While the technology industry continues to develop and evolve, it remains that the human element and leveraging a workforce’s skills play an important role in allowing the industry to thrive. In today’s episode, Jessica Firestone, CEO and President of Tempest shares her vision to provide complete management of maintenance programs, explore new relationships and to expand internationally. At the heart of her growth goals is the importance of prioritizing people and utilizing their strengths. Finally, in their conversation about a people-first culture, Jessica and our host Carrie Charles discuss how organizations can use hybrid work schedules to their advantages.
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Prioritizing People Across All Network Technologies with Jessica Firestone of Tempest
I’m thrilled with my guest, a woman who I have a great deal of respect for, Jessica Firestone. She is the CEO of Tempest. Jessica, how are you doing?
It’s good to see you, Carrie. I am doing well. Thank you.
Thanks for coming to the show. I’m excited. When I saw you at Connectivity Expo in 2022, I said, “We got to do this.” You are an entrepreneur. You’re very successful. You have the thing that I have a lot of respect for because I’m a female in telecom and so are you. We want to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome there too. I can’t wait for this conversation. First, tell me, what’s the story behind Tempest and also your journey in getting to where you are? How did all this happen?
When I was a little girl, I wasn’t dreaming of selling telecom equipment but that’s where I am. I loved the industry a lot. I started off working at a young age. I was motivated to support myself. I started working for a company in the secondary market computer parts business. That was about a five-year journey. Some partners I knew were starting a telecom company back in 1995 called Somera Communications. I moved up to Santa Barbara to join them and learn about the telecom industry. I knew some of the business in terms of the refurbished type of the business but I did not know anything about telecom. I got in there and started talking to customers.
This is the heyday of deregulation and everyone is building. It was a wild ride. At that time, we were focused on the buying and selling of equipment. That business was a crazy success. I was there until 2002 and led the largest division there of wireless network and equipment sales. I was successful there. I loved it because, in a way, I felt like the relationship was key. We’re building relationships, managing people, which I can go into further and which I love, and then creatively solving our customers’ problems, whether we could find them the exact solution they needed or engineer a different solution.
I was good at that creative part and the problem-solving as well. I did that until 2002. I had a one-year-old at that point and wanted to take a break. There had been ownership changes at the company. I took a few years off and did some consulting. I did sales training for the company I had left. I did some fashion business. I always laugh at that because I like the customers a lot better in the telecom industry. People are so down to earth.
In 2005, I was looking into the fact that there was still a need out there that a lot of customers were interested in working with a diverse company. I had people that wanted to work together again. In 2005, I missed telecom. I launched Tempest and that was the beginning. That was seventeen years ago in 2022.
Building relationships is key to managing people.
Congratulations. Tell me about Tempest. Who do you serve, your products, and everything?
Tempest is a multi-vendor equipment and services solutions provider. Our customers are everyone from the large wireless carriers, the tower companies, the MSOs, the WISPs, and then we’ve got a whole group with the government and energy networks. They have telecom networks as well. The data center enterprise companies have networks as well. That’s the customers that we serve.
Jessica, tell me more about the products that you sell at Tempest.
We sell both new and refurbished equipment, but the products span everything from RAN, your LTE 5G type equipment, as well as a lot of in-building DAS. There are a lot of legacy products there. DC power batteries, optical data, and more. Within that, some of the manufacturers we support are everything from Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco, Juniper, CommScope, Corning, etc. There are a lot of discontinued products in a lot of the in-buildings. We’re helping a lot with the repair and support of those products as well. We also do repair on a lot of these products, but those are some of the main areas that we focus on.
What are the ways that you help your customers? Let’s say, problems that you solve because you said you’re a problem solver.
The network equipment is part of what we do. In that, we will do everything from supplying refurbished equipment when there’s maybe a backorder or legacy need new distribution, as well as kitting and staging, which we’re doing. For example, we’re supporting a 5G OEM where we are pre-assembling and testing, kitting their products, and then getting them out to their customers. We’re doing everything from the network equipment to also the remote integrations that we’re doing through our tech center.
We also do remote maintenance services and tax support there. There are cost savings there on the maintenance side. In addition, we do hardware repair and spare management programs. We’re helping all the way through the network life cycle, from the new build expansions to the maintenance of the installed to supporting the legacy transitions into the future builds as well.
What markets or regions do you serve?
Our customer base is primarily North America with some exceptions in terms of who our customers are. Our supply partnerships are more global. A big key strategy for us is to be able to locate the equipment that our customers need when they need it.
We were talking about global supply chain issues. How have the supply chain shortages affected your business? Also, you said that you’ve been able to help your customers there as well.
In Tempest, we do new equipment distribution, but we also do fulfillment from refurbished and new surplus through decommissioning of other carriers, canceled projects, database, and all the surplus equipment out there that we can. How that has affected us is we’ve been able to step up the support of our carriers and our network operators. If they can’t get it from the OEM, we can often solve their problems. We see a lot of this with batteries and power, but also data equipment. All across the network elements, there seem to be shortages that we’re able to help solve problems with. It has stepped up our offering and ability to solve our customers’ issues.
Talk about what you love most about your role as CEO. What lights you up every day?
There are several parts to that. I love hiring and developing people. I love that our company employs 117 people. More than that, I loved seeing the development and being able to mentor and help the people on my team, and then see them take off, get independent, grow, succeed, and then add their own team members. It’s fulfilling to teach and see people learn, and then be able to succeed. I’ve seen people grow up through this company and it’s exciting. That’s a big part for me. I also still love the strategy, the marketing, and looking at deals. I love my customer relationships throughout this industry. It’s not just customers but contacts I’ve known for many years through the companies. I have a lot of passion for the whole business and for the people.
What tips can you share as a business leader and entrepreneur with people who want to start their own business? Maybe they are new entrepreneurs or they have a business and they’re focusing on how to make that successful in this marketplace. What tips can you share with those people?
Listen to your customers. Hear them out and understand all the issues they are facing to continue to reinvent and tweak your approach so that you’re solving a need that’s out there.
The biggest tip I would share is to listen to your customers. Hear them out and understand all the issues they’re facing to continue to reinvent and tweak your approach so that you’re solving a need that’s out there that not everyone can do it. Find your unique niche of where you can solve their problems and then build that loyalty with those customers.
We’re getting through this crazy COVID world. I still think personal relationships, phone conversations, customer visits, and face-to-face relationships are still appreciated more than ever because people have been lacking contact and human interactions. I’m all about keeping those personal connections, whether it’s virtual or face-to-face. Find your niche, continue to be flexible, reinvent yourself, keep those relationships strong, and listen to your customers for finding those next avenues.
You talked a little bit about the way things have changed. A lot has changed for salespeople, not just in our industry but in every industry, and the way that we sell in our world. You mentioned that it’s still important to get out there and get in front of people. Travel is hard. Flights are delayed and canceled. It’s so challenging to get around the world.
In your opinion, from what you’ve seen for so many years that you have been involved in business development as well as trained, mentored and developed salespeople, how has the process of sales changed in our industry? How important is it that we still get out there, travel, and see customers from week to week and have those face-to-face interactions?
We’ve never been like the every week travel people. We’ve been more strategic in terms of when there’s a key relationship to build or a deal to focus on. That was paused for a few years during COVID. One thing that my team was great about was scheduling these meetings with teams of people and trying to make them as interactive as possible. Over the years, customers expect less of that face-to-face flying out for every opportunity.
You have to be much more selective and intentional on your business travel, but then when you do it, make it a high impact. It means something to people still to this day. It has changed some. It’s not where it was. People are able to have much more significant meetings or deeper conversations remotely than they were back in the day. I still support that.
The other change I see is in marketing. Generation marketing, cohesive marketing, and messaging to your customers are other sales avenues. I joke that it’s like selling while you sleep. I feel like you’re constantly needing to stay in front of your customers. You can’t call everyone every day, but to consistently let them know the areas where we can help them and get in front of them in that way too.
That’s top of mind. It happens to me sometimes. I’ll have somebody that calls me or reaches out to me 100 times and I say, “No, not right now.” A different person reaches out at the right time. I say, “I’m ready.” Sometimes it is all about timing. Tell me about the Tempest culture and what you’ve created over the past years. What do you love about the Tempest culture?
I love the people that I work with. The team is extremely passionate about taking care of our customers. There’s competitive energy with each other in terms of the sales team. They’re all friendly but competitive and I love that. It’s also important for us to spend time socially. That could be anything from going on a hike or having a happy hour, depending on the team. Out in Dallas, we’ll have bowling or outing, but spending time together when we’re not working, and trying to show that people are incredibly important and appreciated part of this. We obviously couldn’t do it without our people.
We need them to feel appreciated and supported. Also, have fun, joke around, and take a minute to enjoy the people that you’re spending so much time with. We’re supportive of the people. We want to make sure they know that family comes first. If there are issues they need to take care of, take time, go focus on that, and get that where you feel comfortable. That balance of work-life is super important. It’s a fun culture. It’s a hardworking and passionate group of people. We are like one big family.
Do you have a hybrid model? Are you in office, remote or combination?
It’s funny because we do have a hybrid model. Before COVID, everyone needs to be in the office all the time. We need to hire most of our people here in California for sales. We have had to rethink all of that. We want to be flexible to support our team. It has taught us that the right people can be remote. If they’re independent, self-motivated, and know the business, we can support them remotely.
That’s good because I’m in Santa Barbara. We have here our main technical facility. Our logistics center is in Dallas. There are good people, but it’s awesome to have the whole country get good people in. We try to get everyone here at least a few days a week. We try to have one day where everyone is here. It’s great hearing that energy and deal-making out there again. There is still a huge benefit to people sitting together, hearing what each other’s working on, and helping out each other, and the social aspect as well.
I so agree with you. We have a hybrid model as well. We’re remote on Mondays and Friday, and then we’re in office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We have a fully remote team throughout the country as well. There is something special about being in person when we can. I do agree with that. Everyone loves that flexibility. Some leaders say that it’s going to change. We’re all going to get back in the office. Who knows?
Everyone can do it! Find your unique niche where you can solve problems and then build loyalty with those customers.
My question to you that I wanted to explore a little bit is this area of talent attraction. It’s a struggle for many people with the recession, which is interesting. We still have talent shortages and it’s a little off and on time. Is there anything that is working for you with talent attraction? Maybe any challenges that you’re having or any strategies that you’ve put into place that you can share.
Flexibility is probably the number one word that pops into my mind. For my partners and me, it has always been, “This is the schedule and this is where you’re going to be.” Now, to attract the people that we want to attract, we have to think ourselves differently about work. We have to think that if they’re hard-working, they know what they’re doing, and they’re in their company of people, we’re going to be open to them being somewhere else. We’re going to be open to their schedules being a little bit different.
That might be a more flexible vacation plan or a more flexible working remote plan. It’s about flexibility. In the end, what we want is people to succeed, do their job well, and for Tempest to succeed. If they can do that wherever and whenever they’re there, that’s more important than that old-fashioned 8:00 to 5:00, sitting here in the office way that we’ve always done things.
I feel exactly the same way. What I also hear in that is trust. You trust people that they are doing what they need to do and they have that passion. That’s your culture and that drive, but you maintain that connectedness as well. I talk about this with women that I have on the show because we’re in a male-dominated industry.
There are so many women and men that ask me, “How can I attract and retain more women? As a woman in telecom, how can I become more successful in a male-dominated industry?” These are topics that we hear a lot about. My question to you is, have you faced any challenges along the way in your rise to get to where you are and how have you overcome those challenges?
For me, it has always been about knowing my industry and my business. I can’t lie, especially when I was younger, you get that first, “She’s approaching me because she’s female. She’s trying to get to me with a flirtatious angle.” For me, it’s always about when I open my mouth and I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done my research and I’m adding value. I’m equal to the men or maybe sometimes I know more than they do. That’s how we’re going to prove ourselves and take away any of that inequality or any of that, “She’s trying to use her looks.”
I’m equal to you and what I’m doing. If we talk and sit down, we can have a friendly relationship. That’s important to me with all my clients, men and women. I want to find a way to connect or bond with the people I’m working with as two equals who know our business and can help each other out. It’s about knowing your stuff and proving it in the way that you communicate. That’s the best way I could do that.
It’s great advice and also very honest because you’re saying things that people are thinking. It’s the nature of humanity. That’s what we deal with the male and the female energy when both are present. Is there any other advice that you would give to a woman in telecom who’s starting out or who wants to advance?
It’s funny because I’m trying to think if it’s any different than I would give to a man starting out. For anyone starting in this industry, build relationships with your customers so you can learn from them what they need and how to help them. Find mentors or people you can work closely with to learn how they navigated the opportunities that they did. Take yourself seriously. Know what you’re doing. Learn and work hard.
In telecom, it’s a level of persistence and consistency that needs to be steady. It’s a lot of hard work but when you make those relationships and get those opportunities, it’s extremely rewarding. Be patient with yourself, but work hard and learn everything you can about the business you’re in and the customers. I’m a huge advocate of detail. If you’re in telecom, learn everything you can about your customer’s networks or about the organization, the buying process, and the decision-making process of your customers. That’s what I would give advice to new people starting out in the industry.
I love what you said about persistency and consistency. It’s so important. Listen to your customer and understand everything about that customer. From a culture standpoint, you said it’s all about people and offering that flexibility which I do think is important. There are leaders that are saying, “Will this subside? Will this go away? Will we be back in the office and back to the way it used to be?” I don’t think we will. This desire for flexibility is still going to be there. All of this is resonating with me. What is your vision for Tempest five years from now?
My vision would be to continue to develop some of the programmatic parts of our business. I want to grow our ability to provide complete comprehensive spare management programs or maintenance programs. I want to be more into the new builds for 5G, private wireless, and private LTE. I want to add more new market distribution relationships to that, and then expand more internationally on the selling, the support, and the buying side as well.
Continue to grow, continue to have more contractual programmatic businesses, and then expand into more of the enterprise space. There are more opportunities there for us. That’s pretty straightforward, but that’s continually the focus. Where are we going? How can we grow more? How can we get more contracts so that the bottom line is coming in every month and then we add to it?
I truly believe that you’re going to be able to accomplish all that, Jessica. Congratulations on seventeen years in business. I’m sure that you will have another seventeen years or more to come. I wanted to ask you though, where can we learn more about Tempest and also your open jobs? Are you hiring?
Build relationships with your customers so you can learn what they need and how to help them.
We are hiring. We have some sales roles. We often have technical roles, logistics roles, and project management. Our website is www.TempestNS.com. We’re always interested in finding good people. When we talk about global supply chain shortages, another big shortage is technical resources in terms of engineering and that kind of information. Technical experience is aging out in certain situations.
One of the things that our remote technical services businesses are it’s a people business. It’s a technical team. The reason I’m mentioning that is one of the ways we help the carriers is when they don’t have the right people when they need them. Technically, with that expertise, we’re able to help. I’m also mentioning it because the people listening may have the expertise and may want to check that out in case there are opportunities for growth in that area as well.
Technical talent is challenging to find. All talent is, but definitely that highly skilled technical talent. That’s a brilliant service that you provide there in helping the carriers with the technical side and the people that they need when they don’t have it available to them. You said aging out which also is key because a lot of Baby Boomers have left the workforce and retired after post-COVID. Also, unfortunately, millions of women have left the workforce as well. We are working with fewer people.
All of these are fantastic points. Jessica, thank you so much for coming on the show. It was a pleasure talking to you. I hope to see you soon. I will be getting on a plane and traveling to California soon. We also have Lisa White there. She’s your neighbor in Santa Barbara. I’m going to have to come and see both of you. I love Santa Barbara.
That would be fun. I would love that. Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to speak here. I appreciate it.
We’ll talk soon.
Have a good day.
About Jessica Firestone
Jessica Firestone is a proven technology business leader and industry trailblazer. As CEO and President of Tempest, Jessica oversees the strategy for sales, marketing, and supply.
Jessica’s career began as a sales and customer support representative at Century Computer Marketing, a leading distributor of computer equipment and spare parts. In 1996, she joined Somera Communications (NASDAQ: SMRA), a pioneering provider of new and used telecommunications infrastructure equipment and services, as a divisional sales manager responsible for sales to wireless carriers throughout the United States. From 1996 to 2002, Jessica was promoted several times, from Manager to Director and finally to Vice President of Wireless Sales, where she led the company’s largest sales division, managing a team of 27 people, with responsibility for $97 million revenue.
Jessica left Somera Communications in 2002 to pursue other opportunities. She joined Somera Ventures, a Santa Barbara based private equity investment firm, where she worked with several of their portfolio companies as a Business Development Advisor. It was her vision and industry insight that ultimately led to the launching of Tempest Telecom Solutions in 2005.
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