ISE’s Women in STEM Q&A —
ISE: Share what you do at Zayo, and why it’s important. How did you get involved in a STEM career?
Mays: It’s a privilege to work at Zayo where we have an opportunity to accelerate our customers’ capabilities through high-quality global connectivity, colocation, and cloud services. Our customers use our infrastructure solutions to provide wireless service, social media, search engine, gaming, online shopping, healthcare, financial, and many more services, to their customers.
As a CIO and Founder, it was important that the foundation of the CIO organization be rooted in the customer experience.
Our goal at Zayo is to provide an exceptional and effortless experience. In addition to IT development and support, my team has customer-facing organizations including Tranzact (an online, self-service platform where customers quote, order, and manage existing services), Customer Care, Billing, Accounts Receivable, Big Data, and Inside Sales.
We have a lot of women in STEM at Zayo, and each of them has a special story. My personal path to a career in STEM came from an early love of mystery novels. When I was in math class solving word problems, I felt like Nancy Drew in The Mysterious Mannequin. I wasn’t brave enough to be a professional detective, so I applied my love of math to a B.A. in Finance at DePaul University. Once I understood the basics of creating value and the 4 basic financial statements, I was able to apply financial principles to business decisions in groups like sales, finance, accounting, IT, customer care, billing, big data, product, and human resources. Zayo gave me an opportunity to be a part of a team that uses technology to solve customer challenges. Having a career in STEM was the best decision I ever made.
ISE: Share the biggest obstacle your company faced recently, and how your team solved it successfully.
Mays: Acquisitions are always a challenge. Since 2007, Zayo has completed 43 acquisitions. When we acquire a company, we integrate immediately (i.e., we migrate the acquired company’s data to our core systems), typically within the first week of acquisition. After the migration, we are able to align our processes and shut down legacy systems.
With recent acquisitions, we’ve also acquired completely new products. In these cases, we had to develop products in Zayo’s systems before migrating data. This was cumbersome for our internal and external customers because we had to maintain 2 sets of systems for a little over a year. The good news is that we finished the migration in June 2018 and are back to just one system of record. I think everyone is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND MISTAKES
ISE: What is the most stellar accomplishment in your career? What is a mistake you learned the most from in your many years of experience in this industry?
Mays: My biggest accomplishment from a career perspective was being among Zayo’s 4 founders in 2007. At that time, I had 14 years of telecom experience, and our industry was still in a tailspin from the 2001 dot-com/telecom bubble burst.
Our CEO, Dan Caruso, had the vision to amass the stranded fiber from network providers that had been left behind. Zayo’s first office was behind Nick and Willy’s on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. Since then, we’ve grown to more than 3,500 employees, >50 data centers and >11.5M fiber miles.
MSN Money named Zayo the most successful company founded in 2007. Zayo was mentioned alongside Cisco, Starbucks, Amazon, Google, and Tesla, who were also identified as the most successful companies in their birth years.
In terms of learnings, I finally gave up trying to be perfect a few years ago. My team’s goal is to manage risk, keep moving fast, and solve problems quickly.
VIRTUALIZATION AND AUTOMATION
ISE: What is Zayo doing to virtualize and automate network operations, and how is that effort progressing? What is needed from the vendor community to help? Why are these efforts so critical today?
Mays: 7 out of 10 customer interactions can be solved through self-service. Zayo launched the Tranzact platform in 2014 to empower customers to quote, order, track delivery, pay invoices, view network maps and usage, troubleshoot network issues, enter and track tickets and manage inventory. Today we have more than 11,000 users in Tranzact, which encompasses our webscale and enterprise customers. This saves Zayo and our customers time!
DIVERSITY AND PROFITS
ISE: A report from the Peterson Institute, a research company, says there is a strong correlation between gender diversity and profitability. What is your opinion about this, and what is Zayo doing to become more diverse?
Mays: Diversity is often seen as a social issue. When I speak on diversity panels, the audience is 95% women, which is disappointing because study after study shows that having a diverse workforce creates value. The Peterson Institute for International Economics found increasing the number of women in C Suite positions from zero to 30% is associated with a 1% increase in net margin, or a 15% increase in profitability overall for the average company surveyed. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates closing the gender equity gap globally could add $12 trillion in annual gross domestic product.
Companies are more successful when their employees reflect the diversity in their customer base and society at large. If a company’s diversity of race, gender, and age, is aligned with the community, it will deliver products and services that make sense for that community.
I am so proud of the CIO team at Zayo. I’ve never been more inspired or had more fun collaborating with a team to deliver value to our customers and investors at Zayo. We are 53% female and 33% diverse based on underrepresented minorities. My direct reports are 50% diverse. We’ve achieved equal pay and our employee satisfaction scores are the highest in the company. Being part of a diverse team fosters creativity and innovation that you just don’t get when everyone on the team has the same experiences and point of view.
ISE: What is your approach to leading teams, and how is it different than that of other leaders? Is there a secret sauce to your method? What advice would you give to readers who want to be on your executive team one day?
Mays: I’ve already mentioned my amazing, diversely talented team. Everyone on my team is focused on the customer but not on selling. Rather than sell, my team helps customers buy and manage their services. The secret sauce is in holding the team accountable for 2 measurements: 1) How much effort did the customer have to put in? and 2) Would the customer recommend Zayo? By focusing on 2 measurements vs hundreds of KPIs, we are able to relentlessly focus on what really matters. We listen to our customers, understand their challenges, and establish trust.
There are a lot of paths to becoming an executive. The job of a leader is to build value. That means providing your customer with better solutions than they can find anywhere else. You must have the desire, experience and skill set to make complex decisions based on rigorous analyses and return on investment. You will need to be able to attract, hire and retain the best talent to implement that vision. Then you need to be able to manage results and continue to improve. There is no school that teaches you how to do all these things. My advice is to find mentors who are doing these things well.
Always look for learning opportunities. Listen to your customers and vendors. Be open to change and seek continuous improvement.
ISE: What is the greatest myth about being a female leader?
Mays: I hear that there are not enough diverse leaders in the pipeline. I spoke with a CEO who had this point of view. He said that I must be hiring all of the qualified diverse candidates because he couldn’t find any. I was troubled by this comment, since hiring diverse talent is just part of our culture. We are always able to find the right candidates to build a diverse team.
I spoke with my daughter that night about this topic and she shared this answer: “He can’t find qualified diverse talent because he doesn’t believe that qualified diverse talent exists. He has an unconscious bias that diverse candidates aren’t qualified.”
It made me recall a time when I was told that I wasn’t qualified for a position where I had proven success for 3 years. At first, I was hurt; then I was mad. I explained that experience plus a proven track record equals qualification. He agreed.
ISE: Share a quote from someone who inspires you.
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” – Dolly Parton
ISE: What do you do to help create work/life balance in your life? How does Zayo encourage their employees to find work/life balance?
Mays: At Zayo we have a lot of programs around culture including volunteering, networking, fitness, and fun events. It’s important to build relationships with your team so that work feels creative and fun. We ask that employees be respectful of their co-workers and customer commitments. When an employee has an emergency, or needs time off, we can be flexible knowing that their team and customers won’t be disappointed.
For me, personally, there have been times where there was no balance. I put myself last and everyone/everything else first. Over the years, I learned to be more efficient with my time. I go to bed at 10 p.m. and wake up at 4:30 a.m. to work out. I attend 2-3 networking or charity events per week. I use applications to order food, supplies, and coffee. I ask for help, and outsource things like mowing the lawn. And most importantly, I stopped watching TV. By eliminating 1 hour a day of TV, I found 7 hours per week. (That’s a whole business day to do whatever I want — even if I want to work.)
ISE: What’s the best question you’ve been asked in the past 30 days? Is there a question you have not been able to answer? Share it, please.
Mays: “What are you afraid of?” My fear is that we don’t take advantage of all of our competitive advantages. Zayo is in a unique position with our customers. They are loyal, and see Zayo as the best alternative. Ultimately, we want them to see us as the only alternative.
Questions about how Blockchain, AI, 5G, and Quantum computing will change our industry are at this point unanswerable. There are infinite and exciting possibilities but it’s too early to tell.
ISE: Please share one word that describes you.
I wasn’t lucky enough to be born into a wealthy or well-networked family, and I never won more than $25 in the lottery. But I do consider myself lucky. I did grow up with parents who still love each other after more than 50 years. I have 2 wonderful happy and healthy children. I have a network of friends, many with whom I work with on a daily basis. I joined telecom in 1993 before we knew about the Internet. I was able to grow my career in an industry where we are inspired daily by the wonderful services our customers are providing, and the pride in knowing that they couldn’t do it without us.
Sandi Mays is a founder and EVP, CIO & Service at Zayo Group. She is a champion for diversity in the tech community, and serves on the Board of the Latino Leadership Institute, the Salesforce CIO Advisory Board, and the Denver Metro Chamber Economic Development Executive Committee. She is also a patron/supporter of the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Ballet, Denver Performing Arts Center, and Greenhouse scholars, and an active member of many minority and diverse charities. In 2016 Sandi was named Women in Comms Leading Lights: Most Inspiring Woman in Comms. Previously, she served in various management positions at ICG Communications, Level 3 Communications, MFS Telecom, WorldCom, Focus Enterprises and Northern Trust. For more information, please visit https://www.zayo.com. Follow Zayo Group on Twitter: @ZayoGroup. Follow Sandi Mays on Twitter: SandiMays@SandiMays.
Zayo Group Holdings, Inc. provides communications infrastructure, including fiber and bandwidth connectivity, colocation and cloud infrastructure to the world’s leading businesses. Customers include wireless and wireline carriers, media and content companies and finance, healthcare and other large enterprises.