Jeanne Glass: Lessons from Building a Business

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With her mom and uncle working at Honeywell and a slight nudge from her mom to take college courses in computing, Jeanne Glass, founder and CEO of VirtualZ Computing, began her exploration of technology early on. “I knew [taking these college courses] would help me no matter what direction I took in my career,” she says. Her uncle’s work in hiring and managing mainframe programmers at Honeywell provided her with another well of information to draw from. Ultimately, she elected to register into the management information systems (MIS) program at the University of Wisconsin, since many of the programmers hired by Honeywell were recruited there.

“Quite unexpectedly, I excelled at COBOL programming,” Glass says. “As a result of my course work, two MIS professors hired me as their teaching assistant, and the CIO of the university hired me as his student assistant.” Glass’ career began to snowball from there. Unisys representatives, who sold mainframes to the university and with whom she had worked closely in the CIO’s office, began referring Glass to Unisys customers in Minneapolis when she started interviewing for her first job after college. She accepted a position with the State of Minnesota.

Throughout her career, Glass has held a dream close: building a women-owned technology firm of her own. “VirtualZ has been a long-time dream of mine, and is the culmination of my life to date: my education, my work experience, my friends, my business colleagues, and my family. It’s truly a labor of love for me,” she says. “My favorite part of my job is starting from a blank sheet of paper and building something. I’ve been appointed to positions throughout my career to build new teams, new departments, and business units, and I most enjoy creating something from nothing.”

Even before VirtualZ started product development, the team was intentional about creating a set of core values and a mission to guide its operations. However, Glass explains that building a business from the ground up also means you have to face challenges head on, and balance your goals and objectives with the resources at hand. At times, those resources can be limited. At VirtualZ, she explains, “We are perpetually setting and resetting as we progress, and we are progressing rapidly. We are learning a lot and quickly advancing our development, prospecting, and marketing activities.”

Glass adds, “We overcome our challenges as a team. We’ve built a team of senior level executives and experienced consultants who align with our values and believe in our mission — to their core — to promote IBM Z.” Through regular meetings where each member is given the opportunity to share their progress, the team can collectively assess where VirtualZ is and make team-based decisions on how to move forward. She adds, “We meet face-to-face regularly and set quarterly plans tied to our budget.”

“Relationships,” Glass says, “are the most important part of our careers. Without the relationships I’ve built from my educational, personal, and professional life, our team at VirtualZ wouldn’t have come together. We are only here because I was able to pick up the phone and call each of them, many of whom I hadn’t worked with or spoken to in years, and have them say yes to forming the company with me.”

To build a business, shared values matter. “Given my past experiences, I was intentional about creating core values as a foundational step in building VirtualZ. After our last board meeting, one of our team members said, ‘I’m not used to being in meetings where everyone is so supportive and collaborative.’ That meant a lot to me. I credit that to building a team of executives who share core values at heart,” Glass says.

Building a business can be stressful, which is why being intentional is essential to balancing work and the rest of life — family, friends, and your own needs. But building a business is not without risk. Glass explains, “I spent a lot of years wringing my hands over whether or not to start VirtualZ and wondering how I would even get started. I had a long list of fears preventing me from trying.” Luckily, she was given the encouragement she needed to pick up the phone and make that first phone call, which led to more calls. “It would have been easier for me to not pick up the phone at all, and I would still be wringing my hands,” Glass says. “My advice to those starting their careers: try your idea. Ask for the help you want or need in order to move your career in the direction you intend.” In the end, just take a chance.

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