Featuring Shannon-Leigh Sandry, Marketing Director – Consumer Product Management, Hawaiian Telcom
ISE magazine: What did your college career look like? Was technology an original passion for you or did it develop over time?
Shannon-Leigh Sandry: I never considered myself technical, and couldn’t decide what I wanted to do post college, so I opted for a general major in Business Communications. I was fortunate to have excellent opportunities and great mentors who forged the way for me, and showed me that women could excel in the technological world even if it was predominantly male-led.
ISE: What was your first job in the telecommunications industry?
Sandry: My very first job in telecommunications was as a Customer Service and Sales Representative for Hawaiian Tel back in 1990. I learned something new every day, which helped me build a strong foundation and allowed me to move on and up within the organization. Over time, I moved laterally which gave me
more depth in different facets of the business, and made me more marketable as I moved up in the company.
ISE: What’s the biggest telecom headache that wakes you up at night?
Sandry: I try not to look at challenges negatively. Instead I look at them as opportunities to excel and obstacles to overcome. If there’s one thing I wish I had more of it would be capital funds to bring high-speed broadband to everyone, everywhere! It hurts me every time I have to tell someone it isn’t available in their area/address.
ISE: What’s the most exciting thing about being in our industry?
Sandry: Change. Everything is so dynamic. The one thing that is constant is change! Over the years I’ve had to learn to be flexible. Roll with the punches and adapt the plan based on the current state, even if it was different from the initial plan.
Previously there was a monopoly in the video market in Hawaii. I’m glad to have been part of history bringing an alternative in video to the Consumers and Businesses in the State of Hawaii.
ISE: Who has influenced you the most in your journey so far?
Sandry: I’d be remiss not to say God and my parents, first and foremost. My Mom and Dad were hard workers raised in families who had nothing. My immigrant maternal grandparents migrated from the Philippines to make a life for my Mom and her 11 siblings on the sugar plantation here. My paternal grandparents were cooks and kitchen help in Montana where my Dad was raised. Later they opened their own restaurant. These humble beginnings taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance, developing the work ethic I have today. My older brothers and sister also taught me a lot along the way.
Additionally, I’ve been blessed with great mentors through the years who believed in me and saw a potential in me I never saw. They gave me opportunities to learn, train, and soar. Most have since retired or passed on… Gone but never forgotten!
In more recent years our former CEO, Eric Yeaman, persuaded me to move from our Call Center to Marketing. Initially I laughed, thinking he was joking. After realizing he was serious, I said a prayer and then agreed reluctantly. At that time, I could not see the potential he saw in me. My former CMO, Brad Fisher, molded me and encouraged me to think beyond my boundaries. With his guidance, I had enough confidence in myself to roll up my sleeves and collaborate or even go head-to-head if necessary with my male counterparts in the technical arena.
I still remember my Mom, who retired as a Buyer, telling me, “You can do it. All it takes is common sense.” I’ve also had the support of so many friends I consider family. Too many for me to list, but they know who they are. If they worked with me, I can almost guarantee they inspire/d me in some way!
ISE: What good business book do you recommend for those hoping to follow in your shoes?
Sandry: There are several I’d recommend:
Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Although one may think this is an outdated book written in 1998, the concepts of anticipating change, adapting quickly, and enjoying change still hold true especially in the world of Technology.
Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey encourages the use of 4 key principles (security, guidance, wisdom, and power) in both personal and professional lives as through personal and interpersonal effectiveness and managerial and organizational development.
Leading from the Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women by Courtney Lynch and Angie Morgan is another good book written by women.
ISE: What helps cultivate your creative side at work?
Sandry: The thought of finding solutions to help others stimulates my creativity and excites me the most. A good cup of my favorite tea helps physically, but the rewarding feeling I get when I see a happy customer drives me more! Helping to bring creative concepts to life is exciting in itself, especially when I’m fortunate to do it with great people who share my passion.
ISE: What is the most important skill for today’s telecom professional?
Sandry: Communication and the ability to work with others are key attributes in good leaders. As with
life in general, it’s all about building relationships. There’s just so much info out there that no one person can know it all. You have to know who you can rely on, work with, and learn from.
Keeping up with technology and the vast information that’s available can be challenging. It’s critical to use that technology to keep you apprised and to allow you to be more efficient and effective.
The most effective communicators make the best negotiators and collaborators because they close the deals without others realizing there was a compromise. Both negotiation and collaboration are necessary in business today.
ISE: What’s the most recent “continuing education” area that you recommend to other aspiring STEM professionals? Share where/how they can take such a course or class?
Sandry: There are so many wonderful opportunities for women in general, thanks to folks like Patsy Mink, affectionately known as the Mother of Title IX, which was an Education Amendment of 1972. It was later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, after her death in 2002. She was the first Asian American woman and woman of color to serve on the United States Congress. She battled gender discrimination and racism from the very start but she never gave up.
It’s through such efforts like Patsy Mink’s that helped promote women and their rights, which have transferred into educational and business opportunities. Through the collaboration and partnerships between schools, government, and corporations there are countless educational and internship programs for women in STEM.
Specifically here in Hawaii there are things like Robotics Hawaii, High School STEMworks, Hawaii STEM Conference, Tech Career Days, etc. So many wonderful things bringing industries together like Technology and Agriculture to create new opportunities and careers that weren’t available previously.
Such an exciting time for women and technology and I’m so proud to be able to take part in it!
ISE: Share a time that you professionally “stretched” and how it turned out to be absolutely the right way to approach your future.
Sandry: In 2004 Verizon sold the Hawaii operation known then as Verizon Hawaii to Hawaiian Telcom, a “locally owned, stand-alone” telecommunications company. We had just about a year to cutover all processes and systems, which was a huge undertaking — one which involved months of planning. Countless hours and resources were dedicated to this ginormous exercise because we had to replace almost all of our fully automated systems.
Unfortunately things didn’t go over as smoothly as we had hoped. On April 1, 2005, we had hundreds of customer calls on hold. I remember working around the clock, 7 days straight. On Day 3 my sister had to bring my 1-year old daughter to our lobby so I could see her for a few minutes. I cried my eyes out as soon as I held her in my arms, and it broke my heart to give her back so I could return upstairs to the office. As a single mom I relied heavily on my parents and family to support me. Without them, there is no way I could have done what I needed to further my career.
As the Manager of our Technical Support Center, a 24/7 operation, I had to oversee things and be prepared to make the tough calls and changes needed when our plan failed. Had all systems cutover as planned we would have been staffed at the right level to accommodate the change. However, that wasn’t the case.
With thousands of Internet customers down, we needed all hands on deck, which included support from all departments throughout the Company. I was thrown into crisis mode almost immediately when the cutover happened at midnight. I realized then that I was stronger than I ever imagined. Everything I had learned from those I worked with and for gave me the strongest foundation to take on this challenge. I was thrown into the limelight without even realizing how much exposure my reaction, composure, resilience, and results would garner me with the Senior Leaders within the Organization. I’m happy to say now, years later of course, that while that was one of the roughest times in my career and life, I appreciate the battle scars I earned because I learned so much from that experience.
To say it was character-building is an understatement. It certainly set me on a path where things could only get better!
ISE: In terms of developing your career, what has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
Sandry: Myself and the limitations I impressed upon myself. I attended an all-girl high school, Sacred Hearts Academy, where it was reinforced that I could be anything I wanted to be. It didn’t matter where I came from, that I was a female and living on this “rock” I called home! I never really understood what gender competition was until I attended college. It was there that I learned competing in the real world required drive and a fierce resolve to follow my dreams. Working for a utility (with predominantly men) right out of college I learned quickly that I had to understand the facts and speak up to be heard. I had to get over my fear of speaking up especially in front of other, more intimidating forums. I learned quickly that teamwork and having advocates helped you to achieve goals.
ISE: Have your ambitions changed over time? Do you still have the same career vision for yourself that you started with, and if not, why did it change?
Sandry: Yes, they have definitely changed. Out of college I wanted to be CEO. I didn’t understand why I didn’t get hired as a Supervisor 3 months into my first job. I guess you can say I’ve matured over time.
Becoming “Mommy” also helped me to settle in and realize I needed a balance in life between career and family. So while I always strive to be the very best at whatever I do, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably retire in the position I’m in. And I’m happy with that! I don’t aspire to be in a higher position, but I would certainly welcome an opportunity to work as an employee advocate or work to develop process improvements. I enjoy analyzing things and finding ways to make things better — more effective, more efficient, first time resolution.