This is the second in a recent series of articles researching and better understanding the role of telecom trade group CEOs. These articles also explore the make-up of the respective organization’s constituency, and how each leader best addresses the needs of those members.
Ilissa Miller is president of NEDAS (formerly the Northeast DAS & Small Cell Association, today just known as Northeast Distributed Antennae System, or NEDAS*). She is also the founding partner of the Independent Data Center Alliance. In her current role, Ms. Miller guides an organization that educates and promotes the joinder of wireless and wireline infrastructure, software, and technologies. The footnote below further describes the organization and its mission.
Future articles and offerings will emanate from the mouths and minds of the CEOs from among the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), the National Cable Telecommunications Associations (NCTA), the National Cable Telecommunications Cooperative (NCTC).
Below is the edited transcript of Illisa Miller’s answers to our 20 questions:
Jimmy Schaeffler: What, in bullet points, are NEDAS’ core duties and responsibilities?
Ilissa Miller: NEDAS is a grassroots community of business people, focused on educating the industry about the wireline and wireless convergence. Our responsibilities include the following:
- Education and outreach to the greater industry on the realities of trends.
- Facilitating conversations and opening dialogue about industry challenges.
- Bridging the wireline and wireless communities, so they can work better together.
JS: Within that realm, what are your individual core duties and responsibilities as NEDAS president?
IM: I oversee the strategy, direction, and implementation of our annual programs and events, along with co-chairing the NEDAS Advisory Council, made of up nearly a dozen leading and cutting-edge industry players. In addition to strategy, I am responsible for the NEDAS programming and topics discussed at our events, including conferences, webinars, podcasts and more.
JS: How big is NEDAS, and what are its core staff positions?
IM: We have a terrific team that includes a project manager, marketing manager, social media manager, and sponsorship sales manager. We leverage best-of-breed services from an organization called East of Ellie for event logistics, and digital marketing and public relations from my company, iMiller Public Relations.
JS: How much of your work time is spent on the road versus in the office?
IM: I spend about 50 percent of my time on the road.
JS: What are the places or types of places that you visit the most as part of the job of NEDAS president and CEO?
IM: I attend a lot of different industry conferences and events, from the wireless side to data centers, network operations, telecom, enterprise technology and more. The international travel gives me an opportunity to learn and hear about topical discussions, take part in the conversation and meet with executives to dive deeper into their problems, so we can create programs and offer opportunities that will help people solve their problems.
JS: What would you say, overall, is the most important role for the NEDAS president?
IM: The most important role is ensuring a holistic view of the market is clear, so that we can continue our mission to help companies learn and access information about technologies and solutions that are changing the world. I know that’s a bit pie-in-the-sky. However, this is the information needed to help set the strategy for the organization and its discussion points. I firmly believe that working on an industry is as important as working in an industry, and I take having the opportunity to do both very seriously.
JS: How do you spend the majority of your time?
IM: I spend a lot of time reading, researching, and writing. But most of the time, I am on phone calls or in meetings listening for challenges, and helping to solve problems. It takes interaction with the entire ecosystem to ensure we are on the right track. By keeping pace with, and driving conversations forward, I hope that NEDAS will make the difference in helping to accelerate network deployments, in buildings and out.
JS: Which duties would you deem the most important?
IM: Definitely listening to people. It’s important to understand what is important to the industry, so that we can capture the effects, and gauge how relevant each topic is in the market.
JS: What are your favorite experiences (and memories) of your role as the NEDAS president?
IM: When I first started with NEDAS in May 2013, I was very green on in-building wireless challenges. However, I was keenly aware of the opportunities. With a background in the wholesale telecom industry, very early in my career I had the opportunity to work for Ericsson during the trial period of Bluetooth technology. When I learned about the opportunities with NEDAS, I was truly interested, to help make a difference. The conversations between wireline and wireless were a lot more segregated than they are now, and the industry didn’t understand the importance, yet, of engaging “the other side.” So I set out on a mission to help integrate topics about fiber and in-the-ground network connectivity, and slowly introduced concepts to convey the importance of understanding how the industry all works together. While this still remains my personal mission, we have made tremendous headway. We now have conversations about the edge, connectivity to towers and within enterprise buildings, the importance of data centers and base stations, regulations, public safety challenges and much more. It has been truly rewarding to slowly help the industry listen to and hear each side of the industry more clearly.
JS: What are your least favorite experiences (and memories) as NEDAS president?
IM: Honestly? My least favorite experiences are waiting for our attendees and sponsors to make their decisions and register, or decide on a sponsorship to support our organization. The feedback in the market is so positive about what we’re doing, but the budgets and priorities for spending do not always support those interests. So, asking for the business is my least favorite experience, but a must-do to survive and continue on our mission. So, don’t wait for us to ask. Just do it!
JS: What are a few important bullet-point-type legal, regulatory and policy issues ahead for you and NEDAS?
- Certainly, data sovereignty across multiple carriers and platforms is a key issue.
- The true implementation of 5G is a hot topic.
- Understanding and identifying parameters for regulations between wireline and wireless communication systems, as we enter deeper in the digital age. I don’t think that will be truly ready for a few years.
- The conversation between municipalities and infrastructure providers needs to be better, to create and enable smart city solutions.
- So, the challenges in having conversations that make sense to one another, and then solving the problem together, is another key area that needs to be addressed from a regulatory, policy, and legal perspective.
JS: Looking back at your many years as NEDAS president, what has been your biggest challenge?
IM: Being the president of NEDAS, as well as the CEO of iMiller Public Relations, and having served as an elected official in the Village where I live, juggling all of these sometimes-divergent interests, that has been a challenge. Identifying people who can work independently, but also knowing how to escalate, and ask for guidance is not an easy thing to do. So hiring and firing are certainly, without a doubt, at least the latter, my least favorite experiences. It’s not just the disappointment that someone didn’t work out. It’s also the cascading results of the fallout on families and livelihoods. I take that very seriously. For someone who is empathetic and caring, setting a hard line for business acumen and expectations is not a natural thing to do. Ensuring the business needs comes first, and identifying the best fit to drive that interest is not easy.
JS: What in your previous life (before NEDAS) was the best, and conversely the worst, event or occurrence in your professional life that taught or impressed a lesson upon you?
IM: The best and worst experience of my career was when my former partner terminated me with no notice, and maliciously took my earnings and interest in our joint company. That was a challenging time, which propelled me to start my own company, and deliver on the promises I had made to my clients. The majority of my clients at the time followed me, which certainly spoke volumes for the work and results I was delivering. Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. She made me CEO of my own company! But during that time, dealing with the hurt, stolen income, and negativity that surrounds such a situation was challenging to juggle. I had to make a choice to focus on my business and the positivity of the situation, rather than the negativity. Once I realized that was within my control, it was full force forward from there.
JS: Tell “Mixed Signals” about your schooling, focusing on important things you learned.
IM: I went to school initially to become an opera singer, and realized that making a living singing was going to be a challenge. I changed my major to English Writing and Literature, and graduated with a BA, 26 years ago. I think I learned the most important things after school, and in the real world. Highlights for me include being kind and nice to everyone, no matter what position they are in a company; responsiveness and expeditious follow-up make a huge difference; listening and hearing what people are saying is more important than talking; asking questions doesn’t make you stupid—it makes you smarter; having a strategy and an approach for meetings, conferences, events, etc., will help you set goals, and assure success. Those are just a few things that I have learned along the way.
JS: Who in your professional background has impressed you the most?
IM: There are so many people in the industry who impress me every day. It’s hard to specify just one person. But accolades go to the CEOs of the companies who make it look so easy, and to former colleagues of mine who have climbed the ranks to lead billion-dollar companies. The list of impressive people is simply too long to mention, and each one inspires me every single day.
JS: Who in your personal life has impressed you the most?
IM: I know it sounds really cheesy, but my parents. Through the years, just like any family, they faced adversity and challenges, and each time, persevered. The bottom was tough, and the climb just keeps getting harder, but I am blessed to still have them in my life, and admire all that they have done with their lives, and continue to do so.
JS: If you could do your professional life all over again, what would you change?
IM: I am really proud of the career path that I took, and ultimately stumbled upon to get me where I am today, and wouldn’t change a thing. From door-to-door sales and canvassing for the environment, to telephone sales for the NYC Ballet Guild, as a receptionist, recruiter, and executive assistant, I was able to build a career in a specialized industry, and lead a group of people to have conversations that are helping to change the world. I’ve had the pleasure of developing global products, selling data centers, building and marketing an internet exchange, and building not just one but two public relations companies, from the ground up. What could be better -- and more fun -- than that?
*DAS is the acronym meaning Distributed Antennae System. A DAS network of antennas sends and receives cellular signals on a carrier’s licensed frequencies, thereby improving voice and data connectivity. The DAS concept is best represented in a cellular environment, where it offers mass communications and enhanced bandwidth for in-building and large studio/venue amplification and bandwidth. One application for DAS would involve a visitor to a public stadium, seeking to stream the game to a hand-held device. DAS answers the questions: How is that best done, so that that it is done with the best possible video, audio, and data quality, and so that everyone else at the game can do the same?