This month’s insights from our leaders around the world comes from Victoria Lamberth, Chief Revenue Officer at ZenFi. Victoria co-founded ZenFi Networks in 2013 and has 15 years of experience building, managing, and selling fibre infrastructure companies in the New York metro market.
Prior to ZenFi, Victoria ran sales and marketing for Lexent Metro Connect. Lexent provided dark fibre leases and IRUs in the NY market. The company also built some of the first outdoor DAS networks in NYC (Fun fact: Mobilitie was one of Lexent’s customers!). Outside work, Victoria sits on the board of Center for Hearing and Communication and volunteers with the Montclair Public School District helping to incorporate American Sign Language programs in early childhood education.
What’s the most important development happening in our industry and what does that mean for business globally?
There’s a long list of important developments happening in our industry and the world. One of the unique attributes of our industry is we sit at the intersection of some of the major challenges our society is facing around environmental, social, and economic justice. Because of that unique position, we have a lot of opportunity as an industry, and an organisation, to make positive change within our communities while simultaneously supporting our customers’ needs.
One of the largest shifts I’ve seen over the past couple years is focus on digital equity and inclusion. We all know the pandemic put a huge spotlight on this issue, but the shift towards this discussion had been happening well before 2020. Now that it’s become a talking point for mainstream media and politicians, we have an opportunity as an organisation to harness the work that we’ve been doing to help promote the neutral host model with a focus on equitable deployments that benefit our communities. With thoughtful network architectures, and efficient deployments, we can reduce our environmental footprint by reusing the same resources to serve multiple customers and multiple service offerings. By working with local municipalities and partnerships, we can connect community needs to carrier objectives and ensure that these neutral networks reach all areas of our communities.
This mindset around digital equity is not empty talk. Because we all live and work in the communities within which we build infrastructure, our teams have a vested interest in making sure the networks help drive capacity expansion everywhere. Additionally, the focus on positively impacting some of our biggest global challenges provides us with mission-driven focus. It allows us to attract a broader set of talent and a more engaged employee base who know that when we build infrastructure we are delivering for our customers and providing a public benefit. Lastly, this focus helps improve our partnerships with local municipalities and community leaders, helping us to execute deployments more quickly for our customers.
We have an opportunity as we come together as one global brand, and a united North American entity, to embrace our role as a leader in digital equity within the infrastructure community.
What inspires you most in the work that you do?
Given my first response, it’s no surprise that I love the work we’re doing with LinkNYC to help bridge the digital divide while delivering valuable assets for our customers. The Link program is unique because it combines a number of community benefits under a single structure. Each community benefit has a complementary commercial opportunity. As part of the programme, we build underlying fiber infrastructure across the City in support of thousands of digital kiosks. The expanded fiber helps put pricing pressure on incumbent providers creating a significant benefit for the community. Additionally, each site provides free public Wi-Fi, expanded connectivity to those who might otherwise lack connectivity – a clear public benefit.
On the commercial side, we have an opportunity to utilise our own underlying fiber infrastructure to support large enterprises, wholesale service providers or expanded fiber access for the MTA. We also have the ability to leverage that Wi-Fi service to provide offload and roaming opportunities to help ease capacity constraints for our MNO customers and provide coverage for MVNOs. As we’ve migrated into a new phase of the program, these kiosk sites have become suitable for colocation for small cell deployments, housing multiple tenants and multiple technologies in a single site compared to the multiple pole top sites required in the past. The reduced street clutter and disruption, combined with increased coverage and capacity is a win for the community and for BAI. I have really enjoyed working on a project that provides a pathway to public benefit through our commercial opportunity.
What is a technique you use to be more effective in your work?
I feel my most important job is to help solve problems – for my team, for our customers, for our partners. I can’t help solve a problem that I or my team doesn’t fully understand. To that end, I try to ask clarifying questions when something isn’t clear to me, or if I think it isn’t clear to the group. It sounds simple, but when you’re in a room with senior people and everyone is nodding their head, it’s not so easy to admit you don’t understand what’s going on. I try my best to put my ego aside in these scenarios and admit I’m not following. Often, I find that if something isn’t clear to me, it’s also not clear to someone else. Besides being a necessary tool to do my job, I find asking questions is a huge benefit to the larger team. Breaking down information into its simplest form helps us all get on the same page, and almost always illuminates new nuggets of information. It also encourages a culture of curiosity across the organisation. The more questions we ask, the more we can ensure that we’re effectively identifying the right problem and working on the same solution.
What’s one of the ongoing challenges you face at work and how do you manage it?
Effective communication is a constant challenge for me and for all of us at work. This can be a real challenge in a fast-paced deployment environment where conditions are changing. Our projects are large and complex, and one variable changing has a domino effect on the project. In order to keep pace and deliver for our customers, we have to make sure that we’re able to pivot quickly to real-time information but do so in a manner where our whole team understands a change is taking place, can shift together, and can clearly communicate these changes to our customers and stakeholders. Asking questions is clearly one way to improve communication, but another technique I love is open topic meetings. By that I mean setting aside time every week to meet with your peers to disseminate knowledge and highlight new issues. At ZenFi we do this with a weekly senior management meeting. Every week, the senior leaders at ZenFi come together to regroup. The agenda for this meeting is fluid, but the goal is for us to set aside time where we discuss topics that don’t fit neatly into an existing set meeting. It’s been very helpful to keep us all aligned with the business, highlight problems, and identify new opportunities. We take the information shared from that meeting and disseminate it through our own teams. The result is a weekly re-alignment on strategy and execution to keep us all moving in the same direction.
What is your advice for proactively managing your career?
My whole family is made up of entrepreneurs, which influenced my view of what I wanted in a career. I can’t recall dreaming of having a particular role or title, but I have dreamed of building a business. Because of that, I haven’t spent much time thinking about managing a career so much as I’ve thought about building a legacy. My goal has always been to build a business bigger and better than my grandparents or parents ever did. To do that, they needed luck, resilience, and great partners at home and at work. I’ve tried to follow that same playbook.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career and why?
My 10th grade history teacher told me “…not everyone is meant to go to an Ivy league school”, implying I wasn’t smart enough to go to a great school. It didn’t bother me that he might be right, it bothered me that someone would assume I couldn’t do something before I even tried. Funny enough, that comment made me realise that I believed I could do a lot of things that other people assumed I couldn’t. The knowledge that there are people out there underestimating me has been a powerful motivator for my career.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
My ZenFi colleagues already know this, but my oldest son is deaf. He’s had great success with cochlear implants, but I’ve learned a fair amount of American Sign Language so we can communicate when his cochlear implants are off. Some of the signs have become second nature to me. If you see me absentmindedly shaking my fist on a video call it’s because I’m agreeing with you. Even though it’s personal, I always try to share this information about my son because there are so many parents with kids who have various disabilities and challenges. I’ve already met a handful of BAI parents in this boat. It’s been helpful to me to connect with these parents and swap tips about navigating health and school systems. If you ever want to talk about hearing loss, or having a child with special needs, you know where to find me.