Lynn Smullen, Division Vice President, Verizon Partner Solutions
Keri Gilder, Chief Executive Officer, Colt Technology Services
I’m honored to interview one of the most innovative and insightful leaders in our industry, Keri Gilder, CEO of Colt. Keri was recently appointed to CEO in May 2020 amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she was the chief commercial officer for Colt and has also held multiple executive leadership positions throughout the technology industry including Ciena, Lucent, and Hughes Aircraft. Keri was recently appointed to chair of TM Forum’s Diversity and Inclusion Council where she extends her passion for inclusion and diversity across the ICT sector and also challenges all to be our authentic selves.
Lynn Smullen: What opportunity (or threat) in our industry intrigues you the most and why?
Keri Gilder: This past year has seen both opportunities and threats present themselves. They have the potential to define the future of our sector for years to come. In terms of opportunities, the telecommunications industry was vital in keeping global societies and economies up and running even when the world as we knew it ground to a halt. This was no easy feat; however, with the power of the digital ecosystem, our sector was able to take networks that mainly used to be operated from big, shiny buildings and shift them to support the remote working environment. This rapid transformation, while mostly successful, also led to greater threats, such as securing this new networking profile. For now, though, what intrigues and interests me is taking the lessons we were all forced to learn last year and use them to optimize our organization in order to help our customers deliver for the year ahead.
How has the pandemic impacted Colt’s strategic priorities?
The pandemic definitely led Colt to reevaluate our strategy and focus areas for the years ahead. Late last year, I announced our new three-year strategy, which takes what has always been in our DNA as a business and builds on it to ensure Colt will remain agile enough to support our customers and partners as they move into the future. One thing to come out of this last year is that the small-to-medium enterprise is never going to look the same. We will have to rethink the infrastructure part of our business. We know this makes the edge increasingly important, and technologies such as 5G will also have a role to play in the new networking landscape. Where we once connected large buildings in metros, this is no longer the case with workforces becoming more disparate than ever – so we need to plan for this accordingly. We also know SD-WAN will play a huge role in this new network profile moving forward, as will optimizing our customer experience and our foundations for future sustainability. As a business, now more than ever, we need to be thinking about the future – not just networking – but also the profile of our business from an environmental standpoint.
What advice do you have for women and minorities looking to advance to C-level positions in our industry and what are some of the best practices Colt has in place to encourage diversity and inclusion in leadership?
For me, sponsorship and mentorship have been critical throughout my career. Having people in your corner for advice and also for advocacy is vital if you’re hoping to take on a C-level position, and it’s even more important for those who are minorities in the workforce. From a Colt perspective, we have been focusing heavily on inclusion and diversity, not only because fundamentally it’s the right thing to do but also because we know our business will grow faster because of it. As an organization, 50% of our executive leadership team is female, which is something we are incredibly proud of. Still, I know there is more we can do to make our organization truly diverse, and it’s something we are steadfastly focused on.
To what do you attribute your success as a leader?
One thing that I believe is critical if you are going to be a successful leader is listening. I think it’s a vital skill that some of us take for granted, and that some of us actually don’t do actively. Since becoming CEO of Colt, what I’ve recognized is how important it is to actively listen, and make sure that I’m hearing what’s happening within the organization, within our customers’ businesses, within our partners, and then being able to take that information, analyze it, and drive action against it.
What’s different about your day-to-day life during COVID-19? And do you have any new personal goals as a result?
Like everyone, my working day looks different from before COVID-19, mainly because I am now working solely from home and business travel has ceased completely. However, in terms of my schedule, it hasn’t slowed down. This new environment has meant that I have had to fully plan out my day, including finding time to exercise, watch TV with my husband, and take 15-minute pauses a few times a day for some fresh air and a walk around the block. This has led me to think more about how I have had to prioritize my mental health in this new environment, and therefore this is something that needs to be front of mind for me as a leader, in the sense that how am I helping our people do the same? This past year has seen everyone’s lives change, so organizations now need to put their employees’ wellbeing at the center of their plans for this coming year and this is something that I am personally very passionate about.
Why is PTC important to Colt?
The PTC Annual Conference has always marked the beginning of the new year in many ways. It’s always been an amazing event that sets the agenda for the months to come. Unfortunately, we’re not able to meet in beautiful Hawaii this year; however, I’m still excited to virtually tune in to hear our industry’s leaders discuss what they see coming in 2021 and how we as a sector can continue to transform.