IT Industry Leaders: John Mehrmann on Technology & Long-term Success

John Mehrmann The powers of technology and human motivation have been central to John Mehrmann's decades-long career. When he started as a service operations manager at Toshiba America Consumer Products in 1986, business was done via fax machine and maybe a personal AOL email account. Advancing to progressively more responsible roles within Toshiba's service operations, Mehrmann latched onto new technologies to develop websites, implement call centers, automate business processes, and integr ...
John MehrmannJohn Mehrmann

The powers of technology and human motivation have been central to John Mehrmann's decades-long career.

When he started as a service operations manager at Toshiba America Consumer Products in 1986, business was done via fax machine and maybe a personal AOL email account. Advancing to progressively more responsible roles within Toshiba's service operations, Mehrmann latched onto new technologies to develop websites, implement call centers, automate business processes, and integrate business intelligence to improve business performance. The success of each solution depended on long-term employee buy-in and customer satisfaction.

An employee with Toshiba for roughly 20 years, Mehrmann founded his own executive coaching business in 2005 and co-authored "The Trusted Advocate: Accelerate Success with Authenticity and Integrity," a guide for building lasting sales and business relationships, in 2008. "I like to see people becoming the most they can be," Mehrmann says.

Mehrmann was regional sales director at supply chain solutions provider Data Exchange Corporation (DEX) from 2006 to 2008 before joining global systems integrator ZSL Inc. (formerly Zylog Systems Ltd.) as vice president for business development. In February 2010, Mehrmann became CEO of Zylog Systems (Canada) Ltd., a subsidiary formed after ZSL acquired the Canadian IT consulting and engineering staffing services company Brainhunter.

At Zylog Systems Canada, Mehrmann now runs a company that leverages Oracle databases, SaaS and other cloud-based solutions, plus outsourced application development to provide its clients with IT and engineering staffing, human capital resource management applications, and technology solutions. The company works with about 2,000 IT consultants in Canada and plans to expand its services into the United States.

Q. What do you do day-to-day in your job?

I work with teams in our organization to help clients analyze their business objectives and their ability to meet those objectives, identify any gaps, and fill any gaps. Filling a gap may involve adding headcount resources or developing software to improve business processes. In addition, I visit clients and talk with our partners to better understand their needs and how we can address them. It's a leadership/mentoring position.

Q. How did you get started in IT?

My father was with IBM for almost 50 years. He's my role model. He grew up in a Saugerties, N.Y., farmhouse, with no electricity, no plumbing, just an outhouse. He started with IBM as a mechanic and ended his career there in corporate security, working on privacy and identity theft issues and conducting corporate audits.

I remember going with my dad and seeing the punch cards, the reel-to-reel tapes, and the computers with gas vacuum tubes—that's all in the Smithsonian now.

Q. How do you keep current with the latest trends in your segment of the IT industry?

I participate in CompTIA workshops, committees and communities. I look at CompTIA SmartBrief headlines daily and read InformationWeek from cover to cover. Also lots of magazines: PCWorld, Macworld.

An article can be well written and informative, but participating in industry communities and also meeting with clients gives you a fascinating perspective about the real-world application of technology. That's where you find out where the rubber meets the road, how technology really touches people.

Q. What advice do you have for people who want to get an IT industry job?

Identify your passions and your strengths and how those fit with IT. If you like to work with your hands, you might want to pursue computer repair or networking. If you like unscrambling puzzles, you are probably more suited for the software side, where you solve problems with code.

Once you know your passion and talents, you can match your profile to different certifications—general industry or vendor-specific—to plan how you want to develop as an individual.

Technology is always changing, and you will have no choice but to change your career with it. But if you know where your interests and passion lie, you can help direct your path.

Q. What do you like to do when you're not working?

Work! I really enjoy what I do, so I spend more time working than most people do.

Q. Where do you see the world of contracting going?

At the recent CompTIA Breakaway session conference in Las Vegas, I participated in the IT services sessions. All day long, one of the topics of conversation was about contracts and contract workers, 1099s vs. W-2s in the United States.

That trend is growing stronger. There's very much a desire to hire more people on contract and to leverage consultants. However, employers have to learn how to handle the responsibilities of hiring 1099s versus employing W-2s.

Starting in 2007 through 2011, mainly big companies—Fortune 500 and enterprise companies—struggled with how to manage a contract workforce; now we're seeing that spreading as the small- and medium-sized business sector seeks pay-as-you-go expertise.

For the next three to five years, I don't see the trend going away. It's a good way to organizations to be able to adjust to market conditions.

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