Dee Cusack of Dematic: “People respect, even crave, good leadership”

People respect, even crave, good leadership. From my experience it doesn’t much matter if that leadership comes from a man or woman. My advice is to keep the highest possible professional composure and standards, encourage collaboration, and build trust. Once you’ve got a team that trusts each other anything is possible. As a part of […]

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People respect, even crave, good leadership. From my experience it doesn’t much matter if that leadership comes from a man or woman. My advice is to keep the highest possible professional composure and standards, encourage collaboration, and build trust. Once you’ve got a team that trusts each other anything is possible.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dee Cusack.

Dee Cusack is Senior Vice President of Global Products & Solutions, the group that empowers Dematic to efficiently design, build and support best-in-class, automated supply chain solutions that unlock measurable value for customers.

Prior to joining Dematic in March 2020, Dee held the role of Group SVP and Global Product Group Manager at ABB. While there, she oversaw the P&L, strategy, and operational performance of more than a dozen development and manufacturing sites in more than 13 countries.

Dee holds a bachelor’s degree in optics from University of Rochester and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Tufts University. Dee has also been issued four U.S. and international patents.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started out in math and science, getting a Bachelor of Science in Optics after transferring from the Electrical Engineering department. I followed the progression that so many technical people have before me, starting with R&D leading to project management, team leadership and eventually P&L roles. After several P&L roles in the power and aerospace segment, I was attracted to the purely commercial proposition at Dematic. And on top of that, the technology was very interesting and the team of a very high caliber.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

I started just about the same time COVID hit, so it was the most unusual start up I’ve ever had. I had to meet my team and peers virtually. It’s one thing to sustain relationships years in the making during COVID, but I can tell you it’s a much different proposition to categorically begin every relationship on a video call. But it all worked out, and I have since been able to meet many of my co-workers in person.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career I was invited to present a paper I had authored at a technical conference. When my colleague and I checked in, the conference staff commented on the relatively small number of attendees. I walked around a bit and most of the rooms looked to hold 30–50 people. I never asked how many participants I could expect in the audience, which was my mistake.

The next morning, I walked into a room of almost 300 people! To say I was a bit overwhelmed would be an understatement. As I looked across the room, I was not only one of the youngest in the room but also one of a very small number of women (less than 5). The good news is that I didn’t have too much time to think about it as I walked up to the podium. Lesson learned — Thoroughly prepare before an event. And know your audience as well as your subject matter.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Dematic has a culture of collaboration. It draws the best from everybody throughout the whole organization. The management at the top have an excellent grasp of the details and nuances of the latest technology, and the technologists throughout have a sound appreciation for business matters. All share a commitment to our customers’ success.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We do have some very exciting projects. Dematic may not be a household name but we are enabling many households with lifestyle choice. Even prior to COVID Dematic was supporting some of the largest customers in the e-commerce sector. The solutions that we invent, design, integrate and support enable consumers to decide to receive goods at home, curbside or in store. It’s amazing that we were able to help in the delivery of things like toilet paper and groceries, even in a pandemic, to people’s front door!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’d like to see more women not only entering engineering and technology but also staying in the field. Only about 28% of the STEM workforce are women and a large percentage transfer out of technology roles into marketing, sales and other functions.

There’s no easy answer. We need to do a few things together

  1. Introduce girls to technology and math at a young age and encourage them to pursue courses and activities in STEM topics (like First)
  2. Focus on recruiting women into companies with enough numbers to be significant. One woman in a team of 50 men will have a more difficult time succeeding than if she was one of 10 women working with 40 men.
  3. Retain women in technical functions. Introduce things like flexible working hours, networking and other affinity groups and mentoring programs. The latter two can be grassroots organizations.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Everybody is unique. And there are vast differences between men alone, as well as women. I think each person has to find their own way, and that starts with the fundamentals of doing a great job that exceed expectations and being easy to collaborate with. With anyone, these are the pillars for success. Having said that, the tone a woman adopts with peers, superiors and those in her charge must be professional, flawlessly professional. The old saying that we are all each other’s teachers is very true but pick out the very best teachers to learn from. I’ve been fortunate to learn volumes from some great teachers. Women, particularly in technical fields, have learned to act like men because there are few women role models to learn from. This again supports the notion of having enough critical mass of women in technical departments to allow the strength of diversity to be realized.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

The first is that woman aren’t good at math and science. Some of the brightest minds I’ve ever met in STEM are female. It’s just inaccurate to generalize along gender lines when it comes to STEM aptitude.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. People are the most important resource when trying to solve a technical problem. Having a TEAM is always better than any one person.
  2. Engage everyone. Sometimes the quiet person in the room can be overlooked yet has the best ideas.
  3. Communication is key. Make the message easy for everyone to understand.
  4. Find the right balance between perfect and good enough.
  5. Understand what problems your customer needs to solve tomorrow. Today is too late.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

People respect, even crave, good leadership. From my experience it doesn’t much matter if that leadership comes from a man or woman. My advice is to keep the highest possible professional composure and standards, encourage collaboration, and build trust. Once you’ve got a team that trusts each other anything is possible.

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?

I’m grateful to many leaders I have worked with over the years. Certainly, all have had an impact and helped form who I am today. I can highlight one leader who I worked with many years ago. He promoted me into the first P&L role. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize until years later that he was mentoring me in the new role. My mentor would stop by my office every afternoon that we were both in town and he would ask, “What’s new?”. As I walked him through what my team and I were doing he would ask questions. And yes, he was an expert at the art of the question. To the best of my recollection, there wasn’t a day that passed that we didn’t end up in a conversation where we brainstormed and made improvements. It was an exciting time and I learned a lot from him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

That’s a big question! I just try to treat everybody with respect, each co-worker, each customer and each partner. My father once told me that the way somebody behaves at work is usually very close to the way that person behaves outside of work. I think there is some truth to that, and I certainly try to see the potential and best qualities in people wherever they may be.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think one of the most valuable things I can do is to help bring visibility to some of the challenges women in technical roles face and connect them with others who have successfully navigated the challenges. I also think it’s very important to provide networks, management visibility and promotions to women in the organization. The team will be stronger as a result.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” — Henry Ford. That quote speaks to me. It says, “Just get on with it,” and I’ve found that overthinking things can lead to missed opportunities. Just jump in and start swimming. Once you do, you may find that’s all anybody else is doing too!

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d have to say my favorite athlete of all time is Rob Ninkovich, former linebacker for the New England Patriots. He brought a quiet leadership to the team that made him fun to watch. He made big plays, clutch plays, but he never boasted, never brought attention to himself. He just played as big as he played quiet. And by getting the job done that way he provided great leadership to his teammates.

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