Title: Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer
Company: ZenFi Networks
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Boston College, master’s degree from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College
Organizational Affiliations: Partner and board member at Hugh O’Kane Electric Co., founding member at Chief
Achievements/Awards: Best Woman in Network Orchestration, Global Women in Telco and Tech Awards, Capacity Media 2020
What made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in technology?
I’ve never thought of myself as having a career in technology; I have a career in infrastructure. But, I guess, in today’s world, every career is a career in technology to some extent, and that’s what I love about what I do. Telecommunications is at the heart of our social fabric and is what allows us to stay connected when we are physically separated. Today, more than ever, that function is so critical. The products and services we deliver truly do change people’s lives. Whether it’s enabling a regional health system, supporting citywide free Wi-Fi, or deploying next-generation mobile networks, the output of our work enables access to education, health care, and community. That’s something truly special and provides me enormous purpose in the day-to-day work.
What three adjectives would you use to describe your journey in the industry so far?
Fun, challenging, and exciting.
What is your personal mantra?
Just keep going.
Describe the highest point in your career so far and how you got there, including all the hurdles you had to jump (and the ones you tripped over too).
In 2018, the company I co-founded, ZenFi Networks, merged with another regional communications infrastructure company, Cross River Fiber. When the idea was first introduced, I was just coming back from maternity leave with my first child. I was exhausted and feeling very insecure — both as a new mom and at work after being on leave. My first reaction was “No way. I don’t want to do this.” We had just hit our stride as a company and had made it through those tough early startup years. I wanted a breather before we tackled our next challenge. Thankfully, my business partner, Ray, pushed me to have an open mind.
As initial conversations turned to initial diligence and then negotiations, I found myself hesitating. Should we do this? Is this the right path? Maybe we should stop … But, we kept going. I was worried about losing control of the company and the culture. The biggest hurdle holding me back was a fear that I wasn’t up for the job. What happened was the exact opposite. We gained unbelievable management and financial partners — we joke that it feels like we all started the business together from day one. Our company culture improved, and the talent throughout both organizations proved second to none. I grew tremendously throughout the process as well. I had the ability to pitch myself and our company to the private equity firm that would ultimately become our partner; I partook in all the negotiations of the merger and was our internal lead on many of the M&A [merger and acquisition] workstreams. Ultimately, I had the opportunity to lead and build the combined company’s sales and marketing team.
The process of going through that merger taught me many valuable lessons. But, the biggest lesson I learned is the importance of trusting your team and being a transparent leader. One of the mistakes I believe we made was not bringing more of our team members into the process early on. At the time, we were a fairly small company and were worried if the transaction didn’t go through that we would disappoint the team, so we didn’t bring many people “in the know” until later into the process. Looking back, I think that was a major misstep. We missed out on input from some of our most valuable team members. We thought we were protecting people, but, in retrospect, I realized we weren’t giving people the credit and respect they had earned and given us. Since then, the management team has become more transparent. This transparency carries throughout our entire organization and allows us to have a company where people can be held accountable, where people are respected, and where people are trusted. It was a hard lesson to learn but a valuable one.
What is your most admirable quality?
I’m not sure I’m best suited to answer this one, but one of the qualities I like most about myself is that I am willing and open to changing my mind.
What aspect of the industry do you think has the most potential for growth, and, on the other hand, which aspect do you think needs the most improvement?
5G is clearly a game changer. Not only is it a driver of growth within the communications infrastructure sector, but it will also fundamentally change the way businesses operate. Five and 10 years from now, we will be talking about new companies and new industries we can’t even imagine now. Companies that are being formed today that harness the promise of 5G will be the Zooms and Ubers of tomorrow.
To bring 5G to reality, there has to be a massive upgrade of today’s mobile networks. Every component supporting these networks is in high demand — increased need for fiber, edge colocation, and wireless siting. The growth in sharing physical infrastructure will expand to the sharing of virtual infrastructure through shared spectrum. We see this evolution through the emergence of CBRS [Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service], a democratization of spectrum.
Ironically, to enable communications, the industry needs to do a better job communicating with our communities. Too often we hear concerned citizens questioning the health and safety of these deployments without understanding the technology being deployed. Building infrastructure in our communities isn’t always pretty — streets need to be dug up, radios need to be installed, power needs to be connected — but the result is a robust network that brings along significant economic and social benefits. When a mobile network operator deploys 5G radios in a community, that community now benefits from ultra-fast, high-capacity connectivity. Since wireless networks require wires, that community will now have additional network connectivity that alternative service providers can leverage to provide high-speed internet access to homes and businesses. The deployment of these networks creates jobs: jobs to deploy, maintain, and upgrade the physical infrastructure as well as new jobs created by businesses attracted to these technology hubs. Helping our local leaders understand these benefits while also giving them the tools to communicate the health and safety risks associated with RF signals is crucial for the successful deployment of these networks. It comes back to transparency and respect. If we can be transparent with the communities in which we deploy and provide the people living there with the respect, we can deliver on the promise of 5G and help bridge the digital divide in communities across America.
When you imagine the future of the technology industry, what does it look like?
When I think about the future of the technology industry, I end up thinking of the past. I think about my dad’s first car phone, the sound of the dial-up modem, my first cellphone, the first time I learned about an “SMS,” the first time I saw a grainy picture text, and the iPhone (OMG)! I go back in time and imagine myself in those moments. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined sitting in my home office in 2021 on Zoom calls all day, seeing alerts on who is coming to my door from my Nest app, ordering groceries for the week through Instacart. It reminds me that I have no idea what technology will look like in 10, 20, or 30 years. What I do know is that it will be a step function from where it is today. I also know that the changes we’ve seen as consumers have come from the rollout of new generations of mobile network standards. So, as we begin the rollout of 5G, all I know for certain is this generation of the mobile network will bring about a shift in technology that is unimaginable to many of us today. I’m excited to enable it and watch what blooms from the infrastructure we build.
What is the most valuable life lesson you have learned so far and how has it helped you in your career?
My mom often says, “No one gets through life unscathed.” Everyone everywhere encounters a major challenge in their lives. I’m not talking about the day-to-day ups and downs; I’m talking about the massive, knock-you-off-your-feet, out-of-the-blue whammy. I’ve witnessed my family and friends experience these moments and have had one or two myself. Even in these moments, the world keeps moving. It’s taught me two things.
1. You never know what someone is going through, so, when possible, try to give people a little grace
2. When it happens to you, the world will go on. You will go on.
What three adjectives come to mind when you think about your future path?
Fulfilling, bright, and connected.