Spotlight: Jay Kowalsky, CTS-I – Director of Operations | Technology Leader | Thoughtfully combining People, Space and Technology

In my biweekly blog series, I am highlighting some of the incredible people who work for the Audio Video Industry. In this post, we are profiling Jay Kowalsky. Here is a brief introduction. 

Jay Kowalsky,CTS-I is the Director of Operations for Red Thread.

Jay Kowalsky Color1. Describe your journey in the AV industry? How did it start?

Coming out of college, I had a desire to work in radio. Seemingly, this was going to fuel the need in my life to be in the spotlight. This is something I would later learn to leverage as I matured both personally and professionally. (Those that know me are shaking their head yes and saying “ah, that makes a lot of sense.”) I was fortunate enough to have worked for a few of Boston’s radio stations in various positions, but I never fully broke into the “on-air” personality world and I had started to see my bills piling up. A former college roommate and friend of mine had asked if I was interested in making a few dollars building AV equipment racks for a local Boston based integrator. I jumped at that opportunity and never looked back. That was 20+ years ago.

2.What do you think are the challenges that are facing a new person who wants to join the industry?

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the AV industry. The economic impact has forced layoffs, slashed budgets, and caused uncertainty for everyone. The supply chain has been disrupted due to the virus’ impact on factory workers and trans-oceanic shipping. People are stressed about office re-entry and the psychological effect of wearing masks. To make matters worse, our country is more divided than ever. The challenge now is that the market is saturated with talent because of layoffs and downsizing. This is completely opposite of the problem we have faced for years of not having enough talent. I would advise them to be patient, take this opportunity to build your skills with online classes, and ask for introductory interviews with integrators in your market so you will be ready when organizations are ready to hire again. This also gives you the opportunity to understand company culture and policies around safety and wellbeing, so you know where you want to be.

3.What are the positives of working in this industry?

For me, it’s the people. Being a self-proclaimed “people person”, I can tell you that it is a pleasure to be associated with the folks in this industry. AV professionals tend to be helpful, insightful, and genuine. But I would be remiss if I did not talk about my favorite group -my Red Thread family. Our team is made up of truly passionate people that love what they do and enjoy working together. Despite whatever challenges we face, we face them together. Inevitably, people might move on to other organizations, but I can honestly say a large majority typically make an inquiry about returning. That is a tribute to our culture here at Red Thread.

4.What in your opinion would you change in the industry? What are the negatives that are prevalent ?

I believe the AV industry lacks diversity, mostly because of missed opportunities to educate students entering the job market about our business and offer training to develop interest and expertise. Schools like the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) in Boston offer AV tracks that provide great training and prepare their students to jump into the industry and begin to contribute right away. We’ve been fortunate enough to develop a relationship with BFIT by attending job fairs and talking with students. We’ve also partnered with the Loop Lab, which is a non-profit organization run by Chris Hope. Their mission, which aligns with BFIT, is to empower People of Color to develop technology careers through training and job placement. We are excited to have worked with the Loop Lab to develop an operations video that will be posted on our website soon. These future leaders are extremely bright and eager to make an impact, but it is up to us to open the doors and provide opportunities. The more effective we become at removing barriers like solving for transportation needs and establishing mentorship programs, the faster we will achieve diversity.

Two by two collage[RELATED] : If you have missed any of my previous interviews, please click here.
5.Describe your ideal client? What do you wish clients to know before hiring you?

My ideal client is one that is seeking to stay relevant in whatever industry they are in. We look at the workspace holistically, creating spaces that promote collaboration with the flexibility to support changing needs. Our Microsoft partnership and the Steelcase research from our parent company, allows us to align with thought leaders and share this knowledge with our customers. This capability provides unique value for our customers but it also differentiates us in the AV market. Our clients should know that we work in corporate, higher education and healthcare and our solutions can be as small as small collaboration system or a work from home setup to an enterprise wide project implementation. Whether organizations are looking to refine, rethink or reimagine the workspace, we are here to help.

6.Describe a typical work day for you. What are your daily disciplines?

Prior to COVID-19, I typically worked out of our Operations Centers in Wilmington MA And East Hartford CT. I also had frequent opportunities to work from our Boston WorkLife in Seaport, which has an amazing view of Boston Harbor. COVID-19 had changed all of that. I not only began to work primarily remotely, I quickly found myself prioritizing people’s needs and the importance of the safety and well-being of the team. I found myself listening far more than I ever had and as a result, I have developed closer relationship with my staff and empathy for the personal impacts COVID 19 has had on them and their families. We are in the problem-solving business and this crisis gave our team a great opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate. Our team has developed new products and services to support our customers through this crisis and beyond.

Two by two collage 17.Describe the apps and gear that you use daily which makes you more productive?

Like most people, you will never catch me without my iPhone. The MS Outlook app is absolutely the most used app on my phone next to the MS Teams mobile app. Our organization utilizes Teams daily to conduct meetings and ad-hoc video calls to connect with each other working from home for the past four months. The AV team has been working with the Red Thread IT team to evaluate MS Teams and assist with adoption prior to the roll out to the rest of the organization. Microsoft Teams has certainly helped us feel more connected, even when we can’t all be together in the office. From our engineers to our salespeople, we can’t imagine how we would work productively during the shelter in place. It’s capabilities give the ability to hold scheduled or ad-hoc video calls, instant messaging, file sharing with group editing and a plethora of supporting apps. It has improved our ability collaborate efficiently and is making us a stronger organization overall. The other item I use daily, albeit not as flashy as Teams, is a journal. I enjoy the pen to paper over digital lists & notes. It keeps me organized from the day to day to meeting notes.

8. How do you stay relevant in this industry? 

It takes effort to stay relevant in this industry. It takes even more effort to guide your team to relevancy. What sets us apart is our ability to adopt. Whether that’s adopting to a last-minute customer request or shifting to new priorities as a result of a global pandemic, we’ve been able to pivot and modify our services and solutions to accommodate what our clients need.

Red Thread is our own best case study. Our work environment and the technology that drives our collaboration are for customers to experience themselves in our living showroom. Since we have first-hand knowledge of the latest products based on our own use, if gives our clients confidence in experiencing the technology and allowing us to tailor solutions for them.

By keeping current with new research from the CDD, Steelcase, Microsoft and other industry leaders, we’re constantly updating existing guides, products, and services to align with customer needs. For example, Steelcase developed a “Now, Near, Far” methodology for how we might retrofit the workplace “Now” for the first wave of employees returning, reconfigure the workplace for a larger population returning in “Near”, and reinvent the workplace for the future in “Far” to better adapt to possible economic, climate and health disruptions. Based on this, we’ve created our own Workplace Re-Entry Program for customers, which we rolled out to ensure a safe return to the workplace for our client’s employees.

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