Spotlight on Leading Women in Telecoms | TelecomDrive.com
With over two decades of technology and procurement experience, Jennifer Yohe is playing a critical role towards wholeheartedly supporting the DZS mission and vision of enabling today’s broadband service providers to become tomorrow’s experience providers through network and business model transformation.
As part of Disruptive Telecoms July 2022 cover story on “Leading Women in Telecoms” – Jennifer Yohe, Chief Operations Officer for DZS, Inc speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about her professional and personal journey.
How has been your professional journey so far? Please tell us about your various job profiles?
I am an award-winning business, technology and procurement executive with over two decades of experience in the telecommunications industry.
With a combined 21 years of experience at Time Warner Cable and Comcast, I joined access networking infrastructure, service assurance and consumer experience software solutions provider DZS in 2021. As head of customer advocacy for the company, I am working to develop and cultivate executive customer relationships and support commercial business and vendor management to fuel the company’s global growth objectives. I am well-known among the industry peers and leverage my relationships to benefit DZS and its systems and processes.
An effective and proven procurement and operations executive, I helped cable operators save more than a billion dollars throughout my career. Prior to DZS, I spent twelve years at Comcast, most recently as senior vice president of procurement, where I managed billions of dollars in cable infrastructure products and services, negotiated successful deals, ensured customer satisfaction and helped grow the Comcast enterprise. Prior to Comcast, I spent a decade at Time Warner Cable in multiple roles, including vice president of business affairs. I also held senior roles at MediaKind (formerly Ericsson) and NASCAR and started my career at the Washington Redskins.
I have been recognized for my leadership and efforts to amplify women in tech with various accolades and awards, including the “Women in Technology Award,” “Most Powerful Women in Cable” and “Top Women in Technology.”
What is the meaning of success to you, how important is it for you? and What is your mantra to succeed in an organization?
I joined DZS during an extremely transformative time for the industry and organization as a whole. Through highly differentiated innovation,
I am helping DZS drive and take advantage of the early innings of a once-in-a-generation, decade-long, industry upgrade super cycle to multi-gigabit, fiber-based broadband services and to 5G/6G.
For me, success means supporting the DZS mission and vision of enabling today’s broadband service providers to become tomorrow’s experience providers through network and business model transformation that begins with my team. I measure my own success by how well the company is doing as a whole. I also measure success by my ability to create opportunities for my team to outperform the competition and grow in their careers.
According to you what are some of the most critical factors that have helped you become a leader in your organisation?
I joined DZS under the leadership of CEO and President Charlie Vogt. We had previously worked together for years, with me on the client side at Comcast and Charlie on the solutions provider side. Over the years, I developed a respect for Charlie’s leadership and approach to business, seeing him as a unique leader: someone who is effective, dynamic and ambitious (having overseen major transformations and helped entire industries undergo massive change). When the opportunity arose for me to join DZS at a pivotal juncture and help bring life-changing broadband to people around the world, she jumped at the chance.
I respect that Charlie never asks his team to do something he wouldn’t do, and I emulate this in my own team. I ask my team only what I have or would be willing to do myself.
I have always sought to understand the communications industry from the ground up. Climbing the ladder at companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast equipped me with the fundamental business and technology knowledge and skills needed to help innovative, expanding companies like DZS flourish. I am equally committed to ensuring the best quality of experience for my customers as well, routinely seeking to address problems at their source and develop solutions that provide real long-term success, including increased ARPU and fewer truck rolls.
I believe that failure can always be used as a learning opportunity. Offering my team chances to “fail fast” is a core tenant of my leadership style – and is what has allowed them to produce such impressive results. I have always been open to taking risks in my professional life, and recognizes how beneficial that has been to my career, knowing one always learns fastest from mistakes.
When you look back in your career – what according to you can be termed as big turning points for you. How have these turning points helped you gain ground professionally?
One big career turning point for me was my transition from a manager level to senior level positions, where the role became much more defined by making decisions that are best for the company and its employees than ever before. Moreover, I realized that an increase in responsibility required an increase in adaptability. The more human and technical resources I have overseen, the more I have come to incorporate alternative methods of training, delegation, and inspiration.
Additionally, I have experienced a shift in my career when I started negotiating procurement deals. As I was often one of few females in tech, I faced challenges early-on and felt that I had to work twice as hard to gain the respect of my colleagues and counterparts. Once I was able to prove myself and perform well, I started to gain more confidence and respect in my roles.
What are some of the challenges that you faced and overcame during your professional journey? How did you overcome these challenges?
When I first joined DZS, I was tasked with helping the company navigate the difficult supply chain dynamics that have been plaguing the entire industry and many others. As head of operations, I spearheaded a number of improvement initiatives to help manage through a constrained environment and enable DZS to maximize shipments despite elongated lead times.
Personally, I have overcome many challenges in my career, including defying stereotypes about female employees in tech fields, which has been one of the most meaningful and impactful. As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, I have had to prove my value and leadership ability. I have quelled these doubts with years of integrating competitiveness with compassion, focusing on boosting my team and benefitting my customers.
Working with leaders and managers of varying personality types and leadership styles is another challenge I faced with resilience and optimism. Though some collaborations have been easier than others, I have always thrived, despite being confronted with a range of difficulty when operating alongside my executives. I have viewed these incongruencies not as obstacles to be ignored, but as opportunities for growth.
Please share with us some of your positive learnings that you have gained over the past many years and how these learnings have helped you become a better person / professional?
Over the course of my career, I never lost sight of accomplishing my goals, specifically as they relate to empowering and transforming communities. That is at the core of everything DZS strives to achieve. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than being part of DZS’s mission to bridge the digital divide, connect the underserved and unserved, and offer a reliably exceptional customer quality-of-experience customers deserve.
On a personal level, I appreciate and celebrate my colleagues’ differences. Understanding the strengths and limitations of my own team members has not only enabled me to lead them more effectively and utilize my team members according to their own strengths but has also allowed me to recognize my own areas for improvement. Whether it’s negotiating a high-profile deal or mentoring the next wave of female executives, I maintain a constantly evolving attitude toward business leadership. I try to see the positive in everything I do. Even if things are crashing down around me, I can see the positive and try to be better today than I was yesterday.
With greater level of experience comes greater level of responsibility and often this also involves grooming others, passing on your legacy ahead. Keeping this in mind, how do you look at helping others in your organization towards achieving success?
As I continue to progress in my career, I embraced my role as a mentor, which I have been doing for more than 20 years. As such, I began incorporating several team-building practices into my training, whether it’s through formal/structured mentoring programs or more organic opportunities. Whether role-playing at presentation workshops or sharing negotiation tips, I have consistently found new ways to improve the skill set of my team, establish a healthy collaborative operation, and contribute to DZS’ continued success.
I am proud of the people I have mentored and groomed in the industry, particularly women. Throughout my career, I have led several employee resource groups for women. I served as an advisor for Women in Cable Telecommunications for five years, helping women in the industry to advance their career. And while at Comcast, I owned supplier diversity, where I looked for minority and women-owned businesses to work with.
With that said, I have noticed the departure of women in the communications/tech industry following the COVID-19 pandemic, which I consider a point of concern. I am actively communicating with women’s networks and people in the industry to find a way to prevent that trend from continuing while attracting and recruiting the next generation of female leaders in communications and tech.
What are some of your big goals that you have achieved in the recent past – and your goals that you want to achieve?
Ultimately, I want to see the entire communication service provider industry thrive as it collaborates and competes to adjust to the changing broadband landscape and serve the evolving needs of my customers. DZS is well-positioned to lead the transition, and I am motivated to help the company achieve that success.
At the outset of my career, I pursued financial and status-related goals typical of an uber-industrious, high-aspiring female executive. However, as I have progressed in my career, my primary goal has shifted to being a leader that colleagues and customers can rely on. I seek to continue building a reputation based on my dedication, hard work, foresight and commitment to making the company and people better than they were before they arrived.
Jennifer Yohe | Tough, Fair and Trustworthy
How would you describe yourself as a person?
I am a tough but fair leader. While I do not demand perfection, I expect good-faith efforts from myself and my team to get things done. With that, I lend a compassionate ear to both dissatisfied customers and struggling team members. Above all, I maintain an unshakable optimism that sustains both me and my team through even the most difficult transitions.
What are the three top most important things for you in your personal life?
The three most important things to me include staying healthy, building and maintaining relationships, and leaving the planet a better place.
Please share with us some of your personal milestones and their contributions towards developing your personality?
There was one crucial moment in my life that led me to value the importance of community and self-belief I still carry with me today. When I was just 15 years old, my father passed away, leaving my mother to raise her daughters on her own. Despite feeling the crippling burden of her husband’s absence, my mother decided to return to the classroom to earn a Master’s degree in nursing to provide additional support for her family. Seeing my mother show remarkable resilience in the face of such tragedy has given me unwavering faith in my own ability to lead and care for others.
How do you see yourself evolve as a person over the past years and where do you see yourself in the coming years?
As I has progressed in the world of telecommunications, I continue to focus on the business and seek opportunities to support others who are growing in their careers. As such, I began incorporating several team-building practices into my training. Whether through role-playing, presentation workshops, or negotiation tips, I have consistently found new ways to improve the skill set of my team, establish a healthy collaborative operation, and set my company up for continued success.
What are your three qualities that have helped you grow as a person and a professional?
The main quality that has helped me to become a better executive and person is trust. I have operated on a simple yet powerful philosophy: trust over transaction. While I make strategic efforts to benefit my company in any given deal, I have learned that long-term business and customer relationships can only prosper through a lasting mutual commitment. I do not merely speak of the importance of trust – I instill it directly. For example, when a network or software issue is reported, I dial in to listen to every sourcing call. This gives me the confidence to address problems wherever and to whatever degree they occur and provides my customers the assurance that I truly care about their satisfaction.
Please share with us some of your hobbies and interests?
I am a lifelong sports fan. I have a particular love for NASCAR and American football, having watched countless games. I have even crossed state borders just to see my favorite teams play. In addition to enjoying the raw entertainment side, I am also fascinated by the strategic aspect of sports. I love learning how new rules, players, and game plans will affect the totality of the sport. I also love traveling, specifically to the Caribbean.
Please tell us something about your family? How has been their support in terms of helping you grow professionally?
My family has played a major role in my professional success. I remember what I learned from my mother: “don’t be afraid to take risks and always be better today than you were yesterday”. I also credit my sisters for encouraging me to pursue my goals, both personal and professional, in whatever field I desire to pursue.