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The Nine 2021: Jess Rhoades, CTS

Jess Rhoades, CTS, SCN: The Nine 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Title: Project Manager

Company: AVI-SPL

Location: Minneapolis–Saint Paul, MN

LinkedIn: Jess Rhoades PMP

Overtime: In her free time, Rhoades can be found rocking out with her basement jam band. She also upped her plant game during the pandemic, going from five plants to 70 in less than a year.

Why You Need to Know Her: Jess Rhoades, 32, combines her skills in sales support and project management with her penchant for collaboration and active listening to help streamline processes and workflow for companies in and out of the AV sector. This equitable focus helps ensure her projects move forward successfully and exceed profit expectations. “My goal as a project manager is to create an environment of psychological safety in order to foster collaboration and creative problem-solving. We need all of our ideas to weather this industry’s rapid changes,” said Rhoades.

Looking for Support in Sales Support: Like many recent graduates, Rhoades left college disillusioned and struggling to pay the bills with a job in retail. She looked forward to finding a permanent position at a company with room for her to grow. After submitting hundreds of applications, she found an entry-level sales support position at an integration firm and jumped at the opportunity to leave retail behind.

Rhoades discovered she had an aptitude for sales support, especially on the design-build bids. She was the driving force behind putting the packages together and enjoyed the entire process, from problem-solving to de-escalating conflicts. “Unfortunately, my skill in sales support kept me from internal opportunities despite my gnawing growing pains after five years,” lamented Rhoades.

She was kept from open positions, some of which she had been covering for months, because the company wanted to benefit from her obvious talent in sales support. “Meanwhile, male co-workers hired after me were being promoted left and right, and my supervisor was receiving sole credit for my ideas in all-staff meetings.” Rhoades loved her work but had to make a change.

The Icing on the Cake: Rhoades left AV sales support behind for a new opportunity as a project manager/sales admin with DecoPac, a cake decoration company. “I was specifically recruited for the project management skills I had demonstrated in my bid assembly process, as well as my project coordination post-sales,” said Rhoades. She had a blast in the role, going from working on custom sprinkle mixes one minute to drafting trade compliance documentation the next.

The Big Return: After a friend and former colleague joined AVI-SPL, Rhoades saw an opportunity to return to the AV industry as a project manager with AVI-SPL, no. 1 on the 2020 SCN Top 50 list. “My first day at work felt like a reunion because everyone knows each other in AV,” Rhoades said. 

She is particularly proud of her project management style within the role, one that leads with empathy and focuses on asking questions to ensure her team members can do their best work. “It is easy to misunderstand someone and write off their efforts. The more difficult path is to actually get to know them and find a way to achieve greatness together,” Rhoades commented.

Rhoades said the best thing she did for her AV career was to leave the industry for a bit. Regarding the unequal treatment she believes she received at her first job, she said, “I blamed myself for my inability to move into a more challenging role or earn a wage that would allow me to quit my second job, and accepted that same narrative for people of color who were abruptly let go. I came back not only with fully realized project management skills and self-confidence, but with a passion to make things better for all of us. We all need and benefit from diversity and inclusion, not just the folks who are currently marginalized.”

Get to know the rest of The Nine 2021.