It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate. I’ve learned over the years my team does not always know as much as I think they do and that it is very valuable to hear from and see leadership often. Letting others know what is going on, the direction the organization is taking, any critical changes and addressing rumors will drive cooperation, more teamwork and focus within your organization.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Garcia. Holly is a 23-year veteran of the IT channel and currently vice president North America for ATEN Technology, Inc., a 40-year-old connectivity manufacturer. In this role, Garcia is responsible for sales, marketing, product management and customer service for ATEN’s U.S. and Canadian business. She also has responsibility for the Irvine, California and New Jersey-based campuses. Prior to joining ATEN Technology, Garcia worked for Ingram Micro for nearly 18 years, holding various roles throughout her tenure including senior director of vendor management for Ingram’s components business and Cisco business units, executive director of sales for Ingram’s major accounts organization, and executive director of advanced solutions, where she was responsible for the data center software, power and cooling and Dell EMC business. Garcia started her IT channel career at Merisel, Inc. in various purchasing roles. Garcia has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from California State University, Long Beach.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iactually “fell into IT”. After graduating from Cal State Long Beach, I thought I would go into banking. However, it was at a time when banking was not doing very well, and I had a difficult time finding a job. In an effort to generate some income I took the advice of a girlfriend to work for a temporary agency where she had worked in the past. My first assignment for the agency was a data entry position at Merisel, a global IT distributor. Honestly, I thought I was going to work in a warehouse, so I was surprised when I drove up to Merisel’s very nice office building. After a few weeks of work at Merisel I was hired permanently in the role I was doing as a temporary associate. Three months later I was promoted to assistant buyer; seven months after that, I was promoted to buyer; a year and a half later I was promoted to purchasing manager. The purchasing vice president I was working for at Merisel at the time went to work for Ingram Micro, where I was also recruited. Much like Merisel, at Ingram Micro I continued to learn, grow and was quickly promoted into various roles in the first five to seven years there. It was in the early days at Ingram Micro where I truly fell in love with the IT channel.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I’ve learned a lot about cross culture, cross border engagement and management as ATEN is a Taiwanese-based company with manufacturing and business in Taiwan, China and 16 other regions. What makes this interesting is at the end of 2018 ATEN, like other IT manufacturers, was impacted with tariffs imposed on Chinese imported goods. The team and I were in unchartered waters at the time. Do we raise pricing? What do we communicate to our partners and customers? Will tariffs increase in 2019? We addressed the situation as a team, talked through pros and cons for each scenario, made some timely decisions, put out channel wide communication and monitored our pricing and competitive landscape closely.
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?
The funniest mistake I made was not when I was first stared, but it is the one that sticks out in my career and still makes me chuckle at myself when I think about it. At Ingram Micro in my role as senior director of the components business unit, I was responsible for a community of partners. We would conduct business enablement events twice yearly and I was the main stage host for these three-day events. We had done preparation for the event at the venue and I felt good about being on the main stage for the first time in this kind of capacity. As I’m moving through my first presentation, I realize the slides are not advancing. I motion in a queen-like wave to the audio-visual staff to forward the slides. The “voice of god” as it is known comes on and says, “Holly, the presentation clicker is on the podium”. The entire audience laughed. I remember the heat rising to my face, but felt I needed to laugh it off myself and keep going. It was only the morning of day one!
For the event my team would prepare talking points/note cards in between presentations and main stage guests. They would also prepare housekeeping note cards, which I was to read in the course of the day’s agenda. At the end of day one I read the housekeeping card which outlined where the team was to meet for the evening event. The note card said we all should meet in the “porte-cochere”. As I started to read this, I realized I did not know how to say the word. I tried to pronounce it (clearly did not say it right) and then said out loud into the live mic, “Who talks like that?”. The audience busted out in laughter again.
That evening I had several partners, team members and colleagues approach me and tell me how much they appreciated that I was down to earth and not a stuffy executive.
I learned it was okay to be me. I also learned to do more preparation and read all the note cards in advance to make sure I can pronounce works and names correctly. You can never prepare too much for an event like that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes ATEN Technology stand out is its history and passion for technology and depth of R&D and manufacturing. ATEN Technology performs all its own R&D and manufacturing and its facilities are state-of-the-art and very impressive. I’ve traveled to Taiwan a few times and have had the pleasure of seeing our operations. I’ve often said in the two years I have been at ATEN Technology; ATEN is the best kept secret in the U.S. IT channel.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In the past two years ATEN Technology has been very focused on lifting the secrecy veil within the channel about ATEN, its products, solutions and the opportunity which exists by working with and selling ATEN. Our continued goal is to show up within the channel in a way which partners and customers will recognize the sizable value we bring to the IT industry. This will continue to be our focus.
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 believe strides have been made in the past 10 years, but there is more work to be done in my view. While at Ingram Micro I was asked to be on the Board of Directors supporting the local Girl Scouts. It was there that I realized it is at a much earlier age where positive influences surrounding STEM and STEM careers can be most impactful. From this I believe there should be more focus and support for young girls. I also believe that women need to provide more support to each other as we work day-to-day to promote diversity within STEM industries.
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?
In my opinion one of the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that our male counterparts don’t face is a lack of comradery and support among women themselves.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the main myths that jumps to the front of my mind: you must figure out “how to fit in with the boys”. In my early years within tech I drank a lot of beer, learned to love oysters and hung out with the boys in order to fit in and be respected as a leader after one executive suggested perhaps the challenges I was having with my male team members was because I was a woman. I’ve since learned I need to be true to myself and work with those who will respect me for who I am and the work I do.
Another myth is related to feeling like as a woman we need to be able to “do it all” or that “we can have it all” at work and at home; as a wife and mother. While I believe woman are amazing, have unique skills to multi-task successfully and to get more done than our male counterparts, we cannot have it all. We must make hard decisions and we must prioritize what is important to us.
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.)
- Being a good leader is a journey, a lifelong learning process. Each time I have taken on a new role or new team I learn from the experience and my team and recognize these experiences continue to shape me as a leader.
- Don’t be afraid to take a seat at the table and speak up with your ideas. As a new executive, I’d sit off to the side or in the second row thinking I was not experienced enough to warrant sitting at the “table”. I’d also wait for someone to call on me in order to speak. I received feedback from a mentor who helped me realize I had valuable input and experiences which is why I was put in a leadership role in the first place. I’ve also learned you need to proactively tell people what you are doing and the results you are delivering. Results themselves will not fully speak for you.
- Recognizing I did not need to have every answer and I should surround myself with team members who had strengths I did not. I learned this through the many projects I have been on in my career. You can always gain more when you have diversity in thought and experiences.
- Consciously learn from every failure. No one is perfect and you will fail. The key is to recognize this quickly, course correct and learn from it. I have several stories I could share here from a bad hiring decision to making time investments in projects which did not yield results.
- It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate. I’ve learned over the years my team does not always know as much as I think they do and that it is very valuable to hear from and see leadership often. Letting others know what is going on, the direction the organization is taking, any critical changes and addressing rumors will drive cooperation, more teamwork and focus within your organization.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Understand each team member’s strengths and make sure they are in a role in which the team will benefit from these strengths. Build trust within the team and align them to the common goals of the organization. Lastly, it’s important to make sure you are communicating how the team is performing to its goals.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Be accessible to your team and communicate often and consistently to your team about goals, objectives and performance.
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?
There are many people who have helped me over the years, but there is one person who will always come to the forefront of my mind, Jodi Honore. I worked in Jodi’s organization when I was at Merisel and I had the good fortune to travel with her on occasion. In those early years of my career and on several business trips she would give me unsolicited and direct feedback on what I was doing well and where I could improve. I was smart enough at the time to realize what a benefit this was for me; after all she was a successful executive with a very good reputation within our organization as well as the external partners. I’m not sure what had her drawn to me at the time, but she became my unofficial mentor then and remained so for 20 years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the best parts of the executive/leadership positions I have held over the years is that I have become informal and formal mentors for many men and women. I have openly shared my experiences, good and bad, what I learned and how they shaped me. I have two nieces pursuing STEM college degrees and I spend time with them and their friends to help them persevere within their fields. My sister is a high school teacher in an impoverished suburb of Los Angeles; in my view she brings goodness to the world in her role every day and she has invited me to speak with her students over the years. During this time, I very candidly talk about my failures and my successes in hopes of allowing her students to see the great possibilities in the world and those specifically within STEM and tech. I was not a stellar student when I was in high school and now as an adult regret this. In my talks with students I ask them to, “dream big and live without regret”.
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. 🙂
Gratitude; redirect negative thoughts and actions to being more grateful.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Live without regret. We all make decisions every day; big ones, small ones. I’ve learned you can’t dwell on the decisions you’ve made, but you can learn from them. This has been very relevant in my personal and professional lives.
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 🙂
Doris Kearns Goodwin. I come from a family who loves American history. My dad, sister, brother and I read many books within this genre and we’ve all read “Team of Rivals”, which we loved. In addition to enjoying her books I also heard her speak at my daughter’s college graduation several years ago and remember being very impressed with her commencement speech and experience within United States presidential history. Ms. Goodwin will be speaking in early 2020 at an event in NYC, along with other former U.S. presidents. As a fan I am very excited to see this and purchased tickets for my son and his girlfriend, who live in NYC, to attend the event.