Being hopeful is better than despair, both for short-term and long-term health. So, I constantly remind myself to choose hopefulness. For me, this decision comes most often at night when I sink into bed and read the latest case counts. I am reminded of the brevity of the situation and then I have an option to be hopeful that the path ahead has purpose and meaning, rather than focus on the various degrees of hardship and conflict. I am willing to believe in the possibility that a world where COVID-19 exists may in fact turn out to be the best kind of world there is, for intricate global reasons which go much deeper than can be considered here.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arlissa Vaughn.
Arlissa Vaughn is the CEO of Aegis Power Systems, Inc., the mother of 2 little girls, and an avid (pre-COVID) traveler. In recent years, she has led her company through an unusual transition period, coming out the other side with a strong team and better market position. Her tenacity to work through challenges has helped her power electronics business to win awards in exporting, recruit top talent, and develop new innovations. She lays much of her success on her “secret weapon.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My entry to the power electronics manufacturing world came with a lot of twists and turns, plus an unlikely starting point. Basically, to put it bluntly, I was the beneficiary of several steps of circumstances which resulted in me becoming co-owner of Aegis Power Systems, Inc. in 2017. To have started with a double-degree in Fine Arts (Metal Design) and International Studies, then venture out to a variety of careers including teaching English as a Second Language, being editor/founder of an art publication, and freelancing in marketing and writing, I did not expect to own an industrial business anytime in the future. Having been put in an unusual position when my father bought out his business partner, then suddenly became ill, I was faced with a big question — what to do now? I had options to sell, be a distant owner, or get involved. After much encouragement from friends and family, I jumped in head-first and immediately got connected with several advisors to assist me in the process of professional and business transformation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
When I first began at my company, I was a marketing specialist. My role involved developing content for campaigns. In one such case, I worked hard on a campaign which I felt would grasp our audience and yield the results we were seeking. After finalizing the campaign materials, I presented them to my superiors. At the end of the day, I was called to the conference room and asked why I created this campaign. I explained my reasoning, while also sharing the theory of more nuanced details of the marketing strategy to support the need for such materials. I was then told this campaign would not be approved due to some specific risk concerns regarding the nature of the content.
At the time I thought my superiors were not being open-minded and in fact, I felt a little hurt that my efforts were unappreciated. Now that I am in the leadership position myself, I can see where they were coming from — the need to protect the company comes in from every possible approach, even a seemingly benign campaign. That moment of being told “no” to that one campaign may have been one of my earliest lessons in risk management for this manufacturing business.
This story may not be the most obvious choice for the superlative of “most interesting.” However, I’ve been surprised how often I’ve thought of that conversation and how my eyes were opened to the wide-angle view required to run a company. Sometimes it’s the painful moments that imprint on us the most.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. Our company is part of the growing effort amongst power electronics designers to improve electrical efficiency with the use of wide-bandgap materials. The benefits to society of implementing such semiconductor materials to real-life applications are quite immense. The high efficiency means less energy consumed and less energy wasted.
This energy conservation is important to all people for the obvious benefits of reducing carbon emissions. Because power electronics are used in literally every electronic equipment on earth, the improved efficiencies have the combined power to eliminate a great deal of carbon emissions.
Another important benefit of incorporating devices using wide-bandgap materials is smaller size. These smaller sizes have impacts at several levels of application design, allowing for the build of smaller and more lightweight equipment. Ultimately, these innovations produce peripheral benefits. An example would be drone technology. Utilizing a more efficient and smaller power supply on the drone allows for more onboard electronics or to extend the range of the flight.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely. In this case, I call that person my “secret weapon.” I could not have done anything in this business without him. He’s my husband, my biggest advocate, and a true superhero. I’ve faced many obstacles in running this business while simultaneously being a mother, taking care of my sick father, restoring a Victorian home, and relocating my family during a global pandemic. I call my husband my secret weapon because I can achieve the workload required to run Aegis Power Systems only with his support of managing our family and many behind-the-scenes situations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Challenges which had certain resolutions in the pre-COVID world, now require more creative thinking or family-sacrifice to again come to a solution. For example, I am unable to drive due to a genetic eye condition limiting my peripheral range. In the pre-COVID days, I could rely on a variety of travel methods to get me from A to B — public transport, friends and family, ride-sharing apps, etc. Now I feel that if my husband cannot take me, I just don’t go. This affects my children because now we must all be ready to take mama to work each morning — fed and watered, teeth brushed, and shoes on. Pre-COVID, it was no problem for a co-worker to pick me up at 6:00 am to arrive to the factory site to begin the day. Now, I’m doing well to get in at 8:05 am. The positive side to this story is that I enjoy breakfast with my family each morning — so, there are advantages and disadvantages to the situation.
Oddly enough, another challenge our family has faced is the change of me previously working from home to now working on-site. I used to work remotely 3 weeks of the month, but during the pandemic switched to exclusively on-site — the opposite of what most families have faced.
To explain… Our family did not reside near the company headquarters when I became owner and CEO. We had already anticipated moving closer to headquarters because the company president was set to retire in mid-2020. It had been decided that I would replace him and maintain dual CEO and President roles. As an essential business for the defense industry, our company did not shut down at any point during the pandemic and it suddenly became more critical than ever that I work on-site each day to assist in managing various COVID-related challenges. It just happened that we found and closed on a house in the early weeks of the shelter-in-place orders. We were able to move soon after and thus, the switch to daily on-site work occurred.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
To move during a pandemic was quite an ordeal. Everything from crossing county lines to installing internet at the new house suddenly required corporate intervention to assist in the moving process. I relied on the support of my personal and professional team, but I also “rolled with the punches.” There were, and are, times when my hands are tied, and I have no choice but to wait for a new solution to present itself. Sometimes waiting is to hardest challenge of all.
All of us, mothers or not, have had to become resourceful, resilient, and adaptive in how we face challenges during the pandemic. For me, I have decided to embrace changes and look for the silver lining. The biggest change I see is that our family now has a quieter lifestyle — less running around to events and more running around in the great outdoors.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Having lost my mother at a young age to a poorly treated infection, I have faced the pandemic with my own fears of leaving my children motherless if I were to become ill and take the worst. This has caused me to approach all aspects of my life and business with extra caution. Switching to on-site work gave me anxiety, so my challenge is to not let that sense of caution override other decision-making skills.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
To make sure I am not letting caution override other factors in a decision, I rely on a solid team of advisors and employees. When it became obvious that COVID-19 had entered the US and would take a stronghold, I immediately created a pandemic response team consisting of five of our company’s managers. This creates a balanced approach to decision-making by harvesting the collective wisdom from the team’s diverse experiences and backgrounds.
On a personal level, I recognize that losing my mother young has caused me to be cautious during this pandemic. Yet, I can see it has also produced boldness because I know life can be short. Now that I am the main provider for my family and the leader of a business which provides income to at least 26 other families, I feel the extra weight to ensure the longevity of this company. This feeling of responsibility guides many of my decisions and produces an energy to seek solutions.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I believe a radical shift may be occurring in the US. After having worked at home for the better part of 10 years pre-COVID, I can tell you that working from home without childcare is not feasible with young children. Remote workers must have this form of familial support in order to adequately focus on their professional tasks. Even small distractions like shifting the laundry from washer to dryer cause interruptions which yield poor work results.
For decades, many parents were accustomed to school as the primary form of childcare during the work hours. Parents are now faced with difficult choices such as reducing work hours to support online school or homeschooling versus diverting income to appropriate childcare. Both of these options may cause financial stress, which may eventually cause lifestyle changes to many families. These are not easy or budget-friendly choices, but some form of childcare is critical to the success of the children AND the working adult(s). This is where I say there is a shift here in the US. The reduction of the financial resources of the upper middle-class may cause a leveling of the financial disparities in our society and lead to new ways to meet childcare and schooling responsibilities. As parents, we must always choose what is best for our families, but those choices may include a lot of gray. Ultimately, parents must be willing to try new things, make sacrifices when necessary, and adjust along the way.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
In my experience, staying sane and serene have involved maintaining routines, setting a realistic outlook, and enjoying good food.
Creating routines provides consistency and an expectation of what each day will hold. For children and adults alike, this creates a sense of understanding of the world. For our family this involves a specific routine in same sequence Monday through Friday with schooling, playtime, mealtimes, work, etc. We even have a dedicated “family movie night”. I know these routines are important to my children because even when they know the expected answer, they still ask at bedtime each night, “What are we doing tomorrow?” Knowing the answer to that question gives a peace of mind that all is well and that we have some expectation of what tomorrow will bring.
Related to that expectation is the importance of fostering a realistic outlook. I don’t believe in presenting a fairytale world to my children. For example, we tell them the hard truth that it may be a very long time before our family returns to “normal” play dates and other types of activities. However, we also use this as an opportunity to help our children grow in their sense of personal contribution to society (i.e. wearing a mask may help prevent dozens of sicknesses.) This sets the tone for deep questions about the reality that surrounds us, giving my husband and I chances to share emotional, spiritual, and logical responses.
As for the good food, this seems to improve nearly any difficult situation! We have used this time to try out new recipes and expand our taste buds. Pre-COVID, our family enjoyed eating out on a more regular basis. Now, we do so sparingly, but we have attempted to bring home the flavors and quality of the restaurants we enjoyed before.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
My five reasons to be hopeful during the Corona virus crisis:
- The slower pace provides balance to the fear and uncertainty. I am personally very refreshed by the reduction of events in my calendar. I think this virus has given modern, busy, smartphone-tied people a chance to focus on their most immediate family members and the primary requirements of various commitments. Although I do have fear and uncertainty, the freed calendar also gives me more mental clarity to put towards deepening my relationships with my children and spouse.
- Change is the founder of innovation and self-discovery. We have brilliant people all over the world finding new ways to cope, but also new ways to inspire and to live. I was personally very inspired by Andrea Bocelli’s surprise Easter concert, performed to an empty audience but broadcasted to the world online.
- Being hopeful is better than despair, both for short-term and long-term health. So, I constantly remind myself to choose hopefulness. For me, this decision comes most often at night when I sink into bed and read the latest case counts. I am reminded of the brevity of the situation and then I have an option to be hopeful that the path ahead has purpose and meaning, rather than focus on the various degrees of hardship and conflict. I am willing to believe in the possibility that a world where COVID-19 exists may in fact turn out to be the best kind of world there is, for intricate global reasons which go much deeper than can be considered here.
- The beauty of the world is still around us. My office is located in a rural mountain haven. I am blessed to look out the window to a dynamic landscape with the sights and sounds of life. The complexity of living beings, foliage, and climate gives me hope daily that this earth and its inhabitants have a destiny.
- The people of the past have faced similar and worse. Early in the pandemic, I was made aware that Martin Luther, the 16th century theologian, also faced a pandemic when black plague infected Wittenberg. He calculated reasonable responses to his community through several letters and essays, encouraging others to follow medical advice but also to avoid living in fear. To investigate history is to look into the mirror of both the present and the future.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Reiterating the question and answers above, we can offer hope and encourage braveness. Death and sickness are often hidden in the US, creating a mysterious and usually negative stigma on the topics. However, the reality is that adversity and demise are part of life. The more we can embrace these truths and choose to learn from our experiences, the better off we will be. To look ahead and recognize that hardship is part of the path, then to trek forward anyway is the bravest thing one can do. This courageous behavior will duplicate itself — in ourselves and in others. When we do it once, it becomes easier to do it again. When others notice our attitude, we can encourage them to follow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In my teenage years, a musician I followed once shared a John A. Shedd quote which states, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” As soon as I heard it, the strong visual language deeply resonated with me and has inspired ever since. It serves as a reminder that our bodies and minds are our vessels to the future. When I have choices to make, I try to think of the benefits, mitigate the risks, and accept the challenges along the way — just as one might do entering an open-sea voyage.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am very active on LinkedIn and enjoy connecting with other professionals. My business website is www.aegispower.com, which is where you can learn more about Aegis Power Systems, Inc. and the power electronics we create. Finally, I must give mention to the wonderful photographer and give photo credit to www.burnsandcrowe.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!