Team Environment. Another important aspect in creating a successful tech company is the environment. In a lot of tech companies, and especially today, because of COVID we are so far removed from one another because we work from home. We need to make sure that we find that right balance between having limited contact and personal contact, so that people feel like they are still part of a team.
Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Glory Dolphin Hammes, Chief Executive Officer of IQAir North America, where she leads the company’s mission to ensure that everyone has access to breathe clean air. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, Ms. Hammes began her tenure at IQAir as one of the youngest CEOs in North America. Under her invaluable guidance, IQAir has become the gold-standard in air quality.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ofcourse! Thanks for having me Doug. I’ve always had a passion for the environment. I grew up in Santa Monica, and as a young girl, I would participate in beach clean-ups often, and that’s where my appreciation and respect for the environment began. Even as a youngster, I also knew that I wanted to be in the business field. My current role as CEO of IQAir North America is the perfect combination of being in a business, but also at the same time, embracing environmental protection.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There’s been so much that’s happened, but the one event that I haven’t been able to forget, happened after we had opened our new IQAir Clean Air Experience Center in Southern California in 2014. We had this random man enter the center who appeared to be on drugs. Once you walk in, you’re in a very large lobby with light shining in, and the light had created a circle on the floor. This man thought it was the Circle of Life! He felt positive energy coming from the light, and the next thing we know, he was fully undressed, chain-smoking — completely interrupting the clean air experience! We of course asked him to leave, but we had to call the police to escort him out. Wow, I’m laughing just thinking about it because it’s something you don’t expect to ever happen! But it was a good lesson in deescalating a situation.
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?
I probably am way too serious about this. I don’t know that I would say a mistake is funny because I don’t like making mistakes, but I think the biggest mistake I’ve made is underestimating processes and how much they need to be simplified. I had created a 13-step process that was reduced by someone else to just 3-steps! We are complex thinkers, but the biggest lesson I had to apply was to simplify things down to the least number of steps and to eliminate unnecessary steps or actions. This allows processes to be more easily replicated by others.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Thehardest times I’ve faced on my journey are when people haven’t supported me as a leader. It’s difficult when others don’t believe in me or my vision, or they have a different vision than mine. But when I was in those situations, I never considered giving up. I come from a sports background, so we don’t really believe in those words: “I give up.” That’s never a consideration for me. So, when things get hard, I am always internalizing and reflecting within myself on what I could do better.
I’ve been on this air quality journey for 20 years. I know that over this time frame, I’ve had to change a lot. I’ve had to change not to what I want to be, or what I want to become, but I had to change to what IQAir needs from me at that point and time. So, if I don’t change, IQAir doesn’t get what it needs. I know that’s why I’m here. I believe in principled leadership. And I’m a driven and selfless person, so IQAir has been able to succeed because I’ve known when and how to change to ensure the company’s best interest is taken care of.
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 wholeheartedly agree with you. None of us can achieve success without help from others. I’ve been extremely blessed and privileged in life to be surrounded by supportive parents and mentors who have accomplished extraordinary feats.
My dad and my mom have supported every single thing I said that I wanted to do. My dad is a very well-educated man who is so enthusiastic and passionate about life and was always a big cheerleader in my life. I think it’s underestimated the role this can play in a child’s life. Because when you have a dad who says, “Hey, you can do that,” and is encouraging all your goals, you really do think anything is possible. It’s interesting because my brother and I were actually talking about this same thing and he shared the same story, “We just have this dad with a can-do spirit.”
Like I mentioned earlier, I come from a sports background and I’ve been so blessed because I’ve had national champions, world champions, and Olympic champions as coaches in different sports. I had the privilege of having high-quality people mentor me for years and it’s been influential in cultivating how driven I am and how I handle tough situations. I’m grateful towards Elaine Roque, World Champion, who coached me in beach volleyball, Tommy Smith, Olympic Champion and World Record Holder, who coached me for track and field, and my training partner, Heike Drechsler, Olympic Champion and world record holder.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am such a quote person. I have so many good ones that inspire me. I actually just sent my oldest son a few of my favorite quotes the other day.
“The person who has no goal, automatically works towards the goal of others” — German saying.
- “Trusting in yourself is the first secret to success” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “For wonders, a man must pray. For change, a man must work” — Saint Thomas Aquinas
For me, these quotes touch upon the importance of hard work, and I’ve never shied away from hard work. I learned this from my mother. I turn to these quotes when I’m reflecting on what’s next for IQAir and how I can help lead the company in the right direction.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Our goal at IQAir is to educate people on air quality. Air quality is a global issue, and yet there are so many places around the world that lack access to air quality data. Our job through our partnership with UNEP and other organizations is to bring awareness to these issues, and to increase air quality monitoring stations around the world.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
IQAir stands out in the air quality space because we are science and performance based. We heavily invest in R & D and have in-house design, engineering and manufacturing.
When the world is facing serious and critical situations, that’s when people rely the most on us. For example, when SARS quickly spread in Asia in 2003, the government sought out our expertise in air cleaning technology. After weeks of testing and installation of trial systems, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority selected to have our HealthPro Series installed in hospital rooms to help contain the outbreak.
We also worked closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Given the city’s high air pollution, we provided HealthPro Plus systems for the athletes’ rooms, and ensured large training areas had portable and HVAC-based air cleaning systems.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme comes to mind. We are working with UNEP to bring air quality monitoring to areas of the world that are really lacking access to this important data. Early in 2020, we launched our joint air quality map, and we look forward to working with them into the future on this extremely important issue. The most powerful way to fight for change is to be armed with the truth. Our goal is to provide everyone with access to their own air quality data so they can seek change.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I don’t think it’s even fair to say there is a status quo. Women have unique situations all the time, so it’s unfair to take a very wide paintbrush and try to create a storyline for women. We need to look at things on a more detailed, hyper-focused level and examine how we can adjust our language and attitude towards women.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
I think the biggest challenge faced by women, and not just women in tech, but in general, is our communication style. I find that we are too polite when we’re communicating. We tend to wait for people to finish what they’re saying because we’re seeking an opportunity with the exact amount of silence in between other people talking so we can share our ideas. We need to be bold. We have something valuable to contribute so be bold in communicating your ideas.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
As leaders, we have to focus on what is going on outside ourselves and focus on how we can create value for others. We know we’re doing a good job when we know how revered our products or services are for others. So then, the next question is “How do we be of service, how do we make something of value that people will love?”
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
This doesn’t necessarily apply to sales teams exclusively, but for high performing teams in general, it’s always good to keep teams somewhat small. I have found that teams that have 3 to 7 people are the optimal size. It’s also important to create an environment where folks feel safe enough to communicate. Especially when it comes to tech, since there are more introverts, you want to make sure people feel comfortable expressing their ideas and that they feel like they’re part of a team.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, but for IQAir specifically, our SEM strategy is key to attracting the right customers. We want to ensure that we’re found in relevant ads. People who are interested in air quality are taking the time to educate themselves on the different brands and products, so appearing in the correct searches is essential.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Two words, do something. This isn’t a strategy exactly, but if you’re having an issue with customer service, do something to find a solution. The first solution you think of, may not always be the best, but at least you are trying and eventually you’ll land on what works for you and your customers.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
I think that it’s paramount that customers are genuinely satisfied with your products and services. This is a hard question because we live in this age where you want to have this loyalty program, you want to do this, you want to do that, and I think sometimes you have to ask yourself, “Are we doing too much?” We need to stick to basics, and the basics are do you have something of value that people want, and if you focus on that, you can focus on being that satisfying product or service that people will tell their friends about.
We have found that our customers do become long-term because we offer them products that have the potential of changing their lives and their health for the better.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- What’s the point?
The main thought people need to focus on in order to achieve success is, “What’s the point?” You need to identify for yourself, “What is the reason,” “Why are we here,” “What is the meaning of life,” and bring that out in your company and in the conversations you have regarding your business, so that people are there with very specific purpose. I believe that human beings seek purpose in life. And when they’re choosing careers, they’re not just choosing a job that will pay them, but that will also serve their personal purpose. Companies tend to miss the overall purpose.
2. Team Environment
Another important aspect in creating a successful tech company is the environment. In a lot of tech companies, and especially today, because of COVID we are so far removed from one another because we work from home. We need to make sure that we find that right balance between having limited contact and personal contact, so that people feel like they are still part of a team.
This isn’t really said a lot, but peoples’ personalities are underestimated in tech. We usually focus on skillsets instead of the human aspect. And yes, we can have highly qualified people that are super smart with high IQs, but is that really the best role for them based on their personality? We don’t think about that sometimes.
4. DISC Profiling
This is probably going to be controversial, but I do think that DISC profiling matters and should be taken into consideration when building your teams. Everything begins with people. Your tech company can be as process oriented as possible, but without good people, nothing can happen, really. DISC profiling helps us to see if people are well matched for their roles. I once worked with an HR Manager that didn’t believe in DISC profiling, and the manager came to me with a candidate she was excited about. I looked at the candidate’s DISC profile and told her that we shouldn’t hire the person because I could already tell it wasn’t going to work. It was one of those situations where you have a very round hole and a very square peg. But the HR Manager had great conversations with the candidate, so I told her, “Okay, let’s move forward and see what happens.” She got the supervisor’s recommendation to hire based on the skillset, and sure enough, three weeks later the supervisor came to us and said, “This isn’t working.”
5. Differing skills
Usually, teams at tech companies are made up of super complex thinkers who are working on developing the latest technologies. And, while the innovators can help propel your business forward, you also need to ensure you’re hiring your consumer. This should be the person who can understand the technology on the simplest terms. The person who is thinking like your consumer in regard to a product or technology on the most basic, straightforward level. Having those people at your company can help balance out the complication of processes you establish, by showing you a simpler, easier way of doing things.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. 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. 🙂
IQAir is already answering this meaty question since our mission is to educate people on the importance of air quality. It’s an interconnected issue that affects us globally because if the air is poor in one part of the world, it will eventually travel elsewhere. We saw that with the wildfire smoke from the west coast in the summer of 2020. Smoke from these wildfires managed to travel to the east coast and beyond into Europe.
I believe that we are living through a very critical time on this planet, that we have some serious decisions to make about pollution and global warming. We are part of a very large scientific experiment that will probably almost be impossible to reverse. It’s extremely urgent that we stop this experiment and that we elevate the level of conversations so people can effectuate change. We can get that train on the right track again.
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 🙂
Oh my goodness, I’m such an introvert, that I’d love to be a fly on the wall at someone else’s lunch. There are a lot of people that I admire, but if I had to choose just one person, it would be Oprah Winfrey. Isn’t she amazing? She’s just one of those prolific and inspirational storytellers who knows how to connect with everyone. She’s especially important to me. Being a woman of color seeing another woman of color achieve so much in life, when she had so many obstacles stacked against her, is special.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!