Career Choices

True story – this industry found me, and a bit accidentally. I started a music business with my husband, Larry Wendt. We recorded and sold original music compositions with acoustical instruments and environmental sounds. To help fund our Realmusic label, Larry worked on computer-related projects. It wasn’t long before our computer work eclipsed the music in both time and income. One client engaged us to write custom software for an adult education company that needed a multi-platform pre-GED program. This happened in the late-1980s when many industries, including construction, knew computers were about to change their world – faster bid alternates, more accurate and faster payroll delivery, to name a few. Larry’s father was a respected, multi-generation mason contractor. His dad’s peers knew Larry had worked for his father as a young man and that Larry would understand what was needed and could be trusted.

One of the large mason contractors in the Chicago area called us. The conversation went something like this; ‘Your dad tells me you do computers. Mine’s broken. Come fix it.’ Then he hung up, we gathered our tools and headed to his office! Another mason called and said he had just purchased some construction-specific software and wanted us to get it up and running; so, we did. We’ve been supporting the technology needs of specialty subcontractors ever since.

Professional Interests & Drive

It’s personal – when a client or prospect gets on the phone, they have a problem that needs a solution. If they’re in construction, it’s very likely we’ve heard something similar and have a solution or a solid idea to meet the need. Bringing some humor, stories, or a thoughtful quote is a great way to let them know they’re not alone and we’re here to help.

Being in business, in a position of leadership, it’s important to have and be held accountable to a moral standard, a moral compass. What’s legal is not always right; what’s right is not always the most profitable or the most popular. When our chapter on this earth closes, will you be a book others would want to read? Will others feel that their lives, their careers, were enriched, blessed by having been touched by you?

We know our niche market – you won’t find another company with as much breadth and knowledge when it comes to using technology to run a construction company. When our clients have a computer problem, they don’t want to be told by their IT company that it’s the software, or the software company to say it’s the computers. When we get that call, we have all those roles on staff and can coordinate a solution – one place to call.

Mentors & Influencers

When I was in grade school I had a guitar teacher, Kathy Miller. As the oldest of 11 children, driving to my lessons was a time to connect with my dad. Ms. Miller believed in me, befriended me, and led me to believe that I was important. I still remember a vacation she had in Mexico which to me was so exotic. She brought me back a bathing suit that I kept for years; so thoughtful. In junior high she drove from Chicago to the suburbs to accompany me on the piano at a vocal solo competition. My younger years were spent taking care of my siblings. With Ms. Miller, I truly believed there was more out there and that I could make it happen.

Ken Greenhouse was the choral director at our high school. He was an amazing musician and encouraged my music, taking the time to give me music theory lessons. Prior to that, my junior high choral directors supported my singing, giving me opportunities to perform, as did my first high school director, casting me in several musicals.

So, what does this have to do with technology and leadership? I learned poise and that it was not ‘sinful’ to have a talent and invest the time to practice, then share with others. I had opportunities to get up in front of people in various settings – a competition, a performance. I was given leadership roles within the music and drama departments.

Then I met the man that would be my husband, coming up on 38 years. Turns out I have a gift to take complex ideas and put them in laymen’s terms, so others feel informed, educated. A whole new world opened up to me; leadership training, personal growth, and taking risks. What a blessing!

Mentorship Value

A decade ago, I would attend industry events and realize how few women were present. About five years ago, I remember joking with the men who were lined up for the men’s room at the break as I walked right by and straight into the ladies’ room with no line.

Women are under-represented as Technicians and owners, no doubt. I’ve often struggled with why. When we run job ads for technicians, it’s very rare that any of the inquiries come from women. When most people ask me about women in technology, they usually mean the techs, and women are truly under-represented here. I would also argue that there are many other opportunities for women in technology. Very few women are owners or in non-finance, non-sales roles in this industry.

For those of us who have been blazing this trail, our mentorship is critical. No need to bootstrap every step; we can help them soar to new heights, building on the foundation we’ve worked so hard to build. As technology continues its crazy pace, it is less and less hardware centric. I believe this will usher in a new interest in technology for women. The power of technology in business, data consolidation, workflow changes, cross platform availability, and hardware agnostic tools has changed IT from a network focus to an on-demand cloud focus. I believe this shift will bring women to technology as part of the changing workforce, multi-generational, multi-cultural, and highly female.

Admired Leaders & Trailblazers

When we started our company, I didn’t know any women in technology or even in construction, our niche market. When I consider successful women I knew early in my life, they were unremarkable by the world’s standards. Inspiring, kind, beautiful women at Osco corporate headquarters; a manager in the auditing department who was smart and well-respected by all departments and gave me a promotion; junior high choral directors who encouraged me and provided opportunities; the lack of women at industry events was inspiring in itself; the patriarchal leaders in the businesses, some of whom would not work with me, and others who embraced working with me after I showed I could walk the talk.

I would add that there were other women along the business journey that helped solidify professional and personal traits that are not professional, not to be emulated. These were also very important and helped shape the direction I took, as well as the roads I chose not to take.

Advancing Gender Parity

Dig in, commit. Listen to podcasts; attend webinars; read the Microsoft blogs; choose a niche market and know everything about their business, their computer needs, and the needs of their staff. There’s no such thing as life-work balance, it’s a myth. You want a career? You want to be an expert? Everything around you involves technology. How are schools using technology to educate your children? What are people using on the train, in their cars, at the grocery store, at the airport? Try a variety of software solutions. Get some SQL training. Learn how to type!

Technology in business is no longer a luxury or an afterthought. Choose an industry and understand the data needs, the hardware needs, how people connect, where the critical points of failure are in their day-to-day. Get connected with industry-specific user organizations. Listen, then listen some more.

Then, read books, lots of books. Choose well-known personal growth leaders such as Darren Hardy, Jim Collins, and John Maxwell. Dive into other authors such as General McChrystal, Daymond John, Chris Voss, John Ruhn, and the like. Join an association with accountability groups, set goals, and hold each other accountable. Attend in-person trainings and speaking events to stay energized, inspired, and challenged. It’s a big world out there. Get educated, stay engaged, listen, and read.

Lastly, have a hobby, something outside IT. Depending on your season of life, go to all the kids’ events; choose a non- technology area of interest and be sure to stay engaged. For me, this has been music. Spending the evening at a rehearsal, directing a chorus or orchestra, learning new music, preparing for a recital or concert – all these things help me return to my work with balance, ideas, and ready to meet the demands of my role.

Leading the Next Generation

Learn how to relate to both genders in the business community. Stop the drama. Get involved. We’re in the construction niche (heavily male) and we provide IT (heavily male). I wear dresses most of the time. There’s no drama. Everyone wants to know they’re contributing, that they matter, that they’re doing their best, that they’re seen. Give it to them, male or female, young or old, new or seasoned. A little encouragement can reap big rewards. Knowing someone believes in you and sees your efforts is often just the medicine for them to step up and get to the next level.

What if we did this for men and women? What if we left our own egos and titles at the door and listened? If we’re truly leaders, we really know our stuff, who wouldn’t want to follow that path? Many women have an advantage over many men; we know how to be supportive, how to encourage, how to empathize, and often (not always) we can put our own egos to the side. This alone is our advantage. Time to play the game with our strengths leading the way.

About Catherine Wendt

Catherine Wendt brings her unique background and 35+ years of business experience to the construction industry. Today, she is a trusted advisor for businesses across the country, the owner and president of Syscon, and an active musician.

Catherine became president at Syscon in 2013 after heading up the Network department for five years. As with many family businesses, she’s held various roles at Syscon, including controller, sales and marketing, and project management. Under her leadership, Syscon has expanded its consulting, IT support, and cloud hosting services to the construction industry, introducing the company’s first app focused on field time collection.

Achievements & Recognition

  • WBE Certification
  • C12 Affinity Group
  • CFMA Valley of the Sun
  • ASA Chicago and Educational Committee member
  • ASA Arizona
  • TUG
  • Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce
  • An Influential Women in Business award recipient from the Business Ledger
  • Served as captain of an IT accountability group for 4 years

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