WITI Interviews Pamela Meyer Lopker
President and Chairman of the Board
(excerpted from Business Impact by Women in Science and Technology, a WITI Research Paper © 1997)
WITI: Let's start back before you founded QAD. You have a joint degree in economics and math. How has your educational background contributed to your business success? If a college-age woman is primarily interested in the business or marketing side of high technology, would you still recommend getting a technical degree?
Lopker: Yes, I would. If I were doing it over, I might choose computer science over math - there's not a lot you can do with a math degree by itself. However, with either one you're learning valuable base skills. Even if you don't stick with software engineering it gives you credibility in the engineering world - and technical credibility is just as important on the business side.
WITI: You founded QAD right out of school. Did anything in the education process prepare you for the life of an entrepreneur?
Lopker: No, I think entrepreneurship is innate - it's either in the blood or it isn't. I probably would have been an entrepreneur even if I hadn't chosen the high-technology field.
WITI: Does enterpreneurship run in your family?
Lopker: To a certain extent. My brother is an entrepreneur - but my sister isn't. My parents encouraged all of us to develop our own unique abilities - I certainly never felt that as a girl I was being pigeonholed differently than my brother. We were all encouraged to pursue whatever we were best at doing, and not to accept any obstacles as permanent limitations.
WITI: How else was your family an influence on your career choice?
Lopker: My early life - both at home and at school - was very egalitarian and free of prejudices. We were taught to respect the contribution each person could make as an individual.
My husband [Karl Lopker, QAD CEO] was also raised the same way. And the way we split jobs around the house isn't always "traditional" from a gender point of view - Karl usually goes home first at around 6:00 p.m. to spend time with the kids and make dinner. I follow a bit later to join them.
WITI: Mary Ann Byrnes, another woman recognized in the Forbes article ["Women of the Valley"] was quoted as saying "There is more mobility [in high-tech companies] because there isn't a man with 20 years' experience in line for the job ahead of you." Do you agree with Byrnes?
Lopker: I do. Some of the "button-down" industries have traditional ways of operating that sometimes make it hard for a woman to make headway. High technology is fast moving and fast growing - nothing is set in concrete. That gives everyone - and that of course includes women - a lot of opportunity.
WITI: You were quoted in the Forbes article as saying you've been places where it's hard for a woman to get in the door, and in situations like that you send in a man. What kinds of situations are you talking about?
Lopker: Women in some cultures are perceived as simply being less credible - no matter how knowledgeable or capable they are. Sometimes I choose not to hit that headon, and send in a man instead. I am, after all, in business to do business, and if cultural differences prevent that from happening I try to set limits on pressing a point.
WITI: Are there places where being a woman puts you at an advantage?
Lopker: Well, we can sometimes turn the fact that there aren't so many of us to our advantage. If you're one of only a handful of women in a room you're more likely to be remembered.
WITI: How about differences between men's and women's management styles? Do women have any advantage there?
Lopker: Women often excel in situations where strong communication is required - for example, marketing and sales; they're often good at "reading" a situation and figuring out how to get "win-win" results. Women are often good at collaborative efforts, like projects requiring a strong team. They're also good at selling complete solutions rather than single products - and that's particularly important at QAD.
However, you can't make too many generalizations - women don't have a monopoly on these skills!
WITI: It seems to be hard to get beyond one woman on Fortune 500 boards. Are companies in the high-technology industry becoming more "woman-friendly"? Are we making progress there in breaking the glass ceiling?
Lopker: I think we are. It's not surprising that there aren't more women on boards of the Fortune 500: Most of them were founded in more "traditional" times. Most men in the top levels of those companies don't have any women in their peer group. But the younger [high-tech] companies follow a different cultural pattern. It will take time to see change across the board - probably 5 to 10 years.
I'd like to see more women officers and board members, but I don't believe in a numbers game: Women need to earn their positions of power.
WITI: QAD is a "Silicon-Valley" company located outside the Silicon Valley. Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be in a high-tech "pocket" outside the Bay Area?
Lopker: There are some disadvantages, but I think the advantages outweigh them. Housing is extremely tight in the Bay Area right now, and the job market is so hot companies are constantly losing good people to one another. Here in the Santa Barbara area there is more stability, and housing is no more expensive than the cheaper parts of the Valley.
We have a good mix of senior people and new hires, and we're successful at recruiting them from all over the world.
WITI: What are your thoughts on being a keynote speaker at the WITI Conference [see WITI's conference archives]?
Lopker: I'm delighted to be participating - I appreciate the opportunity to share my ideas and concerns with other women in technology. And I like being part of an effort that helps women be more successful in their careers and make a greater contribution to the success of high-technology companies.
More information on Pamela Meyer Lopker is available at the following:
• Profile updated in 2008
• Profile at the time of induction in 1997