Ep 39: Janet Tyler: When to slow down and when to accelerate

Diva Tech Talk interviewed Janet Tyler, Chief Operating Officer, at Red Level Networks (www.redlevelnetworks.com) a Microsoft partner company. As a child, Janet admits that while she was drawn to math and science, she “was not particularly good at math and science.” But her early tech interest was fostered by her father who encouraged her, consistently, to explore it. “That carried me in through college” where Janet earned an MBA in Organizational Development at Eastern Michigan University, and says that her computer interest was a continuous underlying theme for her. “I had a unique ability that was recognized early in my academic career to talk about the true transformative power of technology,” she said. From then onward, Janet recognized that she was and would always be “an early adopter” of tech solutions.

After getting her master’s degree, Janet’s first job was at New Horizons (www.newhorizons.com)where she initially trained customers on emergent applications (like Microsoft DOS). “I really loved teaching. I had something to offer the workforce, struggling with DOS, WordPerfect, all the Microsoft suite. At the time, a graphic user interface was brand new!” Janet traveled extensively, training end-users on relatively new applications, and then moved into a New Horizons marketing and operations management role. “I got to take my love of technology and share that with the masses!” After 4.5 years at New Horizons, Janet moved to the Franco Public Relations Group. “The common thread in my career,” Janet said, “has always been Microsoft. (www.microsoft.com ).” Bill Gates (founder and then CEO of Microsoft) had been instrumental in making a $1 million grant to the Detroit Public Library system and Franco saw the resulting opportunity to build a fledgling PR practice around technology. Janet was hired to lead that technology practice. Some of her Franco accounts included Microsoft, Omnicom, T-Mobile, Supply Solutions Inc. and various tech startups. This new challenge taught Janet invaluable lessons about growing and building teams.

After four years at Franco PR, Janet “hatched an idea” with the President of Franco (Lisa Vallee Smith) to “spin off a company that was dedicated solely to the needs of technology companies.” That company was Airfoil Public Relations (www.airfoilgroup.com) for which she was initially President and Chief Operating Officer. Born during the “Y2K era,” Airfoil exclusively served tech businesses. “Business was great,” Janet said. Even when the economic downturn in technology that resulted from the Y2K “bust” caused opportunities to fade, this wasn’t an issue for Airfoil. “We started the company early enough so that when that crash happened, we were already so financially disciplined that not only did we withstand that economic downturn, we really thrived in it, because we were standing out as the young, scrappy upstart.” Janet’s role at Airfoil continued to evolve and grow as the company grew. “I thrive in a COO role. I love the HR component, which is rare for someone with my background; and I love the accounting function. I am still really good at reading a balance sheet, understanding a P & L, and how to plan for budgeting,” she said. As the company grew, Janet moved to Silicon Valley, with her two young children and husband, to strengthen Airfoil’s growth. She spent 3-4 years establishing the Airfoil operation in California, before moving back to the Midwest in the middle of the 2009 recession. “At the end of the day I completed the job I had set out to do.” In 2012, Janet then became co-CEO of the company. Among Airfoil accounts were eBay, eBay Motors, Microsoft, LinkedIn, PayPal, and many others including less renowned startups from whom Janet learned a lot. She loved the culture at Airfoil. “You’re working with really smart people. The culture embraced fun, collaboration, and teamwork; and embraced learning -- - we invested in training and development.”

Eventually, Janet made the decision to leave Airfoil to join Red Level to help them pursue their “mission to provide IT consulting and services to companies throughout Michigan, predominantly, who are invested in technology and who innovate.” There for two years, as COO, Janet has been having a “great ride.” A characteristic she brings to the company is process orientation, and the discipline to maintain it. “In a way, I am the internal Chief Communications Officer,” she said, citing clearer and more regular results-sharing with the Red Level team as a milestone in architecting an enhanced corporate culture. Overseeing all operations and marketing, she has her fingers on many facets of the company.

Janet’s personal strengths as they have developed over the years, and serve her well in her new role include:

  • Strong communications capability
  • Process orientation/discipline to enforce processes
  • Start-up insight and skills
  • Project management capabilities
  • Broad future view/vision, born of being an entrepreneur
  • Sincere team orientation

Being a woman has not negatively affected Janet. “I have rarely looked at myself as a ‘woman’ leader,” she said. “My lens is not geared to that.” But she admits, at times, to being “a feisty, spirited competitor. If I am competing against a man, I might roll up my sleeves even a little more.” One of her personal weaknesses, along the way, has been Janet’s occasional “negative self-talk, and self-doubt.” Now, she is achieving an even greater level of peaceful, internal balance through mindfulness and meditation. “Today, I have arrived at a place where I have spent a lot of time thinking about that. I have really had to separate thought from reality. I am getting much better at that.”

Janet’s top leadership lesson for other women includes the realization of the point where you approach individual burnout. Then, she counsels, one must learn how to train/develop others, build a team and lead it to remain effective in delivering results. “This can be very difficult for people who have a high need for control.” But she recommends it highly. “Let go of that need for perfection. You’ve got to be great a multitasking.” She also recommends that you learn “when to slow down and when to speed up” both in getting things done, and in making decisions.

A crucial issue with which Janet currently grapples is finding the right tools and environment for the Red Level team (many of whom are dynamically moving into more senior roles that involve increased leadership) to stay engaged with customers, continue to do great work, but also effectively manage growing teams of other people, without sacrificing their ability to use their individual, unique talents and skills at the highest level. She would love to hear the thoughts of the Diva Tech Talk audience on this topic.

So, if you have any tips, please feel free to contact JanetTyler at jtyler@redlevelnetworks.com or through Twitter at @janet_tyler.

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