Every month, the Connected Aviation Today team connects with aviation industry experts to learn about what brought them to the world of aviation, their insights about the future of the industry, and valuable advice they have for others in the space. This month, we spoke with Vivienne Ojala, President at Brock Solutions.
Vivienne shared her experience in being part of the Brock Solutions team and the unique skillset she developed in helping build a company from the ground up. From starting as a construction company, Brock Solutions has evolved into an engineering solution services company with a tight focus on real-time automation. Given the aviation industry’s massive push for digitalization and automation, it’s no surprise that airports and airlines are a rapidly growing sector for Brock Solutions.
An integral part of Brock’s growth and evolution is the selection of the right team members – something that Vivienne found she was better suited for after years of being “in the trenches” as an engineer. After being with the company for more than a decade, she moved from the engineering side of the business into company management. As the President and Co-CEO, Vivienne works diligently to foster a culture of creativity and innovation among her employees, especially throughout the talent acquisition process.
Here’s our full conversation with Vivienne about the culture behind an organization that is bringing aviation into the 21st century:
Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: Tell us a bit about your career path and how you became interested in the field of engineering.
Vivienne Ojala (VO): My father and mother were both engineers, which was probably even more unusual for my mother than it is today, so I didn’t even question it as a young person. My mother’s focus was on mechanical engineering and my father’s was mechanical and aeronautical. Naturally, I wanted to do something different, so I decided to go into systems engineering, something I had no idea about at the time.
While studying at University of Waterloo, I realized that I liked the combination of business with technical and engineering. I ended up gravitating towards business more than making the conscious decision to pursue it. I always enjoyed taking the opportunities that were in front of me, so when I originally joined Brock Solutions as a project engineer, I tended to end up as a natural leader on projects.
People often ask me about being a female in engineering. I faced many challenges in the workplace, especially in the manufacturing environments. Most manufacturing spaces then didn’t even have a washroom I could use, so I’d have to hike the mile or so back up to the main office. I never really thought about it that way though. It’s really about doing what you’re passionate about and doing what you really enjoy.
In my career, being a woman was very positive. When you’re the only woman, you get remembered and that helped propel me into more leadership roles because I would be the person that people would ask for.
CAT Editors: What was a defining moment in your career?
VO: Early on in my career was when I was first managing a project, I learned that being a woman in the field was an anomaly. I was on the project site and we were having installation issues. The electricians were having challenges getting everything wired and connected properly. So I went in for the night shift and I was a novelty for these electricians – every single electrician in the building wanted to come over and help me. It was very productive. The company couldn’t believe what I could get done in one night.
After that, my perspective changed a little bit and I realized that when you are a bit of an anomaly or different, you can sometimes take advantage of that in a productive way. It also showed me that you should always be open and welcoming to all, because everyone has a role to help collectively as a team. I’ve always been very team-oriented. That experience showed me early on that creating a team environment and making it fun for everyone to work together was more successful than trying to be a lone wolf. And that’s certainly an element that we strive to incorporate in our culture at Brock Solutions.
CAT Editors: When you look back on your career, what moments make you feel most proud?
VO: When I think about what I’m most proud of, I look around the organization and I look at the people that I hired 15 and 20 years ago. I see the business they’ve cultivated, the innovation behind the solutions they’ve developed, and their growth as both individuals and leaders. I feel a lot of pride seeing the successes of the team and the people that I’ve hired.
People at Brock Solutions will joke with me that as recently as two years ago, I used to look at every single resume that came into the organization. I mean, who thinks that the president of a $100 million company should be looking at all the resumes coming in? But that’s how passionate I am about getting the right people in the right environment. All of these people could easily get a job somewhere else, so they have to want to be here. We need to align the right kinds of skills and strengths and personalities in order to successfully complete all of the projects.
CAT Editors: What’s exciting about your role today?
VO: We have such a great team here and there are so many opportunities to help industries address some of their current challenges. Looking specifically at airports and airlines – the challenge in the industry is you’ve got the combination of the government agencies, the port authorities or cities, the airlines, all the consultants in and around the industry, and finally, you’ve got a lot of regulations to consider. It’s nearly impossible to get every party that has a hand in the lifecycle of a decision in aviation on the same page.
However, if you look at how to address the baggage challenge at airports, on airlines, and in and out of customs, each of these parties needs to be considered. Our team looks at the full, end-to-end journey that a passenger and their bags take and develops a solution. We’ve been able to craft a module approach that addresses the various aspects of the journey for the bag and the passenger. There’s lots of value in terms of how they can all be integrated and it’s interesting to see how we’re getting pulled into a more global spotlight based on the success that we’ve achieved. That’s always a nice place to be in business, when your clients and customers are the ones pushing you to expand.
CAT Editors: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the next generation of engineers interested in a career in innovation and technology?
VO: Don’t worry about what money you’re going to make in the short term. Figure out what your passion is. The money will figure itself out over time. The quality of the environment where you work and doing something that you’re passionate about is more important. You spend too much time in your life working to do a job that you don’t enjoy.
It’s also important to remember that your interests will change and you don’t have to pick what you’re going to do for the next 50 years at 20 years old. Flexibility is key.