Leadership Style, Professional Challenge Pushes Canadian Woman and Technology Career

By: Lee Rickwood

August 22, 2014

Information and communications technology has surely revolutionized our era, and opened up tremendous opportunities for personal interaction, professional development, and business-to-business communications.

On the other hand, advanced communications means no trip to California for this correspondent.

Christine Van Slyke has been appointed Vice President of Sales and Business Development at Scalable Network Technologies, Inc.

Christine Van Slyke has been appointed Vice President of Sales and Business Development at Scalable Network Technologies, Inc.

As Christine Van Slyke noted in our online conversations, “Living in LA, everyone wants to visit me!”

Particularly those from her once home and always native land, Canada.

This highly successful executive has just recently taken on a challenging new role with Scalable Network Technologies, a leading edge company that provides network design and analysis tools and cyber-training systems used in sophisticated enterprise and wireless communication platforms.

Van Slyke is now Vice President of Sales and Business Development at Scalable, a position with enormous opportunity and responsibility: she’s in charge of all product sales and business development.

A wonderful opportunity for her, without a doubt, one that comes with challenge, reward, and risk: many of Scalable’s biggest customers are military, and she will spend some time “in the field” to learn about secure communications and tactical battlefield threats.

Part of the job when you’re heading up a global team that delivers communications solutions to major public and government organizations, not to mention overseeing the company’s planned expansion into broader commercial and public sector markets.

And she’s doing it all from Culver City, in sunny southern California!

A new home and a new job are surely big entries on the positive side of anyone’s life and career ledger, yet the question arises, how do you and your family handle the change, the disruption?

“Yes, sunny California. Love it,” she began. “More importantly, I love the company I am working with.”

The accomplished executive has moved quite a bit in her career (Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and now LA), but she sees each change as a chance to meet new friends, while she and her family still pursue important life goals.

She noted that her son, now 17, is training at a tennis academy in the U.S.

“He is following his dream – to become a tennis professional. He has the same drive that I have and works hard to achieve success. I took both of our lives into account when we moved. It was tough for him but he always made new friends. He travels a lot now so he has friends around the world.

It is an adventure, she says, a challenge, and facing that is a big part of a successful career.

Van Slyke’s started almost accidentally, when she “fell into the role of banking” through connections in Vancouver. A promotion was soon offered, and a critical decision making point was reached:

“I had the opportunity to change careers completely. I was offered a job at Club Med. At the same time, I was offered a promotion at the bank. I took the promotion and the rest is history. Making a difference and solving problems are important to me. At the bank I helped lead the launch of debit card terminals across the country. Through that process I discovered how technology could make a powerful difference in people’s lives and help streamline business. It inspired me to make technology a focus for my career.”

True to that vision, Van Slyke soon took on another challenge, in her last role at Canadian telecom leader TELUS, where for 12 years she led team that provided new technologies to help transform the health care system, educational institutions and government service agencies.

For almost any organization seeking to effectively incorporate new technology into their work processes, both the risk and the cost are high – that’s what attracts her to the challenge.

“When I first heard about Scalable’s offering, I was very excited,” she explained. “[W]ithout a large investment up front, our software lets customers understand the impact of introducing new technologies and how they would interact with existing environments, and to plan for any challenges, such as cyber attacks.”

In fact, the military is a major customer for Scalable, and she will work to provide solutions and services to major aerospace and defense contractors as well as the US Department of Defense itself (as well as mobile network operators, research agencies and universities around the world).

“I plan to spend time with our key military customers to understand how we can continue to support them as the unique challenges of tactical battlefield communications evolve to incorporate emerging technologies and to respond to new threats.”

So the inevitable question arises: If it’s understood that the tech field is male dominated, what about the military? What are key strategies or techniques for yourself or other women to become integrated, more impactful, and more successful in such work environments as these?

“Yes, I do see that technology/telecom is a male-dominated industry. I believe the key to being successful in any industry is to stay focused on what you want to accomplish. Education is important but being clear on what your goals are and following through on them are what will ensure your success. Of course, you also need to be adaptable. You’ll reach your goals if you remain focused on them – they just may not transpire exactly as planned.”

And what style of leadership helps ensure a team’s success? How do you help others adapt?

“As a leader, I need to position myself as a member of the team. When my team is successful and the company is successful, I am successful. In my experience, the best managers I’ve worked with were strong communicators, and great mentors.”

“I believe the person makes the difference, whether it is a man or a woman, and that we need to be able to leverage the strengths of both. Having said that, women often bring a different leadership style which can be important to the success of an organization.”

Allowing for and admitting mistakes is very important, she added, but not always easy. It is a part of an open communications process she says will help ensure everyone on the team is engaged.

“At Scalable, we don’t focus on your gender but on the strengths that you bring to the table. Only through engaging people with different strengths, knowledge and experience can you achieve greatness.”

Well, it seems there is another way – at least, there is an added element Van Slyke sees as crucial to professional success: getting away from it all!

Asked outright if this experienced telecom executive and technology advocate is a “geek” at home, too, she immediately replies:

“I am absolutely not a geek! My home is my sanctuary and a place where I unplug.”

Of course, she can connect via mobile devices and online connectivity, but she sees a certain line of distinction in the use and application of technology at home, versus at work.

“I am really focused on the business of solving problems and helping organizations transform. Technology is the way to do it. It was only when I was at TELUS that I understood that being called a geek is something to be proud of. I have worked with many people who are. I learn from them and leverage their knowledge, but I don’t spend a lot of time evaluating new technology for myself.”

She will be spending a lot of time helping others evaluate new technology, and that is good for her and her company:

For Van Slyke, it “has been enlightening to learn the impact of technology on critical missions and about specific needs and communication objectives in the military market. Their environment is business-critical and mission-critical. They demand 100% up time.”

She is successfully using her expertise in commercial communications to support those demanding, critical applications.

Professional abilities need to be portable and adaptable for men and women, her career demonstrates, much like their living arrangements.


 submitted by Lee Rickwood

Thanks to Leslie Provenzano at Scalable Network Technologies for helping coordinate our interview with Christine Van Slyke.


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