Two words: Play and Pray. We all need time to play and relax, and we all need time to breathe deeply and center ourselves. What works for me may not work for anyone else. We pray as a family, play games, puzzles, softball, play music… anything to connect and stay entertained in a loving and healthy way.
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 women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Ogle.
Vanessa is a leader in connected technology, digital safety, security, and privacy. A passionate mother, wife, inventor, innovator, and musician she has revolutionized industries with endeavors like being the first to bring Netflix® to hotel rooms and developing an employee safety system to protect women and children in hotels and schools. She currently holds 38 U.S. patents.
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?
Iwas a geek before geeks were groovy. I carried a briefcase in middle school. I love finding solutions to problems and using technology blocks to craft solutions. It is a big girl version of Legos. When I was in my 20s and didn’t know any better, I founded Enseo and have led this team of incredibly talented and dedicated innovators for more than 20 years. We have also done this without any institutional investment, just the help of our customers, vendors, and bankers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Each day along the way, I just did what I thought I needed to do. Looking back, I see how much my daughters and I took the consumer electronics industry by surprise. I convinced one of the largest consumer electronic companies to allow us to develop a new solution (under their name) for the hospitality market. It didn’t matter that I had given birth on the Saturday evening before. The largest contract in our company’s history was hanging in the balance with a team of Japanese men overrunning my tiny board room on Monday morning. As usual, I was the only woman in the room; I also happened to be carrying a newborn in a pouch inside my jacket. The Japanese team usually came with Hello Kitty gifts for my tiny 3-year-old daughter, Sophia. Sophia walked into the room and said she had a new present for her Japanese friends… she motioned me down and pulled down the front edge of the pouch I was wearing under my jacket. When the tiny infant head was revealed, she introduced her baby sister as “Arianna-Chan.” You couldn’t have surprised the group of male executives more if there had been a cobra in the pouch.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I launched MadeSafe® as a communication and alert tool for our most vulnerable population…women and children (students and teachers in schools, and housekeepers in hotels). MadeSafe now takes on new context as we expand the MadeSafe offering into tracking “safe” associates on staff, as well as the sanitization of each hotel room or classroom.
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?
The last ten years would not have been possible without my co-CEOs (Chief Executive Offspring), Sophia and Arianna. They grew up at my office and were on the road with me until they started school. This COVID-19 pandemic is easier for us than others as we are back in our old routine of being together all day, every day. It is surprisingly comforting to be under the same roof, even while each of us is focused on our own independent tasks. My girls know our rule about my office which is: “there is always time for a hug and a kiss”, so the daily interruptions of dogs and children while on conference calls are something we are used to and look forward to. The title CEO came from my daughter who asked for her own business cards before one of our trips. When I asked her what she thought her title should be, her answer was “Mama, you always tell us you can’t do your job without us… so what is YOUR title?” The HTNG executives running the tradeshow were so enchanted by the story they surprised the girls with their own badges with red CEO ribbons at the bottom. The girls were so proud!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. 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 in STEM during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge we have battled through was being sick with an unknown VIRUS. All mothers have heard the doctor tell us that our kids have a virus. We know what to do with that. The physical aspects of this illness (for us at least) was moderate and not severe, yet being sick for weeks and weeks on end was not only exhausting… it was terrifying that any day one of us would take a turn for the worse. It was scary to look at my daughters with oxygen tubes sticking up their nose. My stepson, Patrick, is a senior in high school and has lost his freedom and friends, senior graduation, prom, and now a questionable start date for his college experience in the fall. My adult stepson, Jarret, is a policeman on the front lines every day and has a wedding planned for this summer we are now trying to make contingency plans for.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The real story here is how moms came together to beat the challenges. Patrick stayed at our home full-time, instead of the normal split schedule during our and his illness so he was not carrying COVID-19 between households. His mother, Robin, offered to help bring us food or anything we needed, thanked me for my care of her son, and she arranged for Patrick’s senior pictures to be taken in our yard so she could celebrate his achievements safely. I was not expecting one of our biggest supporters to be my husband’s ex-wife, but I should have known better. My other stepson (from my husband’s previous marriage) Jarret’s mom, Jennifer, called and texted me to make plans for her son’s wedding. Instead of shopping together, she sent me virtual dress pics and asked me to share a mother-son dance (with her biological son). Most women support each other. Motherhood was bigger than any other part of this virus and we were able to cooperate and support each other to put OUR children first.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
My company’s primary business is in the hospitality industry. We provide technology and services to people and places such as hotels and schools. This industry has been devastated and so has our business. I have a team that has been curated for over 20 years and I have the best of the best. I have now had to send them home on furlough when we need them the most. It is heartbreaking, personally, and without the furlough and other cost-cutting measures, it would have plunged the business from an all-time high revenue and profit into deep losses.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The immediate crisis for my team that was furloughed was addressed by applying for and receiving a PPP loan. We brought our entire team back and have them working on the solution… how do we differentiate our products and services for hospitality into products and services that will help manage the sanitization and health of the hotel as well as communicate that both to associates and guests? How do we expand our markets into education, senior living, and others while we are working on recovery? We have some new product offerings that we will be announcing in the quarters to come. I am confident that this will help us accelerate out of this.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Well, the most important tool for home harmony is the group family text to ask for network priority from the rest of the family (i.e. I have an important conference call and the picture looks awful…everyone pause NETFLIX!). I have been working with my children in the same space since they were born. We have it down to an art form. It has only been since kindergarten that we are not in the same space… and we all miss it. We have a high-functioning family in these circumstances because everyone knows their job. Our children want to help. My girls are clear that their job is their schooling and they understand that the adults’ jobs allow for our home and other needs to be met. I have changed my appointment schedule during the day to allow for tutoring time, or just to check on their progress… but they are really doing a great job staying on task.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Two words: Play and Pray. We all need time to play and relax, and we all need time to breathe deeply and center ourselves. What works for me may not work for anyone else. We pray as a family, play games, puzzles, softball, play music… anything to connect and stay entertained in a loving and healthy way. My husband and I have ramped up our songwriting. I have been writing and reading almost every day. We also allow for alone time. Some of us need it more than others, but everyone is really respectful of a request to get a time-out. Recently, I have agreed to allow my daughters to each have their own bedroom for the first time ever. With this 24/7 containment, they each need a bit more me-time, and we are going to shuffle the house around to make that work. I also have to give a big shout-out to telemedicine. The ability to have professionals who are progressive enough to adopt remote appointments has been a lifesaver on our physical and mental states. I am a bit worried I will need a 12-step program for my Amazon addiction. I have been buying everything from garden planters to groceries.
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.
Scientists are working together around the globe, around the clock to find a scientific solution to our crisis. This cooperation is moving the needle (literally and figuratively) faster than ever before. We can have real hope that a scientific answer is coming soon. We have never before seen collaboration before fame rise to such great levels.
In my lifetime, trial and tribulation will bring out the best in some of us…9/11, the Great Recession. Across the country (and the world), we see courage in doctors, nurses, medical students, retired medical professionals charging back into work in the world’s most aggressive and dangerous conflict. That is courage. This is the courage that will help us to survive and return to thrive.
3. Investment acceleration
The best predictor of the future is the past. We have overcome major virus pandemics before, we can do it again. Think polio, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, and HIV. We will find curative and preventative solutions. There is more money being poured into investments to solve this medical science issue than perhaps any issue ever before. We will see science with a big win here… GO, GEEKS!
4. Priorities shifted makes for a better world
I will never forget sitting in the pediatrician’s office and watching a woman with her young 2-year-old. The mother had tears streaming down her face. I asked if she was okay, and her response changed my life. She told me a story of how her first child died of infant leukemia, and her older child (who was playing in front of us) was having her 2nd birthday that very day. She had lived in fear that this child would also succumb to the same illness. She told me with tears streaming down her face how her greatest regret in life was refusing to have a tea party with her late-daughter because she was unloading the dishwasher. That moment changed my life and carved my own motto with my children, which is: “There is always time for a hug and a kiss.” This includes board meetings, customer meetings, and quarterly reports. My children come first. If people in our world today see people disappear from their orbit and can truly cherish those around them in a new and more profound way, that can be a win for the next generation.
5. Mother Earth is getting a facial
Many of us could use a haircut, shave, or a fresh coat of nail polish, but the earth is getting a beautiful makeover. Perhaps we should look at this and understand what had the biggest impact and put some pressure not just on the virus, but on the environment as well.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The most important thing to remember is that everyone is experiencing trauma right now. Some people will handle this well, and others will handle it badly. Our children are not equipped to handle this by themselves. My best advice is to listen to your family and loved ones, realize that their fears are real to them (even if you don’t agree), and offer them grace and understanding. Things that may seem insignificant to you such as missing friends, school, or a party when you are dealing with paying the rent or laying off a valued team member, it is as real to them as our issues are to us. Perhaps even more so as these events are molding their lives. I also believe it is crucial to appropriately be authentic with our fears. It is not appropriate for me to put my terror of losing the team or my children, but it IS appropriate and necessary for my children to see that I am sad, I am scared, and while I know we will get through this, feeling is not weak, it is necessary and courageous. If you are feeling overwhelmed, do what helps you get centered… a bath, yoga, a walk, breathing, whatever it is, find it, and give yourself a timeout until you can come back together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote this week is from The Princess Bride: “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” We are all learning that the things we believed to be inconceivable are here right in front of our eyes. It clearly did not mean what we thought it meant. So, we need to gather our courage and “have fun storming the castle.” We need to focus on planning the return to thriving… we can do it if we work together.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!