In October, Karen Emery joined our iDirect Government (iDirectGov) family as the new Director of Product Management.
Attracted to change and excited by new opportunities, Emery doesn’t shy away from challenges but instead embraces them.
We sat down with Emery to find out what sparked her deep interest in the satellite communications (SATCOM) field, what change she hopes to foster in the future and why she was attracted to iDirectGov.
How did you get involved with SATCOM?
I grew up in the telecom business. Both of my parents worked at Bell System, and many of the people that I knew and socialized with also worked for the phone company. It was kind of like the family thing – we had lots of aunts, uncles, cousins and so forth, so I truly thought that’s what I wanted to do because it sounded awesome. I decided in high school that was my game plan – go to college, get an engineering degree, go to work for the phone company then go to business school and work in telecommunications management.
Of course when I got to college, I had my moment of, “I think I’d rather major in folklore and mythology.” After some serious conversations with my advisor and my parents – which pretty much centered around the shortage of job opportunities for folklorists and mythologists – I graduated and landed my first job at Michigan Bell.
It was a great time to work at Michigan Bell. The company was undertaking a major capital improvement initiative to replace some of the older electromechanical and analog equipment with digital equipment, and I got to be part of that project. It was really interesting; the focus was on all the new capabilities and benefits of having this newer technology, but there were definitely some things that the old technology did that weren’t available in the new equipment. A lot was changing, especially the relationships with customers – and not for the better. It was an interesting time to be there and witness that shift.
As I moved on in my career, I went over to Sprint and again got to be part of some of the change in technology as people were moving over to the Internet from some of the traditional services. It was those periods of change that were really exciting to me, and it was the same thing when I was at Comcast. When I was there, they began moving away from some of the traditional aspects of cable and getting into more of the business of higher-end type services like Ethernet. Being part of the technology and culture change there was really exciting and interesting.
I began my SATCOM chapter with Intelsat a couple of years ago, and again, it was during a period of change. This was when a lot of the things that have worked in the larger telecommunications industry were being brought into the satellite world. When I was looking most recently for a new opportunity, I knew that the actual equipment manufacturing process was where a lot of the changes have to happen. Plus, I was looking for an opportunity to work in the government services space. The government is such a big factor in this part of the world, and there’s a lot going on right now in regards to technology, especially in the security space.
So you like to chase the change?
I like steep learning curves and being challenged to learn things, so that part of change definitely appeals to me. Whenever there’s change, there’s opportunity. What I’ve discovered about myself is I’m probably more comfortable with change – I mean, everybody hates change, that’s pretty much a given – but I probably hate it less than the average person. It’s exciting for me.
There are other companies that manufacture equipment for the government, so why iDirectGov?
I was familiar with iDirectGov because of my time at Intelsat, and when I came over here, it was truly about the people. I have found that one of the most important aspects of job satisfaction is the people I’m working with on a daily basis.
I like the way Karl Fuchs shares information and how he’s able to look at problems, break them down and understand what we can and should be working on. Adrian Robinson and Chris Gormont are just phenomenal – I didn’t know how phenomenal until I got here, obviously, but it’s refreshing to hear how they talked about things.
I like how everybody works together; there’s a sense of team. It is definitely an amazing environment where people are working together, and I’m amazed and blown away everyday by how smart and dedicated the people are here. It’s really exciting.
Did you know you always wanted to be in this field?
My dad retired when I was in ninth grade because they offered a buy-out package. On one hand, that was really terrifying because nobody else I knew had a dad that was retiring, so I doubled-down on my studies to get a scholarship. But he did go back to work with several start-ups, and you could tell he was so excited about what he was doing. He would come home every night and talk about what was going on, and the kinds of problems he worked on just sounded like the most exciting thing in the whole world.
Largely, when you’re working in the telecommunications world, you’re making people’s lives better. Being able to communicate is a good thing, and at the end of the day that felt really good.
Is there something that inspires you in the same way with your current role at iDirectGov?
I would say that there’s no one thing. There’s no silver bullet, and certainly being able to work with great people inspires me daily.
That being said, if all of these great people were, say, in a hospital environment, that would not work for me because I discovered in tenth grade biology class I was not cut out for a career in the medical field!
It’s more than just the people, though; it’s also about the technology. One of the things I like about working in product lifecycle management (PLM) in the high tech space is bringing together what’s possible in terms of the technology with what problems people have or are going to have. You’re finding new ways of solving those problems. That, to me, is where the magic happens.
Since your time here, what are some changes you hope to facilitate with the company, products, technology and other areas?
One of the areas that I really like to put some more attention toward is the customer experience. I think everybody here is really tuned into the customer experience and understands that the customer’s experience is at the heart of our success to date. I want to make sure that we are doing that, and not doing it as an individual thing but as an institutional thing as we move forward.
What I mean by that is understanding that the customer experience is not just when they call the Technical Assistance Center (TAC). The customer experience starts the very first time somebody sees a piece of collateral, or walks by our booth and stops by at a tradeshow or any of those kinds of things. From the marketing to the buying – so the whole experience of getting the quote, acknowledging the price, seeing the value, getting the product, using the product, paying for the product, getting support for the product – the entire spectrum.
It’s also understanding that when a customer calls TAC, it’s sometimes because improvements are needed up-front in PLM or engineering. It’s making sure that we have a solid iterative process where we can take all of those customer touchpoints, understand what the customer’s experiencing and making sure they’re having the kind of experience we want them to have. If they’re not, we refine whatever it is we’re doing. Whether they don’t like the uniform of the guy in the ad or whether the light is green and they’d rather it be blue, or the documentation isn’t correct or whatever – we should be able to take in that feedback and make sure we’re always giving our customers the best experience with our products.
What role does PLM have in that process?
When I draw a picture of the organization I always put PLM right smack in the middle. PLM gets to interact with everyone else, including customers. As we are interacting with all of those groups, we end up involved in a lot of the customer experience aspects of it. Even if it’s the technical publications, for instance, those loop through PLM so we can give a quick look to make sure it’s conveying the kind of experience or message we want our customers to have. PLM may not be directly responsible or accountable for all of the pieces, but we’re consulted because of the way the threads work.
What advice would you have for younger SATCOM innovators or those who have an interest in chasing a career in this field?
Read, listen to the news and understand that technology does not live in a vacuum. You need to understand the context in which it will be used. Just go out there and don’t be afraid. You’re going to be wrong some of the time – everybody is wrong some of the time – so don’t be afraid of that and go after what appeals to you.