Ep 100: Michelle Accardi: Jump in With Both Feet


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Diva Tech Talk interviewed Michelle Accardi, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Star2Star Communications, a global VoIP telecommunications vendor. Headquartered in Sarasota, Florida, Star2Star offers proprietary, hybrid unified voice and data communications solutions, in “the cloud.”

A well-known aphorism is: “Life is what happens, after we make other plans.” Michelle’s original aspiration was to be a Broadway star. Discovering that Manhattan was an exorbitant place to live, she took her first job in sales and “wound up, really liking it!” In karmic fashion, the CFO of a small technology company was at the front desk when a young Michelle cold-called with her resume. Infresco Corporation, (a joint venture with CA Technologies/Computer Associates), was “willing to take a risk” on her. “When I got there, I was so intrigued.” The company was creating “interesting technology” to convert “green screen” mainframe applications and databases and “make them look like really beautiful Websites.” Very soon, “I was doing things I had never done, before,” like creating Access databases. Her boss counseled her to reconsider becoming an attorney. “You have a natural aptitude for technology and people.” She took his advice and “never looked back.”

Within one year, CA Technologies merged Infresco into the larger corporation. Michelle began her upward CA trajectory. “They were starting a reference program at CA and needed someone who knew all the (Infresco) customers. I was recommended.” CA offered Michelle a $25,000 bonus to make the customers referenceable. She misunderstood CA’s timeline for this, and beat it by a dramatic 11 months, enabling 200 customers to become referenceable in slightly more than a month vs. the year CA had forecasted. Within 6 months, she was managing a customer reference team in North America and, in a year, managing that globally. This was followed by stints in field marketing, product marketing, and sales enablement. All catapulted her into successively more important roles.

Along the way, Michelle gained valuable insights. In field marketing, she noted how much was learned by “getting close to the customer.” In sales enablement she implemented “fun projects to motivate people.” She eventually became Vice President for digital transformation, “the biggest ‘leap’ because this was when digital marketing was starting, and I was asked to take on a technology team, lead web design, architecture, and IT team. I learned a lot about ‘agile’ as a methodology.”

“Technology is always going to change,” said Michelle. Her mantra is “drop in with both feet.” Moving to Star2Star is a full circle story. The company was co-founded by Norm Worthington, who was the co-founder of Infresco. “It was Kismet,” she said. She started as the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Actually, I was marketing employee #2. My job was to build a team and strategy. We built every piece of content, and the Website; and recruited a great team.” She became Chief Operating Officer, mandated to drive operational systems’ excellence, and then President and Chief Revenue Officer. “It has been really challenging to learn different aspects of running a technology company, driving it to the next level.” She describes the broad offerings of Star2Star. “We offer so much: collaboration, contact center, text messaging, workflow integration of communications into every business process you can think of, mobile applications, text-based alerting, desktop communications as a service, and more.” Michelle noted “we also have the only desktop solutions certified to work in a Citrix environment. We help you with your entire network.” Star2Star offers an optimized SD-WAN service to ensure call quality, essential when people are working from home. “We have proprietary technology that allows us to do things that our competitors can’t.” Industry analysts have noticed. Gartner, has recognized Star2Star for six years as a Magic Quadrant leader in unified communications. Michelle, herself, has been named a channel leader for the last six years by CRN.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated Star2Star growth. In response to the crisis, Michelle is justifiably proud of the company’s stellar customer-focused philosophy. All company employees moved into a work-from-home environment, using Star2Star’s own technology. “Then we went to our base of customers.” Star2Star helped each customer deploy effective remote working scenarios and created innovative payment programs to support customers. “Communication is the lifeblood of any business. We didn’t want to be the bill that put any of our smaller companies over the edge.” Star2Star has also used this period to diversify even further. “We moved into digital transformation projects for customers in the restaurant and retail spaces, who needed curbside pickup applications.” Star2Star provided those. “Doctors’ offices needed testing.” Star2Star provided that. Many customers needed enhanced employee alerting systems. Star2Star provided them. For a nonprofit customer, and other health facilities, Star2Star provided text alert services.

Michelle acknowledges that being a woman has only minimally affected her career. She and her husband juggle a large family of 6 children. Her husband serves as the “stay-at-home” parent, and “I see a lot of ‘reverse sexism’,” which is a challenge,” she says. But she exults that “women are built to adapt” and feels capable of taking on many increasing responsibilities. If Michelle has a regret it is that “I should have gone into entrepreneurship” at her career advent. “I think balance is a fallacy,” opines Michelle. “Do things that you love, with people you like. And just have perseverance. Nothing is going to be perfect, anywhere.” Michelle’s essential advice is succinct. “Feel the fear and do it, anyway.” Seize opportunities; make the most of them. “You really have nothing to lose.”

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