Then she counsels: “Walk away from it.  Try and get a little perspective; glean some learning.  See it as a path of discovery.” After inculcating the lessons, Melissa believes “then you start swinging for the big balls.”  Essentially, any failure allows you to “develop a tolerance for failure which lets you take more risk.”

Melissa says: “We’re in a new era. We have crossed from the Industrial Age, and its linear thinking, to the Information Age.  The tools, the processes, from the old age are not going to apply.  I have figured out to help leaders and individuals to make the simple change(s) that make a difference!”  She firmly believes “everyone has innovation within them. It’s up to us to go from idea to action.”

Melissa can be reached at her 48Innovate website (http://www.48innovate.com/) and on Twitter at @kmelissakennedy.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 61: Mamatha Chamarthi: Change Agent Who “Never Has Lunch Alone”

Diva Tech Talk was honored to interview Mamatha Chamarthi, Senior Vice President, and Chief Digital Officer for ZF Friedrichshafen AG. (www.zf.com) a worldwide automotive industry leader, employing over 137,000 people in 40 countries, with annual revenues of $43 billion.  Mamatha drives ZF’s digitalization strategy and emergent technologies to transform business models and provide extensive revenue and value-producing opportunities.  She heads a substantial global digital transformation team and is responsible for the newest ZF Innovation Hubs in Silicon Valley and Hyderabad, India.

Mamatha’s robust career spans more than two decades beginning in India, where she received her degree in Psychology, Sociology and English, and a masters’ degree in English. “I got married to my childhood best friend,” she said, moving to Bangalore, where she taught English to undergraduate Indian students.  “Somehow, I loved teaching, but I didn’t like to teach the same subject every day.”  She needed “a more dynamic mission,” and entered Sri Venkateswara University for a second master’s in marketing, with a minor in information systems.  A chance meeting in a restaurant landed Mamatha an initial role at a boutique market research firm. A changemaker even then, “I convinced the CEO of the company to buy a computer” she laughed, and built the firm’s first server. Then she programmed the Visual Basic front-end and Oracle back-end, running Crystal reports to automate research data and reporting. (“That was my first technology job!”)  

After completing her master’s, Mamatha followed her husband to the U.S. and eventually Michigan where her husband landed his “dream job” at Ford Motor Company (www.ford.com). They were expecting their first child, and “it was an interesting transition,” she said.  “I enrolled at Wayne State University for a masters in computer science because that was when the tech boom started to happen!”  

Mamatha also accepted a job as a consultant at Chrysler Corporation, now Fiat Chrysler (www.fcagroup.com) and plunged into the automotive industry with gusto, thankfully benefitting from woman-to-woman support.  “That first interview was a phone interview. I had my 3-month-old baby in my lap and he started crying 10 minutes into the interview! The woman interviewer said: ‘I totally understand; just go take care of the baby first. And call me back.’  That was my first lesson: being a woman, you should be empathetic to other women.”

Mamatha began her Chrysler career as a consultant, using Lotus to develop systems for both corporate communications and government affairs departments of the company. “I had to really observe them doing their jobs”, so she shadowed the government affairs team, and “what started as a small client/server application for tracking tax incentives turned into a paperless office for government affairs.”  Mamatha’s insistence on understanding the full breadth of business, not just technology requirements, has been a hallmark of her career, ever since.  At Chrysler, she went on to support the public relations department, and moved client-server applications into Web server applications.  “Then we started introducing Internet and Intranet technologies,” a competitive differentiator at the time. Mamatha rolled out a global employee Intranet as well as media sites for PR releases and press kits.  Additionally, she provided after hours tutoring for employees in technology-related topics.  After leaving her consulting role for another company, during a business downturn, a number of those employees lobbied to get her back as a full-time Chrysler Senior Business Analyst.

Soon after, Daimler and Chrysler merged.  Mamatha was in the thick of the transition, as part of the post-merger integration team.  “No one was looking at a standardized approach to Web technologies,” so she decided to lead the charge. She put together a business plan to capitalize on the strengths of both entities, streamline individual departmental efforts, while inaugurating a major internal tech evolution. “I went around the world, selling the business plan” to Daimler Chrysler leaders, and “from scratch, I created a $10 million department supporting global Web technologies.”  From there, Mamatha worked on reinvigorating a project to develop an optimal production planning system which saved approximately $28 million annually.  

Then, Mamatha decided to make a major change.  “I was really blessed,” she said. “Somehow, I came to the attention of Sue Unger,” (then the CIO for Daimler Chrysler). “Slowly I developed a mentoring relationship with her. To this day, I talk to her, almost every month.”   Meeting initial resistance to getting sponsorship to pursue another masters’ degree, Mamatha boldly wrote a white paper describing what she had done for Daimler and why the company should further invest in her.  Receiving Sue’s blessing, and full corporate support, Mamatha enrolled for her MBA at the prestigious Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/), emphasizing global business. She chose Kellogg for its thought diversity (“so we could bring some disruption to the automotive industry”).  She then met with Sue quarterly to talk about what she learned.  She credits Sue with teaching her the simple lesson of pure focus when meeting with a mentee or colleague (“she never looked at her Blackberry; she never looked at her watch.”).

From Daimler Chrysler, Mamatha migrated briefly to Daimler Financial Services (the finance arm of the automotive conglomerate) and became “the program manager for the separation of Daimler and Chrysler” --- a very sensitive and delicate role at a highly disruptive time.  Mamatha considered this a valuable formative period for her, personally.  “It goes back to empathy,” she said.  “There were so many of my colleagues that I was leaving behind in Chrysler. I felt guilty.  But it was an exciting opportunity, too. As Charles Dickens would say: ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times’…”.  The project involved reducing an 8-month transition program to 4 months “including moving to a new building, setting up a new infrastructure, determining who was going to move, and the most important thing on Day One:  ensuring that people got paid!“  There was so much to be done that Mamatha and her leadership coined a program called: “Feed IT” ensuring that all the tech staff were well taken care of, during the arduous transition.  

Mamatha worked directly for Daimler until 2010; then the company offered her the option to move to Germany.  But, instead, she chose to become the very first CIO for Consumers Energy (https://www.consumersenergy.com/), a Michigan state-regulated, publicly traded energy company, one of the top combined natural gas and electric companies in the United States.  Her first imperative was to work with leadership, and ensure that “They understand the CIO role as not just someone doing IT systems. The world is changing, and the CEO and all his direct reports needed to get a view of the changing world.” To that end, Mamatha took the senior management team to Silicon Valley to visit with breakthrough technology companies and then debrief at IDEO (www.ideo.com), a leading global design company creating positive change. “It was a huge ‘ah ha’ moment for the executive team.”  Mamatha considers one of her greatest accomplishments assisting the transformation of that company to a consumer-oriented entity. “Every element of the company was subsequently focused on the customer experience,” she said.

Mamatha missed being part of a global team, so she became CIO at TRW Automotive, with 200 worldwide locations, and an average of $16.9 billion in annual revenue. Within 5 months of her joining, the company was acquired by ZF.  This did not phase Mamatha.  “I concentrated on the business results we need to achieve,” she said.  The acquisition was completed in January of 2015, leading to the structural integration of the IT organization worldwide. In August 2016, she assumed her new role as Chief Digital Officer, directed by ZF’s CEO: “to change all aspects of the company, digitally.”  Mamatha is passionate about this role “because we have a very strong purpose:  Vision Zero --- moving to a world of zero accidents and zero emissions.”  The ZF mission to save lives is accomplished by providing the best in intelligent mechanical systems. “The intelligence comes from digital,” said Mamatha. “With artificial intelligence, machine learning, data, the car can understand more about the road, and the path from Point A to Point B.  We can keep vehicle occupants safer. And that’s our business.”  She is very excited because her team drives the fundamental evolution of the company. “Most ZF processes are from the industrial age.  We need to transform them to the digital age.  Also, we need to start opening up to innovation. That’s the challenge.”

Contributing to her career growth, Mamatha’s key achievement-oriented qualities include:  a love of continuous learning; bringing integrated strengths and experiences to any challenge; courage; the ability to drive change and enjoy the process; empathy for colleagues, customers, and partners; and a clear vision.  She created and maintains her own personal Board of Directors --- mentors who have guided her, and strong sponsors along the way. “Build a relationship,” she advised. “So, you never have a need to ask for advice. It comes naturally as a part of the relationship.”

“There is no generic work/life balance formula that applies to everyone. You need to take it, a day at a time.” Very family-oriented, Mamatha comments: “My happiness comes from my kids. It is not the quantity of time I spend, it is the quality of time. No matter where I am in the world, I am always connected to them.”

Mamatha’s other key lessons for women aspiring to lead include:

  • Be bold and grasp opportunities; move out of your “comfort zone.”

  • Don’t think you need to meet every facet of a position in which you are interested; look at your potential.

  • Ensure you have a good network.  “Performance is your foundation, but network creates that exponential factor.”

She also advises: “Give back.  Give back as much as you can.”  Since she has benefitted from mentoring, she engages actively in it, herself.  When meeting challenges: “Believe in yourself. Be comfortable in your shoes.  If I set expectations of how I should be treated, then people will automatically treat me that way.”

And her final note to our audience?  “Never have lunch alone.”

You can reach Mamatha Chamarthi at her personal email address:  Chamarthimamatha@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter at @mchamarthi.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 


Ep 60: Diva Special: 2018 Tech Trends

In our last podcast of 2017, Diva Tech Talk co-founders and hosts (Kathleen Norton-Schock and Nicole Scheffler) provided an interesting discussion of:

  1. Why Diva Tech exists, and the demographics of women in tech, now and in the future

  2. What, as technology leaders and tech industry veterans, they see as key tech trends in 2018

  3. Which divas interviewed in 2017 might be most influential and expert in terms of those trends and

  4. Assorted other topics including major vertical markets to be affected by tech, giving back, and entrepreneurship.

The key tech trends that Diva Tech Talks foresees as being most important in the coming year include:

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning

  • Intelligent analytics and data science in general

  • Cloud-based applications, and general cloud-propelled infrastructure

  • Adaptive risk and enhanced security

  • Event driven/event detection technology

  • Virtual reality and even full immersion

  • “Code-free” application development

And the vertical markets that the divas have either recorded experts in, or plan to, include healthcare, fintech, automotive/mobility tech,  retail tech and the whole world of technology as it applies to making nonprofits more efficient and effective.

What are the key themes that the Divas are most concerned with?


  • Strategic planning for enterprise, and technology in general

  • Technology marketing

  • Entrepreneurship, venture capital,  women-owned businesses and

  • Bridging the gender gap in tech, to address issues of enterprise viability/profitability, innovation and most especially the upcoming chasm that looms between jobs that need to be filled and the talent to fill them.

Most of all the divas are grateful for our growing, engaged audience, and for all the wonderful women we have interviewed to date, and intend to interview in the coming years.

The “Divas” can be reached at:
Kathleen Norton-Schock -  knorton-schock@outlook.com and on Twitter @katensch 
Nicole Scheffler -  nicklej11@hotmail.com and on Twitter @Tech_Nicole
For Podcast related inquiries, please use: DivaTechTalkTeam@gmail.com

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 59: Elena Lipson: Follow Your Heart

Diva Tech Talk interviewed Elena Lipson, Founder of Mosaic Growth Partners (http://www.mosaicgrowth.com/). Elena is also the host of THE BOOST Podcast, a podcast highlighting accomplished  entrepreneurs, athletes and healthcare professionals.  A quester, Elena has experimented with multiple paths in her personal journey, and the creation of her mission. “I started off in a corporate job in HR and marketing,” she shared, after her college graduation. “But I realized, quickly, that I wanted to do work that was more mission-focused. So, I went back to school to get my master’s in public policy.”   

Elena then moved into the world of public sector consulting, working for BearingPoint, a small firm and then Deloitte Consulting for 7 years ( https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en.html). “There, I really fell into the health tech space. Prior to that, I had avoided going into health, because my Dad’s a doctor, and my Mom’s a health policy researcher. I didn’t want to follow in exactly what they did. But then I realized I loved it!”  Like many of our previous divas, Elena said “I was really not that technical person. I was more interested in how technology could help enable better healthcare.” Elena worked in consulting for 8 years, but “I got to the point where I felt that being a partner in a big consulting firm was not the path I wanted to be on. It was a tough decision, because I was in people’s succession plans, and moving up. But I just knew it didn’t feel right.”

Elena moved over to a business development role at a nonprofit association, AARP (www.aarp.org) on the “for profit” side.  “That was a fun role, because I got to see all of the innovative technologies being developed and launched.” But the pace of that organization was “a lot slower than what I was used to,” Elena said.  “I saw all these opportunities in the market. I started thinking about what I wanted to do, next. I had this ‘aha’ moment where I realized that I was tired and burned out from working for other people.”   So, Elena decided to start her own consulting firm. “I quit my job at AARP, started Mosaic Growth Partners, and 2.5 years later, I am still rolling along!”

“I was pretty fortunate that I had a pretty soft landing when I started my firm,” Elena said. “I had made a lot of contacts, during my time at AARP. I spent the first year testing out a lot of things. From that I developed a couple of core offerings.  My firm is mostly focused on helping entrepreneurs, and organizations, in the digital health and Baby Boomer space. I focus on helping them with growth strategy consulting, and business development. We do a lot of market intelligence work; go-to-market strategy and innovation strategy work; as well as outsourced business development functions and workshops around new business models.”  Elena also launched her podcast and is in the process of launching a coaching program for professional women “to help them get the promotions, raises and respect they are looking for in the workplace.”

One of the major advantages of her entrepreneurial role, in Elena’s eyes, is “the flexibility to try new things all the time.”  Two major lessons for her is “staying attuned to the market to see what’s working, and keeping your eyes on the ‘bottom line’ all the time.” Elena foresees great developments in the healthcare industry. “I think a lot of organizations are putting the patient in the center. As technology becomes more and more pervasive, it is important that they design the experience around the patient. I am seeing a lot of user-designed research and that’s really exciting.”

As she became a business owner, Elena began to experience gender discrimination, which she had not as part of corporate America.  “I began to think about how I could give back,” she said.  “A lot what happens can be very subtle.”.

Based on her experience as a mentor to other women, Elena recently published an article to supplement her newly-minted coaching practice. Entitled “7 Things Badass Professional Women Don’t Do”, it exhorts women to put their ambitions to the forefront, in a balanced way.  Three of her key tips include:

  1. Don’t put your head down and work harder.  “A lot of what happens in the corporate world is based on your relationships,” she said. “I encourage women and men to take time to build relationships around them.”

  2. Don’t say “yes.” She noted that “many women are ‘people pleasers.’ “In Elena’s opinion, “it is critical that you set boundaries so that you can protect your creativity” and your time. She also suggested “you don’t have to apologize if you have to say No.”

  3. Don’t be a “tough guy.”  In saying “no,” you can accomplish this with “grace and finesse. You don’t have to steamroll people.”

Elena acknowledged that “this can be a tough balance” for a lot of women to achieve. “I found that women have to walk a tightrope of being authentic to themselves, but also embracing their femininity, and being assertive enough to command respect.”

One of Elena’s key themes is living a balanced life. Self-care is essential in her opinion to professional success and happiness. “When I started my own business, I realized that taking care of myself was the most important thing. If I’m not exercising, sleeping, eating right, I am not able to be my best self.”  Elena ensures that she gets eight hours of sleep, blocks out time to exercise, and has good nutritional habits. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you deal with a lot of rejection,” she said.  So being in top physical shape is a protection and enables her to “handle some of that, and deal with the stresses.”  Elena said “I really love to sleep. It just makes me feel so refreshed!”   She also takes long walks with her dog, “it’s a time for meditation, listening to music or listening to podcasts.”

Elena also values mentoring. “I don’t think I would be where I am in my career, today,” she said, “without the great mentors that I’ve had, both men and women.” Elena also stated that “It’s been very important for me to mentor others. When I’ve mentored other people, I’ve gotten so much out of the experience and have learned so much from them.”  She noted that she has had both formal and informal mentoring relationships but has benefitted most from those that are organic, “relationships with people that really feel natural, and you are just the right fit, from a chemistry perspective.” She said: “I would encourage people to reach out to mentors, but if it doesn’t feel natural, don’t feel like you have to work with that person. Just keep trying to find the right person.”

Elena’s final words of wisdom for striving women are “you need to be confident in yourself; no one else is going to be able to give you that. Part of that is really understanding what your natural talents are, and making sure they’re aligned to the work you’re doing.”  Additionally, she emphasized “just be really open to trying new things. Just be open to where the experience will take you.”   Elena Lipson can be reached at elipson@mosaicgrowth.com.  

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. 

Ep 58: Janette Phillips: Believe in Yourself; Do the “Extra”

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview the multifaceted and tenacious Janette Phillips. In her childhood, Janette was “studious” and “took all the science classes I could,” including Accelerated Chemistry, Physics and Science Seminar (an independent science-oriented curriculum) in high school. Her intellectual interests took a turn in college, when she matriculated to the business school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (https://www.umich.edu/), although she had an overriding interest in philosophy. (“I like to think about the world, how it fits, how people work together…”).

Post-college, “It was in the 80’s, when the economy was a disaster!” and Janette felt lucky to land a job at Michigan Bell Telephone, which later morphed into Ameritech and then to AT&T (https://www.att.com/), after the consolidation of the Bell companies, the subsequent divestiture of portions of that monopoly, and then the reunification of companies. “I was hired as a market administrator,” she said, “which is the implementation portion of networks, and phone systems.” Janette felt blessed by her company’s comprehensive training program, and 6-month orientation.

Janette was convinced that Michigan Bell had put her in the wrong role, initially. On the first day of training, she thought: “I am in the wrong room. I should be over there with the account executives.” But she said. “It took me about three years to switch to sales. I had to prove to them that I was good. Within two weeks of entering my training class, I sold a phone system to an advertising company on the 10th floor of our building.” This underpinned Janette’s belief in herself, and her ability to successfully sell. “If you want to get somewhere, even if you are not officially ‘trained’ in it, just go!”

Initially, in that first job as a Market Administrator, she met with customers, after the sale, to ascertain their needs, and help get their systems operational. “Back then, there were paper data sheets.“ she exclaimed. “It was the precursor to computers. We had to fill out the data sheets for every user, for every feature on every phone. And then work with the installation technicians to make sure it went in properly, on time, and that everyone was happy.” She acknowledged that “I do have a lot of project management in my personality. So that role was a good base.” After two years doing that, Janette finally moved into the sales arena and worked for the next 14 years at Ameritech in a sales capacity. “At the peak of my sales role, I handled the General Motors (www.gm.com) account.”   

Janette worked closely with EDS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Data_Systems/), --- then owned by GM, prior to its acquisition by HP (www.hp.com) --- and was responsible for the telephony segment of their large computerization efforts. “GM was much bigger than they are now. They outsourced all their communication systems to us,” Janette said. “They had 200,000 voice ports, across the country.” Daily, Janette was managing a team that concentrated on the $25 million, annually, in recurring revenue that GM represented to Ameritech. She handled everything from the small key systems to the large SL100 central office type systems that controlled large locations like the GM Tech Center and manufacturing complexes in Flint, Saginaw, Lansing and others. “It was very complicated,” Janette said, acknowledging that her biggest sale at GM was a 2-year sales cycle. To accomplish that, she worked with EDS and hired Deloitte (www.deloitte.com) who “helped us do the financial modeling” for a new 7-year, fixed rate, $270 million-dollar GM contract, doubling the annualized revenue on the account to $50M. Janette was proud that “it was the largest single sale Ameritech had ever made. It was a team, but at the beginning, it was me; nobody believed in it.” Her lesson from this was: “It doesn’t matter what level you are in a company; how low you are on a totem pole. You can accomplish a lot!” And her second lesson was to consistently deliver. “Over at EDS, they could see, that if I said something would happen, I could get it done. My word was my word.” Finally, for would-be sales professionals, Janette’s advice is “to be a good salesperson, you have to know how to execute.” To meet GM’s needs, for a cutover of services, for example, “the biggest problem was inside my own company,” Janette exclaimed. To accomplish what her customer wanted: “I just became the cheerleader and the translator. I am too much of a bulldog sometimes, but you have to be.”

Janette believes that Ameritech invented the concept (now implemented throughout the technology industry) of Voice Managed Services. After the GM sale, Janette was promoted to supervise the Managed Services Department for Ameritech, regionally. “We did a big deal with IBM (www.ibm.com), which was another huge accomplishment in my career.” Then life intervened, and Janette became pregnant with her first daughter. “I married ‘late’ and had my child ‘late’,” she said. “And this job was really grueling. I was traveling to Chicago every week. I chose to walk away.”

Janette had two daughters in a 2-year timeframe. But she missed working and, “When Michelle (her daughter) was about 1.5 years old, I went to work for Nortel (www.nortel.com).” She took on a Nortel support role, working on automotive accounts including Chrysler (www.fca.com), General Motors, and Ford Motor Company (www.ford.com). “I did that for about a year, but my heart wasn’t in it, because I had young children.” Janette acknowledged that, for her, “it’s difficult to juggle young children, with a big job. It’s one thing if you have a job you go into, where you punch the clock and then you go home.” Children, like “big jobs” are “24 x 7, too!” Additionally, Janette saw that “Nortel started slipping down a slippery slope.” So, Janette took a Nortel buy-out.

“I love to work. I just love being productive.” So, Janette and her husband decide on an entrepreneurial path, and created a regional pulmonary rehabilitation clinic business. Her spouse was her “silent partner” as Janette, for 5 years, actively managed Valley Hill Therapy Centers, a two-clinic business, employing 20-plus people. “We were very good at what we did,” she said. But “If you are not a doctor, nor a hospital, it is very hard to be profitable, because Medicare dictates how much you get paid. There wasn’t enough margin in it. We were very successful, but not profitable.” With her data background, as Janette was building the business, “we created our own ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. It handled patient care, employee records, charting, electronic medical records. I sold the business to Botsford Hospital, now part of the Beaumont (www.beaumont.com) and they still use my homegrown system for patient charting.”

For three years, Janette then became the first Executive Director for The Michigan Council of Women in Technology Foundation (www.mcwt.org ), a Michigan nonprofit whose mission is to make Michigan the #1 state for women, and girls, in technology. “I was hired because I had a very strong business background,” she said. “I understood women in technology. I understood how to run a business. And I am good at projects.”

After that, Janette moved to her current role: Director of Business Development, for Chrysalis Global Consulting (www.chrysalisglobal.com) --- a certified Woman-Owned Business (WBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and a Small Business Enterprise (SBE), headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.  “I find clients who need help. We take them by the arm, and walk them through the process” of implementing and communicating to client staff about new software, and “we stay on the client side, advocating...” for her clients to selected vendors. In addition, Chrysalis, who is expanding beyond its “sweet spot” (the aviation industry), does a lot of things: “business process optimization and everything around ‘how does your business run’ and how can we help you make it more efficient, and automated.” Janette was hired to assist Chrysalis in diversification into other vertical markets beyond airlines and airports. “My role is to find business in Detroit. We now have clients in automotive, public sector, finance and healthcare.” The size of the Chrysalis prospective client varies; “whoever needs our support,” according to Janette is a prospect. “You have to be making a big investment in something to warrant a consultant, but it’s so helpful” she said.

While Janette experienced some issues, as a woman at Ameritech, the challenges did not set her back in her career. “I just didn’t care. Sometimes, in working with men, the younger you are, the harder that is. I wanted to do what’s right for the client, for my own company, for friends, for organizations. The rub is that people don’t give you enough credit for what you know or what you can accomplish. I think it’s a more natural assumption for us. But it’s just about the work. I focus on the work.” An acknowledged “workaholic”, Janette said “I just love to work. I’ve got to be doing something.” And her driving force is “making a difference in an organization, whether that’s as a member of the organization or as a volunteer.” She also noted that “I always have a life jacket on. I am always prepared.” A life lesson for Janette that she tries to impart to her two daughters is “you have to stay true to yourself. You have to do what you like. Recognize who you are; figure out where you want to get to; get out of your own head, and go! Just go.” Janette acknowledged that her husband has always been very supportive. She noted: “You might need to find a partner who is supportive and lets you be you.”

In her community life, the highly philanthropic Janette gave back and continues to give back to the greater community by participation, as her girls were growing up, in school PTO, and currently, with the Rotary Club (www.rotary.org); and now as a member of the Tech Committee for Southeast Michigan’s Automation Alley (www.automationalley.org), and the newly-minted NEW Tech Group which she hopes will serve will serve DPSCD (Detroit Public Schools Community District www.detroitk12.org ) “to help them with technology, mentoring and as the liaison to outside organizations” that can assist in sparking students’ interest in tech and also strengthen “the soft skills: things like public speaking.” She is also involved with Detroit’s Mercy Education Project (www.mercyed.net ) providing a pilot program coaching women who will soon obtain their GED to assist them in discovering who they are, what they enjoy and which jobs are best suited to them in the working world in order to advance to the next level of their lives.

Janette’s cogent advice for girls and women in the tech field is exactly the same as she hopefully, inspired her daughters with: “You need to enjoy what you do. Make sure that whatever you are doing gives you energy. Pay attention and think. And finally, work first, play second.” Janette Phillips can be reached at jphillips@chrysalisglobal.com.

Follow us on Twitter  - @divatechtalks

Visit us on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/divatechtalk

If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channel.