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.

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