“At the end of the day, it’s not about being the smartest person in the room; It’s about surrounding yourself with smart talented people” with Kathy Timko and Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Sep 24, 2019 · 8 min read

At the end of the day, it’s not about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about surrounding yourself with smart talented people who can use their unique skills to drive projects forward and get the best possible result. Everyone has a voice and should communicate their ideas openly. A leader must be able to listen, respond, stay on track and move in a direction that will allow the whole team to be successful. The bottom line: Successful projects require great leadership and the skillsets to execute. Success in almost everything requires ruthless planning, focused execution and a relentless — “never give up” drive to the finish line. “Good luck” is often the result of good planning.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathy Timko, Executive Vice President and Head of the Local Number Portability Administration (LNPA) Services at iconectiv. Kathy is responsible for the U.S. Number Portability business for the company. In this position, she oversaw the complete development, transition and system launch of the new iconectiv number portability system for the country and now, after a successful transition, is responsible for evolving and operating it on a 24x7x365 basis. Timko has more than 25 years of experience in telecommunications and technology companies. She was recently appointed to the Rutgers University CX Advisory Board and served as an Executive in Residence at Columbia University’s Technology Ventures group. Prior to joining iconectiv, Timko served as the CEO and COO of Canoe Ventures, LLC, a joint venture of the six largest cable companies. She also was COO and CTO of IDT Telecom. She served on the IDT Telecom Board of Directors and served as an independent director on the board of Motionbox. Timko holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from Boston University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Technology and science have always been a part of what interests me. I literally grew up around STEM. My father, grandfather and several members of my family all had careers in STEM fields. From a young age, I was encouraged to explore my interest in engineering, which was not the “traditional” path for women at that time. In fact, when I attended Virginia Tech in the mid-1980s, I was among the 8% of women taking engineering classes. I did well and enjoyed what I was doing so after graduating from Virginia Tech, I went on to earn my Masters in Computer Science from Boston University. After graduating, I was well prepared for pursuing a career that aligned with my passion and life-long love of technology.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Every part of my career has its own interesting story and experiences that I learned from. Most recently I led a team in the multi-year transition of the North American Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) from the long-standing incumbent of twenty years to iconectiv, an initiative that has been described as one of the biggest IT projects ever undertaken by the U.S. telecom industry. The NPAC is the largest system of ported telephone numbers in the world. It includes more than 650 million telephone numbers, processes more than 1 million porting transactions per day, and services more than 1,400 service providers, service bureaus and providers of telecom-related services. It is also used by law enforcement and public safety agencies, as well as digital marketing agencies who need authoritative, accurate and timely information about which service providers own which phone numbers.

This project was dependent on successfully collaborating with hundreds of industry stakeholders, including representatives from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), policymakers and telecommunications companies to design, implement and deploy a cost-effective, and a secure number portability system for the American people. During the course of the project, our experienced and highly dedicated team of 300 staff successfully executed more than 6,000 milestones and managed over 17,000 tasks, migrating millions of number porting data records in the process. The result was a flawless transition and the deployment of a modernized system that will save the industry more than $2B during the life of the contract.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One thing that comes to mind — that wasn’t funny at the time but in retrospect gives me a chuckle — is when I was at Automatix. Automatix was focused on development and deploying vision-guided robotics applications for manufacturing applications. It was the early days of AI and my team was deploying automation and robots on the factory floor at a GM plant. A problem with our software caused the robot to spray wheel well sealant all over the factory floor. I learned quickly that identifying software bugs comes in various forms — some more messy than others.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When you work at iconectiv, you work with a highly skilled, extremely collaborative team focused on delivering with perfection. There is an academia and familial underpinning that defines our culture as we solve the industry’s toughest problems together. The best of Bell Laboratories technical talent integrated into the new world of software design, development and operations.

I have actually worked at iconectiv twice — once back in the 1990s when it was formerly known as Bellcore, and again starting in 2013. What initially drew me into the company was the opportunity to work on leading-edge software systems that would improve the cost efficiencies of how the company built and maintained its products. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with the Applied Research arm of the company to productize some of the ideas and concepts being developed in the labs.

When I decided to return in 2013, I knew that I would be leading the NPAC transition project. I was drawn into the job because it allowed me to utilize my experience collaborating with multiple external and internal stakeholders, combined with my management skills, experience building complex systems and leading large teams, and the operational and technical knowledge I have acquired after working in telecom for more than 25 years. I truly view my current position as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our current and ongoing focus is maintaining and protecting the integrity of the phone number as it becomes the main personal identifier for people globally. The phone number is a critical piece of data that should be protected in a way that keeps people safe and allows them to continue to enjoy all the conveniences that modern communication provides. As our collective global identities are increasingly tied to our phones, new systems that help protect people and customers are more critical than ever and we are always exploring how to apply new technologies, including the use of cloud computing, to our existing products to better support this mission.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

· Seek alignment, early and often, with all stakeholders.

· Listen carefully, all the time. Make sure people are comfortable telling you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

· Elevate “decision-making based on facts” as a premise for a good operating organization.

· Sweat the details. They will make the difference between success and failure.

· Never underestimate the value of ruthless planning, focused execution and relentless pursuit of the finish line.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

It’s important to be approachable, be kind and be a good listener. There is a level of respect and loyalty that I always strive to build throughout my work environment that includes being collaborative and cooperative while keeping everyone focused on the business goal. Helping people prioritize also helps them know that you are engaged and involved in what they do. It’s important for people to know and understand their impact.

At the end of the day, it’s not about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about surrounding yourself with smart talented people who can use their unique skills to drive projects forward and get the best possible result. Everyone has a voice and should communicate their ideas openly. A leader must be able to listen, respond, stay on track and move in a direction that will allow the whole team to be successful. The bottom line: Successful projects require great leadership and the skillsets to execute. Success in almost everything requires ruthless planning, focused execution and a relentless — “never give up” drive to the finish line. “Good luck” is often the result of good planning.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been fortunate to have many incredibly talented mentors, colleagues and friends who bring joy and inspiration to my work journey over the years. But the support I’ve received from my husband to pursue what I wanted intellectually and, in my career, while being a mother, wife, sister and daughter, has been tremendous. We have a wonderful partnership and have always been equally invested in each other’s personal and professional success and happiness

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Pay it forward

2. If you can’t measure, you can’t manage it

3. Lead with facts, not emotion

4. Know the difference between Inspiration and Aspiration, and find some of both

5. Practice for every public speaking opportunity and never use less than 16 point font for a presentation

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Getting more execution-oriented about climate change.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The more you do, the more you can do.” This was something that my father-in-law often said. I have often reflected on this phrase as the road ahead may have seemed complicated or hard. This simple phrase has been an inspiration to me to never stop achieving results and making an impact.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Melinda Gates. Both are simply amazing women and a tremendous inspiration to so many people.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

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Fotis Georgiadis

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Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

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Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.