Terri ZimmermanYou might know Terri Zimmerman as the CEO of Packet Digital. She’s been CEO since September 2013, furthering their mission to achieve power savings through autonomous system-level power management (which results in some awesome projects, like an endless energy solar-powered drone!).

You might also know that she previously served as as COO and CFO of several companies, including Dakota Technologies, Wamnet, and Great Plains Software – and that she is an active board member with the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and UND Foundation, as well as on the Board of Directors with the North Dakota Development fund.

But what you might not know about Terri is that one of her favorite books is The Hungry Caterpillar. Or that she is a mother of twins. Or that years ago, when she pictured her future, going into business was the furthest thing from her mind.

In our second installment of the monthly Startup Spotlight features, we spoke with Terri about her goals for Packet Digital, what it means to be a female in a predominantly male industry, how she is inspired, and her advice for entrepreneurs today.

EP: As a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

TZ: I was keen on being a basketball player or basketball coach.  I totally loved playing ball. I would sneak out of study hall to play ball with anyone in the gym….but don’t tell my kids. I actually joined boys 4H to play basketball with the boys.

EP: Did you ever envision yourself as the CEO of a company?

TZ: When I was younger, I thought anything BUT business. In college I initially majored in radio and television broadcasting. After journeying around in Oregon and California after high school, I ended up back at the University of North Dakota trying to pick up some classes just before the semester started. I couldn’t get any radio and television broadcasting classes but accounting was open. Low and behold…I wasn’t too bad at accounting. I started my career at Deloitte and Touche and then Great Plains Software. At Great Plains I gravitated to the operations side of business and watching Doug Burgum in action….I caught the bug or drank the Kool-aid and began to aspire to the role.

EP: What’s the coolest thing about your job?

TZ: I have the opportunity to work with the most amazing engineers on the planet. Cool people with cool ideas.

EP: We wrote last year about how in the technology field, major companies like Apple and Google are often 80-90% male. What is it like being a female CEO in a field that is predominantly male?

TZ: The tech world at the upper level of management does tend to be predominantly male. It’s a world where new ideas are paramount. Fortunately ideas are gender neutral; however, how people perceive them are not. It is critical to be confident and be yourself. When you are the only woman in the room you stand out and have the opportunity to make a lasting impression.

EP: That said, your success is an inspiration to many younger women that might be intimidated by those statistics. Who are some people (men or women) that inspire you?

TZ: I am fortunate to have Linda Pancratz on my board. Linda is retired as Chairman of the Board and CEO of TDL Infomedia Limited in the United Kingdom. Linda  started a variety of businesses and served on a number of corporate boards across Europe. Under Pancratz’s leadership, one of the subsidiaries was recognized as one of the “Times Top 100 Companies in the UK,” and received the “Investors in People Award.” Linda really understands the people side of running and building a successful business. She has an amazingly warm personality and really connects with people. At the same time she is wickedly smart and seriously tough. We need more female role models like Linda. To other women reading this I would recommend building a network of trusted women advisers for perspective and support.

EP: As the CEO, what are some of your plans for Packet Digital this year and in the future? If you’re familiar with the author Jim Collins’ expression – what is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)?

TZ: Packet Digital has developed power saving computer chips. Our computer chip saves power in many applications. We are launching the sales of our power chips with leading companies this year in the server markets where power is a big pain point. Servers in today’s data centers use more power than a medium sized town. In the future we’re planning to bring our technology and products to other applications and markets. Currently we are working with the DOD on developing solar chips to enable an endless endurance drone. Our BHAG – Reduce the need for an entire power plant.

EP: What are some books that have impacted your life?

TZ: The Hungry Caterpillar – the first book I read to my twins when they were born. Now ten…we still read books aloud to each other and act out the characters. I have read many business books and the culmination of them…In Search of Excellence, The Great Game of Business, Good to Great, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Leading Change, bits and pieces of these fabulous books have impacted how I think about business strategy growing the business, and communicating with the team. I also enjoy reading historical biographies and nonfiction, like Undaunted Courage and John Adams which have impacted the way I think about the world. I also enjoy cooking healthy foods for my family and am always on the lookout for a good book like Fit for Life.

EP: Do you have a favorite movie?

TZ: Casablanca. Gone With the Wind a close second.

EP: If you could give every entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?

TZ: Pursue a passion. If you love what you do, you will excel at it and inspire others around you with your passion.

Thanks for sharing, Terri! Look for the next Startup Spotlight feature coming in March.

Read more about Packet Digital, here.

Photo courtesy of Terri Zimmerman.

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Marisa Jackels