A visionary leader in her field, Nancy Phillips, executive chair of the board of Peak 10 + ViaWest, operates in a highly technical space where her company builds and manages hybrid IT solutions for enterprises with complex infrastructure and applications. She also stands with a small percentage of women who have made leadership roles in the tech industry their own.
ViaWest was acquired by private equity firm GI Partners and merged with Peak 10 in August 2017. The merger established a leading national provider of Hybrid IT solutions with assets spanning 20 domestic and international markets, 1,000 employees, 40 data centers, 13 cloud nodes and managed and professional services. The strength of Peak 10 + ViaWest reflects Phillips’ visionary leadership as co-founder of the legacy ViaWest in 1999 and head of the Denver-based organization for nearly 20 years.
Her days, weeks and months are fast-paced and full, but the Toronto-born-and-raised Phillips always makes time to join her extended family at a lake cottage in Northern Ontario. Her parents bought the vacation home when Phillips, her older sister and two younger brothers were just kids. “My cousins had a cottage just down the road, so I have fond memories of all of our great events, whether that was Christmas or Thanksgiving,” she smiles, noting that she bought the family gathering place several years ago so the tradition can continue with future generations.
Starting her career in Ontario, Canada, an enterprise Phillips launched in Canada was acquired by a Denver company. She relocated to Denver in 1990 on her own to help grow the business, establish both professional and personal relationships and to begin to build a life here. Not knowing anyone, it was a challenge eased by others within the Denver technology community providing a warm welcome.
“I think Denver is one of the most unique ecosystems of organizations in the world,” Phillips says. “There is a lot of encouragement in the community, both business and philanthropic, around start-up and emerging company growth, along with the advancement of woman in the computer science field. Denver has impressive talent and hardworking people. We work hard and play hard in this community, and that balance creates an interesting environment. One of the reasons we have been as successful as we—ViaWest—have been, is because we are headquartered in Denver.”
After completing her university studies, Phillips traveled for three years to soak in inspiration as well as the sights, try out different cultures and reason her way through the experience. It was the perfect way to expand her knowledge base, sharpen her instincts and nurture her entrepreneurial outlook. “It gave me confidence and a diversity of thought,” she remembers. “I always tell people that traveling the world and working and living in other places is something that has served me well during my entire career.”
And, her career path has been an impressive one. She began in telecommunications with Teleconferencing Systems Canada. She was vice president of operations for RMI.net. Managing the company’s network and technical growth, her contributions returned the Internet service provider to profitability. Phillips held the position of vice president of operations for ITC Worldwide, now Genesys Conferencing, and served in a similar role at ConferTech International, now Global Crossing. She has also been a principal, executive and consultant at France Telecom, MCI and Qwest. Focus on the customer has always been a key concern for her and a strength that has helped propel her to success.
Phillips admits to being “driven,” a description most who know her would agree with. “I have a lot of grit,” she admits, adding “passionate” and “competitive” to the list of personal traits. Yet she is quick to clarify that she’s also “pretty transparent” and the same person at home that she is in the office.
Paying it forward is a philosophy Phillips embraces. She acknowledges that hard work, commitment and good fortune have helped her set and reach goals and she is committed to empowering other women entrepreneurs and members of the tech industry. Phillips is actively involved with a number of boards, including the National Center for Women and Information Technology, where she is vice chair; Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network; National Cybersecurity Center; Colorado Technology Association, previously serving as chair; and Startup Colorado.
A number of leadership and service awards acknowledge the contributions Phillips has made to the technology industry, the Denver community and the state. Last year, the first Colorado Governor’s Citizenship medal for Growth and Innovation was bestowed on Phillips, recognizing her “exceptional ingenuity and growth while inspiring and creating new possibilities for others.” She was also awarded the Canadian Governor General’s Medallion in the same year, for her “service and support of the economic ties between Canada and the United States” and to salute her notable achievement in building technology businesses. Phillips also accepted the 2016 Ernst & Young EY Entrepreneur of the Year in Technology Services for the Mountain Desert region. And, the accolades continue. Among others, recent honors also include Female Entrepreneur of the Year in the Business Products category for the 13th annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business; Colorado Technology Association’s Bob Newman Lifetime Achievement Award; and World Denver’s Trailblazer Award.
Phillips is very proud of what she’s built. In the early days, people looked at women entrepreneurs “as if we had two heads,” she says, pointing out that today it is a “badge of honor,” but it hasn’t always been like that. Valuing women for their entrepreneurial skills has taken a long time, but things are moving in the right direction. Much of it is creating a new culture, according to Phillips. She would like to see more time spent on professional development and mentoring leaders, managers, and other employees on how to overcome unconscious bias and other obstacles and be more innovative in their thinking.
“There are definitely not very many women who lead in the IT infrastructure area, and that is a shame,” Phillips says. “I do believe that it is a diversity of thought leadership that drives great companies in the global economy. I want to encourage woman to take risks when they have ideas and a vision,” she says. “I feel very strongly about what I can do to help because I certainly benefitted from others helping me along the way.”
Phillips finds work a source of satisfaction, as well as fun. “It’s hard some days and can be extremely stressful, but to be perfectly honest I laugh a lot at work,” she says. “You have to have fun and enjoy the number of hours you put in.”
She has been married to her husband, Jim, for 24 years. They have a 21-year-old daughter who is studying international relations at Tufts University in Massachusetts. The trio dotes on their black lab, Apsley, named for a town near their Canadian cottage.
Cycling and getting away to the mountains to ski are favorite pastimes, and when they vacation at the cottage the family does a lot of sailing and “hanging out” at the water. “I value my family and friends and have been extremely lucky when it comes to good health, which you should never take for granted.”
For 30 years, Phillips’ entrepreneurial spirit has been recognized and respected by tech industry leaders and other innovators in the business world. Having navigated new paths and both benefitted from and created opportunities for women in business, her dynamic qualities and ongoing commitment to serve are inspiring.
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Marge D. Hansen is a Broomfield, Colorado-based freelance writer/editor and a regular contributor to Colorado Expression. Her articles appear in a variety of lifestyle magazines and websites.
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