June 3, 2014
AUTHENTICITY. You hear the word frequently from Meredith Bronk. Some say she’s often the only woman in the room. Meredith says there are plenty of women in technology; that leadership isn’t about gender; that collaboration at Open Systems Technologies, where she was promoted to president April 1, is so strong no one notices when she is the only woman.
OST is big on authenticity, on being the best at what you do. But employees and families come first. Maybe that’s why OST feels like family—another Meredith word. One of three daughters, she has three daughters: Tori, Talia, and Ainsley; fourteen, twelve, and ten. She and her husband, Kipp, worked together at OST for nine years; since 2007, he’s run the household as a stay-at home dad. It’s about making the choices that work best as a family. “There’s no playbook.”
Meredith and Kipp have a partnership. “I’m modeling to my daughters that we’re equals.” That’s huge. She tells them, “Your dad does things differently than I do.” That’s hard. “I want to be the über everything—wife, mom, employee. Am I giving enough of what it means to be ‘Mom,’ not just a strong woman? Will it ever be enough? Still, she connects. “We have a dinner table game. You talk about your day’s high and low points. We all do it. When I’m gone, I call and say, High/Low.”
Authenticity colors Meredith’s world: “Demonstrating authenticity—deliberately, in a humbling manner.” She thinks about it with her daughters, telling them we don’t always have the answers. She seizes opportunities. She wants to be an influence for young women. “I have the opportunity to teach them every day.” She’s had an opportunity to tell her daughters she didn’t do her best on an exam, because she wasn’t well-prepared. “Sometimes, you won’t do great—but it’s what you do about it.”
Meredith began playing softball as a nine-year-old, and continued through her Alma College years. She’s coached since Tori began playing; she’ll cease when Ainsley stops. It’s a chance to be influential; a message for her daughters. “I love teaching. I love the life lessons we learn from team sports.” At a parents’ meeting each season, Meredith talks about her goals for their daughters—teaching them love and respect for softball, helping them learn and understand. She learned to love the game when her dad coached, and carries the lessons learned: Authority matters. Show respect. Seek to understand. “I apply that in so many areas of life. Figure out what you need to do to be successful.”
The lessons go back to an All-Star game when Meredith, twelve, lost her cool at bat. The umpire ejected her from the game; her dad ejected her from the field. She couldn’t fulfill her pitching role, and her team lost. She let failure affect what she needed to do. “We can’t afford to not be a team.” Teaching that in business is part of leading. OST employees aren’t big on titles and reporting structures; they do what’s needed. Meredith recalls co-founder Dan Behm (former president, now CEO) pulling weeds. “It sets an example. No one is better or worse than anyone else. We all have a role to play.” She’s proud to work with Dan. “He’s authentic. He puts himself out there.” He’s a mentor who was instrumental in her recent graduation.
Meredith grew up in South Bend, Indiana, enjoying Notre Dame and its surroundings. Her father is an alumnus. (She applied there as an undergraduate.) In May, she graduated from the university’s Mendoza College of Business Executive MBA Program. For nearly two years, she spent a weekend monthly on the beloved campus. “So many people sacrificed for me to be able to do this.” Her family was supportive: parents, sisters, husband and daughters, Dan and his wife, Barb. The OST team shared pride in Meredith’s pursuit. “I think part of it was aspirational—inspirational—people wondering, ‘Could I do that?’” Success at Notre Dame was a dream come true. She learned confidence comes in embracing yourself as a leader; knowing you don’t have to have all of the answers, because capable others could help; exploring strengths and gaining from others’ strengths.
She’s authentic. “I’m humbled by the fact I’ve been given certain gifts and talents.” Meredith wonders whether she does them justice. During a conference, she thought a conversation was missing the boat and said so. “As a woman, you have to challenge the absurdity of what you see around you, in a respectful way.” There’s a desire to see everyone do better. Meredith strives to maximize her talents, and help others improve. She welcomes those who help her, calling on folks who tell her if she’s getting it wrong. She advises, “Be who you are, all of the time.” OST has grown substantially, but remains “who we are.” There’s trust here. Dan, Jim VanderMey (chief innovation officer and cofounder), and Meredith have run OST for sixteen years. Jim is the visionary—“chief geek.” Dan knows sales. Meredith “gets it done.” Everyone has weaknesses, but they leverage each other’s strengths. Shortly after Meredith’s promotion was announced, an application development team leader asked if she was nervous. “Of course! I have a responsibility every day to one hundred fifty families. Am I ready? Yes. Am I confident? Yes. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Yes. All of these are true.”
Meredith enjoys talking about being a leader first and woman second. Drawing girls into technology is big. Other strong women in technology usually represent more typical leaders; Meredith encourages girls to explore their passions, to pursue them wildly. She talks of problem-solving, working with people, empathy, analysis. She wants to lose stereotypes and see more innovation—getting that female Steve Jobs. “It takes a societal change that’s only just begun.”
She wants to empower girls. “I have a responsibility to further movement, to encourage their passion.” The unwitting, not unwilling face of a movement. “As a female technology leader, you have an opportunity to spur a movement—to be a face that represents possibility. You can’t be what you can’t see. Create the idea.” She asks, “Where are you getting your influences?” and “Do we use influences for good?” With power comes great responsibility. And for that, she’s grateful.
“Gratitude is one of the biggest gifts you give.” Meredith thanks Kipp for his role in their home, and when he does things. He does the same with her. “Satisfaction from gratitude is powerful.” She’s grateful for what she has, and never stops teaching and modeling gratitude. “I have been blessed beyond belief.”
Which leads to a favorite phrase: “I’m spoiled, but I’m gratefully spoiled.” Spoiled—but not rotten! When her girls “throw it back,” saying, “We’re spoiled— but not rotten,” Meredith doesn’t mind. “They’re modeling behavior.”