Working to be a mentor, not a manager

Photo of Jeffrey De Sarno

Interview with Jeffrey De Sarno

It’s pretty sweet when nominations from your American peers lead to an industry award.

The Top Operators awards honour influential companies and individuals in the communications industry.

They represent the best in areas that include marketing, technology, and finance.

The 2018 Independent Technology Executive of the Year award went to Jeffrey De Sarno

There is an added distinction for this Chief Technology Officer. He is the first in Canada to receive the award.

When his company asked to play with the big vendor boys and girls in the U.S. they said, “nah, you’re too small.”

But that attitude changed when they saw what Jeffrey and his team were capable of bringing to the table.
Jeffrey fills us in on the details of his job:

Left quotation mark I’m responsible for the technology side of the Westman Communications Group’s business operations centre; telephone, internet, and video services; and three radio stations.

My biggest job is planning, risk management, and staying abreast of technical advances, then making decisions with my team on which path to take.

I’m also an ambassador for Westman Communications.

I represent our organization’s interests both in the United States and Canada as part of a larger group.

I work with the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance which represents 115 independent operators. I’m the Chairperson of the Technical Review Committee.

We’re one of only two CCSA members eligible for membership in the National Cable Television Cooperative. It represents 850 independent cable companies in the United States and Canada.

I serve on the Technical Advisory Committee as Co-Chair and Technical Advisor.

NCTC operates as a programming and hardware purchasing organization for its members.

Vendors say to smaller guys like us, ‘we almost don’t want to do business with you; you take as much time as a bigger operator.’ The guys in the U.S. who say they are small have 180,000 to 2.2 million customers — we have 25,000.

There are many advantages for us to belong to this group, so we worked to make ourselves known within NCTC.

Our team spent a lot of time being the go-to technical team for that organization. I’m so proud of them. This is a team that says, ‘we may not know the answer but we’ll find out.’

We were the first Canadian independent operator to launch TiVo for NCTC.

And, the first in Canada to have a virtual digital video distribution system (DAC). For that, the global manufacturer, Arris, recognized us as an industry pioneer.

We also have the latest fibre optic technology.

We were one of the first in Canada to employ DOCSIS. With this international telecommunications standard, the internet can run on the same line as cable TV.

We’re involved with CableLabs, the innovation, research and development lab that built DOCSIS.

Their Chief Operating Officer recently came here to talk to us about how we can work together on the next generation of technology, and where we see it’s going to go.

I have several department managers answering to me. The people under them also answer to me.

I never wanted to be a manager. I’m a technologist and I always disliked managers.

But after I came to Westman in 2009, I had an opportunity to take a Dale Carnegie course on human relations.

It changed my life. I became a group leader. Now, I’m being coached to become a leader.

Dave Baxter, our CEO has been a phenomenal mentor to me, he’s enabled and empowered me.

After being guided by Dave, and the Dale Carnegie courses, I realized I didn’t want to be a manager. I wanted to be a mentor.

I used to think when filling a position that it was easier to train someone new. But then I realized it was better to assist someone to move up.

Every staff member has an opportunity to grow within our organization.

Now, I mentor two people a year. The biggest thing I’ve done is work to build trust with people. That’s the foundation for everything.

Their goals are my goals.

I help prepare staff members to reach their objectives, then watch them grow and blossom.

When we need to hire from outside, I want to make sure the person will fit within the dynamics of our organization.

I have to worry about my existing employees, who are like family.

Nobody comes to work to do a bad job.

We all want to come to work to try to create and make a difference. Right quotation mark

by Brandon Now

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