ITA Spotlight: Joanna Vahlsing, SVP, Program Mgmt. & Ops, Centro
Monday, August 12, 2019
Posted by: Gary Hotze
Joanna Vahlsing, SVP, Program Management and Operations, Centro, @joannavahlsing
1. Chicagoan by birth or relocation?
Joanna: I relocated from NYC about four and a half years ago.
2. If you relocated, what brought you to Chicago?
Joanna: I was traveling to Chicago often for work during my last year in NYC, and I ran the Chicago marathon in 2013. I found that I really loved Chicago – great food, great people and beautiful architecture, so when it came time for me to leave NYC, my partner and I decided on Chicago.
3. How did you come to work with Centro?
Joanna: I was working with a recruiter, and one day they said to me, “I know of a company that would really benefit from what you do” and told me about Centro. Little did I know how much opportunity and fulfillment that conversation would open for me.
4. What about Centro was appealing?
Joanna: What didn’t I find appealing? Before my interviews, I did my research and was amazed at what I read about Centro’s culture, the important problems that we’re solving to revolutionize the media industry and the high caliber of team mates. When I came in for interviews, everything resonated, and I left feeling energized and believing that I could have a large impact.
5. What other roles have you held in the industry? How did they lead you to where you are now?
Joanna: In the tech industry, for about the last 20 years, I’ve held various types of project, program or portfolio management and/or operations role. At Centro, my experience has led me to establishing lightweight project/program and operational management within our organization so that we can better achieve our strategic goals.
6. Out of all the positions you've held, which one is the most interesting?
Joanna: One position I held was working for the Governor’s Office in Georgia, in the Accountability division. We worked with the Georgia Department of Education and oversaw state and federal accountability programs, such as No Child Left Behind.
7. What do you like most about what you do?
Joanna: I love creating systems, frameworks, processes and plans to help others/teams reach their goals. There is something extremely fulfilling about working with someone who has an amazing idea and being the person that helps them “see” how to make it happen.
8. Which achievement at Centro are you most proud of?
Joanna: I’m proud of our launching of a new product, Basis, one of the most automated and comprehensive digital advertising platforms in the industry. This has seen wonderful adoption in the market by agencies. It has been so exciting to be part of something new and the learning opportunities that it presents.
9. What’s your outlook on the local tech industry?
Joanna: Chicago has impressed me with the amount of innovation in its strong technology community. I see it firsthand, as Centro has hosted events in our office for local organizations such as Chicago Agile Open Space, Illinois Technology Association (ITA), Chicago Agile Day and Blacks in Technology. Support for these type of organizations that are fostering learning and collaboration is vital to growing this sector. This is why I have a strong and positive outlook for the Chicago tech space.
10. What do you think are the top issues facing the Illinois tech community?
Joanna: One of the top issues is gender diversity in senior leadership positions. Only 26% of those at the VP/SVP level are women. This is why I love the work that the ITA is doing with Women Influence Chicago to help create more diversity in leadership.
11. What did you want to be when you were in kindergarten?
Joanna: I wanted to be a neurosurgeon because I am fascinated with the complex system that is the brain and psychology, and I also wanted to help people. Those desires are now fulfilled by dealing with complex systems within organizations and helping those with whom I work.
12. What is the hardest challenge that you’ve faced on your professional journey?
Joanna: Around the mid-point of my career (way before I joined Centro), I went through a learning process that most of how I approached my professional role would need to change because of organizational changes. Fortunately, I was able to work with some of the leading strategic thinkers in the space, and they were able to help me shift the perspective and mindset that I brought to my work to one of growth and learning.
13. What’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Joanna: Nothing is permanent. This applies to good and bad situations, and it has helped me maintain a flexible and adaptable approach. Another good advice is to not take any of the “good” for granted.
14. What success are you most proud of?
Joanna: Three years ago, I obtained my sailboat captain’s license. With it, I have charted sailboats (without a captain or crew) in many places around the world.
15. Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Joanna: It’s my parents. They instilled a lot of confidence in me and the belief that anything is possible if you work hard enough.
16. What is the one thing that keeps you up at night?
Joanna: I think a lot about whether or not I am doing all that I can for my team mates and for the organization at large. How can I continue to learn and grow, how can the organization be improved?
17. What kind of technology could you not live without?
Joanna: Music available anytime/anywhere. I listen to music when running, working, cleaning, relaxing, etc. The ability to play any song, at any time, to motivate me, get me in a “flow” or send me back to a happy memory, is something that I can’t imagine living without. My go-to genre is usually country. That’s my Texas roots showing!
19. If money was no object, what would your dream job be?
Joanna: This is a tough question because I feel as though I have my dream job, but if I had to choose, I would say writing as I travel the world.
20. This one is all you! Tell us anything. Any topic at all.
Joanna: Let’s see, we’ve covered a lot. In the “getting to know me” spirit, I would say that I love to give back to the technology and program management community by serving on Boards, mentoring and writing and speaking for international events and publications. Oh, and one of my goals is to run the six World Major Marathons. I’ve run four and will run my fifth next year in Tokyo.