top of page

President & CEO, Wilco Group

JANIS cover_small.jpg

June, 2024
Photos by Pablo Roldan

What inspired you to establish your own IT and consulting firm, and what challenges did you face in the early stages of building your company?

I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but it took me a long time to develop the courage to start my business.  Growing up, most of my relatives enlisted in the military or worked in trade professions – and I still have the deepest respect for those professions.  As the first person on both side of my family to attend college, I spent many years just being grateful for having an education and for having a professional, white-collar career.  By the time I graduated from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, I knew that I wanted to serve a mission larger than myself and one that would have a direct impact on peoples’ lives.   Out of school, I accepted a job at a large consulting firm and began to quickly learn about several Federal missions and dedicated myself to helping solve real-life business and IT problems.  After over a decade of working for large companies, I still felt like something was missing and these desires inspired me to start my own firm:  the desire to put customer needs/mission first (ahead of any corporate interest), the desire to provide others with great career opportunities (other than at big firms), and a desire to make significant contributions to the non-profit community through time/mentoring/funds (chambers of commerce, veteran’s support organizations, scholarship funds, etc.), and a desire to teach my children and others about how to pursue entrepreneurialism.

When I first started working in the consulting industry twenty-six years ago, it was very different – specifically, there was with an “up or out” mentality in terms of career progression and there were fewer women and minorities in the highest corporate echelons.   Like many other entrepreneurs, my biggest challenges were lack of resources (all types!), continuing to work very long hours to motivate others and deliver results, and forgiving myself for any mistakes/failures.  Being a business owner is like riding a rollercoaster (full of ups and downs), so I always refocus on my “why” and this motivates me to keep going.

As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry, how have you navigated the industry, overcome barriers, and achieved the success you have? 

Even though I work in a male-dominated industry, I have seldomly felt “left out” or unable to advance in my career...and, when I did, I knew it was time to leave and find another opportunity that was a better fit for me.  Sometimes it is better to “vote with your feet” and just leave a job. Over many years, I have navigated the industry and overcome barriers by valuing genuine, long-term relationships over transactional relationships.  Mentors made a significant positive impact on my career.  Perhaps surprisingly to some, most of my career mentors have been men.  I think this serves as a reminder that great mentors may not look like you, sound like you, or come from a similar background as you do – we should all challenge ourselves to have mentors based on a mutual commitment to excellent delivery, a mission, etc.  (instead of just focusing on whether you want to have a coffee or beer with the person or have a common background).


What's a pivotal moment or decision that significantly contributed to the success and growth of your company? 

There have been many pivotal moments; not just one.  Some of those moments are simply making the decision to “not give up” after a set back occurs.  Some of these moments have to do with hiring a key person who can help me focus on growth more. Most of the pivotal moments have arrived via existing relationships – from a former colleague reaching out about a new opportunity or contract that we can pursue or work on together -so, it is important to have a strong, long-term network of people who work in your profession.


How do you foster a company culture of innovation, agility, and continuous learning in the rapidly evolving tech field?

It starts by recruiting people who are naturally curious and enjoy learning.  Once you have people onboard, you provide annual training stipends, promote professional development opportunities, encourage conference attendance, encourage collaboration, and appreciate people for their own unique interests and how those interests can be combined to create a “special sauce” of innovation.  


What role do you believe mentorship, partnerships, and networking have played in your professional journey?

Huge!  I have worked insanely long hours at different points in my career, but the effort would have amounted to very little without mentorship, partnerships, and networking.  You need people to help you, encourage you, advocate for you, introduce you to others, vouch for you, etc. These things have been absolutely critical to the success of my business, Wilco Group.


With IT becoming increasingly critical across industries, how do you envision the future of your company evolving?

Well, I have loved data for over 25 years now and that is how I got started in the IT industry.   So, I see my company evolving to support new data efforts, like training generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) models to provide more accurate responses.  And, I envision Wilco Group continuing to support ”low code” solutions that provide customers with automated capabilities/workflow at a lower cost.  All IT-focused companies, will continue to elevate user/customer  experience – because, even if you build the perfect solution – if no one uses it, then it is still a failure.


What advice would you offer to aspiring women leaders who are interested in pursuing a career in IT or entrepreneurship? 

Develop an inner strength.  Develop a tough skin – you will not be able to please everyone all of the time.  Learn to transcend traditional female stereotypes when necessary.  Develop an ability to stand your ground – you may not voice your opinion on every matter, but there will be times when it is critical to do so.  Have compassion for others and for yourself, but never apologize for having high standards (quality of services, deliverables or product).  Women are typically expected to comfort others, but as a leader –you may have to deliver bad news and have difficult conversations.  Understand that long hours and technical deliverables will be part of any climb in an IT career or in entrepreneurship – work life balance will be something you always struggle with in these roles, so you may want to think about what is most important to you and why.  Sacrifices/compromises will be necessary, so knowing your motivations and goals will help you know what decision to make and then to not dwell on it later.     Learn to take calculated risks and understand that some level of failure is part of the journey.   Success is a team sport, so choose each member of your team wisely (colleagues, partners, employees, etc.)   Most importantly, just be true to yourself – this is harder when you might be the only woman, minority and/or entrepreneur in the room, but it can be done and people naturally sense and gravitate towards authenticity.


Can you discuss a specific project or initiative that you're particularly proud of? 

I am proud that I have continuously served the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for over 20 years – first supporting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) right after 9/11 by conducting software pilots and implementations at BWI airport with the Federal Security Director (FSD), then supporting Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and then finally starting my company while supporting IT systems at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  We are proud to serve these valiant missions and people like emergency managers and communities before, during, and after disaster events like hurricanes and floods.


As a leader, how do you prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion within your company, and how do you ensure a supportive and inclusive work environment for all employees?

Diversity, equity and inclusion is a high priority for me and is part of all aspects of my life – personal and professional.  I think it is very difficult to ensure a supportive and inclusive work environment for all employees...simply because each employee is different, and two employees may want diametrically opposite things.  For example, an introverted employee may feel most supported by the ability to work remotely, and an extroverted employee may feel most supported by the ability to work in the office or hybrid.  Given that diversity spans every aspect of our lives (food preferences/allergies, disability, religious, cultural, racial, gender, etc., etc.), I think the key to having a supportive and inclusive workplace is letting people know that their differences are respected and celebrated. 


When you're not running your business, what other interests or hobbies do you enjoy?

When I am not running my business, I am most likely doing something with my teenage sons like attending a DC United game or going to a school activity.  Other than that, I like to hike (get out in the woods), bicycle, and travel.

bottom of page