Meet The Women of STEM: “Trust your passion and demand compassion from yourself and others.” with Vanessa Ogle and Fotis Georgiadis

Trust your passion and demand compassion from yourself and others. Listen to and trust in your heart to pick a direction, and then lead your team with that passion and compassion. For me, it is quite a transformation from having been labeled a “geek” and a “nerd” as a bad thing, to celebrating it with […]

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Trust your passion and demand compassion from yourself and others. Listen to and trust in your heart to pick a direction, and then lead your team with that passion and compassion. For me, it is quite a transformation from having been labeled a “geek” and a “nerd” as a bad thing, to celebrating it with more than 60 patents, to having those inventions entertaining guests and protecting women and children across the country.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Ogle, the founder and CEO of Enseo® — one of the fastest growing companies in America providing technology services to people places including hotels and schools. Vanessa is an executive expert and leader in digital entertainment, connected technology, digital safety and privacy, as well as a vocal advocate for digital accessibility in the education sector and other public places. She is a passionate innovator who has revolutionized industries with endeavors like being the first to bring Netflix® to hotel rooms and developing an employee safety system to protect hotel workers — which she then expanded further into schools. She currently holds 38 US patents to her name alone. Vanessa has been widely recognized for her outstanding leadership and contributions to technology by organizations including Tech Titans, Dallas Business Journal and Women President’s Organization, and has been featured on Bloomberg Radio, Fox Business and Yahoo Finance for her inventive, solution-based technologies. Under Vanessa’s leadership, Enseo has also earned acknowledgement as a company, having been named multiple times on the Inc. 5000, and ranked by Entrepreneur magazine as one of the Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America.

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 was born into a family of inventors and entrepreneurs, so perhaps I was destined to find my own path in the business world. I made a living of creating technology for other people’s companies until one pivotal moment and support from a fellow woman in business.

When Enseo was much smaller than we are today, the CIO of a hotel chain heard about our technology and decided to take a chance: She allowed me a meeting! I ran with the opportunity, and she was thoroughly impressed by what we could do. Instead of keeping this information to herself, she invited me to meet another member of the senior executive team. Then another, and another.

From here on, each person I was introduced to at the company was impressed by the technology, but they didn’t quite believe it was possible. They each said, “You can’t do that.”

While in another meeting with another senior executive, one more person entered the room. After my presentation, he was the first to say, “You can’t do that.” I was finally fed up. I turned to this new arrival and said, “No, I can do this, but here perhaps you can’t. If you want help with this, let me know.” He smiled a great smile, turned, and left the way he came. The man I was meeting with said, “Well… That was my boss. The President.”

That company became our biggest customer.

A woman opened the door me, and people with an open mind trusted another woman, me, to deliver. We did just that. Now 84 Million guests have used Enseo in just the last 12 months. I get pictures of my remote from hotel rooms around the world almost every day, as my family and friends are happy to see a familiar face in their hotel rooms.

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

As an entrepreneurial founder & CEO, I’m used to doing things the way I want to and need to for the company to grow. Sometimes, that means approaching your board when you’re pregnant for the first time and telling them, “We need to build a nursery, because I don’t want to stop doing what I’m doing.” Other times, well…

Two days after having my second daughter, we had a big meeting with a very large technology company lined up. Twelve men had traveled all the way from Japan to meet with us in person. The morning of the meeting, I got a panicked call from the office: The Vice President of Sales, who was supposed to handle the meeting, was all the way in South Dakota. He hadn’t come in like he was supposed to. With no other choice, I called the nanny and we loaded up the car and my 2-day-old newborn, and we went to the office to have the meeting. When I entered the room, she was in a little pouch on my chest.

This particular meeting was very, very structured. When I told them, “We have to change the agenda for the day. We may have to take some unplanned breaks because I have a new boss,” I knew I was going against their expectations. Most of the people present had worked with me for years and knew that I do things a little differently, but one of them was new. This man wasn’t happy.

He was angry, in fact. He said, “I don’t understand. I thought you were the boss. I am only going to meet with the boss!” I said, “Yes, I am the boss of Enseo, but I have a new boss,” and I pulled the pouch down to reveal a tiny baby head. The room gasped in disbelief! And then he said, “I still don’t understand why you need to leave the room.”

I tried explaining to him, “She’s going to get hungry, and I’m going to have to feed her.” “Someone else can do that,” he insisted. I smiled, and tried again, and said, “No… She’s the baby; I am the food.” He got it that time. He bowed so fast in apology that he hit his forehead on the table, and he had a red mark for the rest of the meeting!

As women in business, sometimes we have to break the rules, sometimes we have to write new ones, and we can’t be afraid to do it when needed.

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 WIN in technology is not the first to market. That can be a critical mistake. The most expensive mistake I ever made was creating the perfect technology for hotels that allowed cable companies to take their solution directly into a hotel room. It was brilliant! It worked, it was cheap, it was certified… and it had NETFLIX as well as cosmically fast bandwidth! And, no one was ready for it.

Technology that is too early is no better for the business as technology that is too late. The timing of technology has to be on the Goldilocks Schedule. Not too early, not too late — just right.

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

Hire great people and let them do their work. Create an environment where they have fun working together.

We have a band at Enseo made up of all employees, GEM. A real band — performances and everything. People from all areas of our organization get together and make music. We have a blast, and it is the great equalizer. I don’t know how many times the band has called me out for missing a line on a song or playing the wrong chord. My Chief Cultural Officer once looked at me at rehearsal and doubled over laughing saying, “You. Are. SO. Bad!” But at the end of the day, after fierce rehearsals and so much fun, we make music, make friends, and entertain ourselves and others.

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

I am currently launching the most exciting project of my career. MadeSafe is a technology that protects our most precious resources — our children. MadeSafe’s patented geolocation algorithm and cloud-based alerting system allows a teacher or student to press a button and be immediately located in a school.

In any emergency, be it an active shooter or a medical issue, first responders need one thing to save lives: information. MadeSafe delivers this in any age and any size school, regardless of the age or quality of the network. We have already deployed MadeSafe in hotels across the country to help protect housekeepers on the job, and now we are deploying it to K-12 schools.

I have been personally investing in this project for five years. It is now the right time to launch in order to keep housekeepers safe at their jobs as well as teachers and students safe in classrooms. The wellbeing of the country’s children is a critical matter for all of us.

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

Trust your passion and demand compassion from yourself and others. Listen to and trust in your heart to pick a direction, and then lead your team with that passion and compassion. For me, it is quite a transformation from having been labeled a “geek” and a “nerd” as a bad thing, to celebrating it with more than 60 patents, to having those inventions entertaining guests and protecting women and children across the country.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I had to recognize I was a leader worthy of following before I could actually lead. I choose to lead with transparency on mission and direction. The secret to my team today is brilliant talent who love to manage people. I set the direction and let them run their teams. I also host company meetings where I speak to the whole team and then have monthly coffee with any employee who wants to sit and join me (none of my direct reports allowed). That way, the door is always open, without politics, to great ideas, and we celebrate failure at all levels. Once we find an area of failure, it is an area to improve on and become exceptional.

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?

My children have made Enseo what is it today. I could not have grown Enseo for the last two decades without them. My daughters have traveled with me around the world. While I was closing business, my children were playing in the world’s most beautiful parks and enjoying the best museums and aquariums the world has to offer (with me sneaking out for lunch, a hug, or a snuggle).

Then school started, and their world changed abruptly.

That first year of kindergarten, we had a conference that landed on a three-day weekend. My daughters celebrated being able to join me and insisted on having their own business cards. I grinned and asked what they thought their cards should read. Tears of joy filled my eyes as my precocious 5-year-old explained of course their cards should also read CEO, because that was my title and “You couldn’t do it without us, Mama”. I told the story to the team organizing the conference I was attending. The next morning, they had badges at the conference check in table that read CEO… Chief Executive Offspring. As a Mom and a CEO that is the biggest win of all. They knew I could not do it without them that my job was indeed “our job”.

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

“To think, to do, to care” is our credo here at Enseo. We have created technology that helps save the earth and energy through IoT devices, and helps the world be a safer place for our students, teachers, and housekeepers with MadeSafe panic buttons and alert systems. But the real goodness we bring to the world is in educating and encouraging our children. These could be the hundreds of young people who have been interned at Enseo throughout the years, children who are encouraged to participate in STEM projects through the Robotics Teams we sponsor, the children who have school supplies and coats because Enseo charity initiatives, or the 200+ students of Enseo employees who have had their education paid for as part of our higher learning incentives.

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

1. Entrepreneurial Intuition: Listen and trust your heart. I cannot count how many times people told me my ideas were crazy. Now I have a wall full of US patents, and they are paying dividends to me, my team, and our customers.

2. Wisdom: Find people smarter than you to advise you. My advisors are women and men who have led successful careers, overcome incredible obstacles, and have more intellectual horsepower than I could even comprehend. Find them, beg them to share with you, and share with vulnerability, and then listen to their wisdom.

3. Lead with compassion. I think my hardest lesson to learn was that I was leading my team on purpose, not by accident. Once I stopped trying to convince people I was good enough for the job, I listened better and with more compassion.

4. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. If I have done my job of creating the best team possible, I need to let them do their work. If I provide direction, they will choose the best path.

5. Fail Fast. Celebrate innovation which inherently means failing fast to get to the right answer.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

Be authentic mothers, sisters, and partners. I choose to have children. My girls came to the office with me every day until they went to school.

A movement I would like to inspire is to be courageously authentic.

Many of us started our careers and behaved like men to get our foot in the door. Now that we are in the door, we should be ourselves. As a mother, I put my children first. I read Harry Potter to my youngest’s classroom every Thursday morning, Enseo’s VP of Program Management leaves to take her daughter to dance, our CFO takes the late afternoons to take her children to cheer them on at soccer practices, and our in-house Council makes sure she has lunch at her children’s school every Friday. We are mothers first, and that makes us not just good at our jobs, it makes us GREAT at our jobs. It also allows us to leave the most valuable possible legacy… children who are loved, who grow up to be valuable members of society, who know they too, like their mamas, can be anything they want to be.

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

Don’t be afraid to break the rules, but when it is time to break the rules, do it mindfully.

Just after 9/11, I took a day trip without my daughters. I was still nursing them at the time. I chose to smuggle breast milk in my bra through security. It was a risk… but liquid gold could not be poured down the drain! I have spoken recently about breaking unspoken rules at large corporations without knowing it. I wish I had access to a course of big company politics and how not to break the rules, or at least to know there are rules I was choosing to break. It would have made the customer relationship much easier to understand.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 would love to have lunch with Melinda Gates. I read a great article recently in which Bill Gates said he always does the dishes. Other people offer, he just likes the way he does them better. My husband does the same thing. I would love to get Melinda Gates’ opinion on how to best improve our children’s wellbeing in schools here in the US. My product is just the right technology, it must be paired with policies and procedures that complete the picture.

Thank you for joining us!

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