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Smartest Tech Tips for Busy Executives


Four C-level execs get technology makeovers.

Be careful what you wish for. Technology has connected every corner of the world and pushed the pace of business to warp speed. But it has also brought on a new set of complexities and challenges for execs, and many—honestly, almost all—struggle to get devices, apps and profiles to work efficiently and with each other. Good news: Technology can work for you, not against you, but setting up a productive tech ecosystem takes some thought.

We talked with four executives to learn about their tech pain points and suggested strategies to relieve the pain by fine-tuning the way they use technology.




Deanna Brown:
Federated Media
Victor d’Allant:
Founder and CEO,
Dallant Networks
Kathleen Dowd:
VP of Sales - Central Zone,
Boehringer Ingelheim
Chuck Cohn:
Founder and CEO,
Varsity Tutors


Tech Makeover: Tips to Streamline Social Media

Tech Makeover: Deanna Brown
© Federated Media

The Executive: Deanna Brown CEO, Federated Media

The Company: A web publishing/advertising company that represents independent bloggers as well as corporations; based in San Francisco.

The Challenge: How to maintain both a professional and personal presence in social media. “I end up having a lot more people [in my online networks] than are really friends or LinkedIn contacts,” Brown says. “You have to stop and consider where is the line between personal and professional.”

Currently: Brown handles that by using separate Facebook profiles for her personal and business lives. How can she maintain an active online presence that distinguishes between her personal and professional relationships, without the headache of using multiple profiles?

The Solution: Brown already uses the Circles feature of Google+, which allows her to place professional contacts and personal friends into separate circles and choose what kinds of news to share with each. She can extend that approach to Facebook by creating separate lists for different types of Facebook friends, like a list for “close friends,” a list for “social media colleagues” and a list for “advertisers and publishers.” When she posts an update or shares a link, she’ll be able to choose which list or lists will be able to see that post.

How To Do It:

  1. Create friends lists (left sidebar, under “Friends,” click “More,” then “Create List”).

  2. Set default privacy settings to share updates only with a list like “close friends” to avoid accidentally over-sharing—while keeping the option to post or edit any update so it goes to a different or larger list.

  3. If you have been using multiple profiles, decide which one you want to use in the future. Stop using your other profile(s), and change the bio to point people to the profile you’re now using. Set the privacy settings of inactive profiles so people can’t post to your old wall.

Good to Know:

  • If you want to build your professional reputation on Facebook and Google+, make sure you post regularly to the lists and circles that include your colleagues.

  • Use lists to shape where you focus your attention as well as where you share your news. Click on the name of any Facebook list to limit your news feed to updates only from people on that list.

  • There’s no law that says you have to accept every Facebook or LinkedIn connection request. And if you get a request you’re really uncomfortable declining, you can always put that person on your Facebook “restricted” list—which keeps that person in your friends list, but ensures they won’t see anything you post unless it’s public or specifically tags them.

Brown Reports Back

“I understand the utility of using Facebook lists, but with so many people linked to my profile it seems too daunting to segment all of my “friends” into multiple lists. Creating one list for a handful of “close friends” should enable me to communicate personal updates without inundating the rest of my Facebook network where I offer peers and colleagues insight into the online advertising industry.”

Tech Makeover: How to Manage International Cell Phone Use

Tech Makeover: Victor d’Allant
© Michael Collopy

The Executive: Victor d’Allant, Founder and CEO, Dallant Networks

The Company: Builder of global online communities for large foundations and the World Bank to deliver social impact; based in San Francisco.

The Challenge: How to manage international cell phones and Internet access efficiently.

Currently: D’Allant carries two phones and uses two phone numbers in order to be reachable in as many countries as possible, but even that can’t guarantee him cell coverage or Internet access. While Starbucks Wi-Fi access is a frequent backup, even that isn’t bulletproof: “In West Africa it’s an oral culture, and people like to talk,” d’Allant says. “I used to send emails because I had Wi-Fi, but people wouldn’t get back to me, so I had to be able to call.”

The Solution: Separating cell phone access from Internet access is the best way for d’Allant to ensure global coverage without getting bankrupted by international roaming rates. D’Allant needs a phone that will work both on American CDMA networks and on GSM networks abroad. That means switching to an Android phone like Verizon’s version of the Motorola Droid Razr and Droid Razr Maxx, and using Google Voice to tame roaming charges. For tablet use (email and web access), he can use a local SIM card and data plan.

How To Do It

  1. With or without a global phone, simplify life (and reduce roaming charges) with a Google Voice phone number to route calls to whichever phone you are currently using. You can set Google Voice to send all calls from one number to go straight to voicemail, while forwarding any text messages to another phone. To keep up with urgent business by text, collect voicemail messages by email and use the phone only when necessary.

  2. Keep roaming data charges in check by switching off the phone’s data plan while abroad. In addition to Starbucks Wi-Fi, use a 3G-enabled, unlocked tablet to stay online while overseas.

  3. For longer trips—or to a country without a Starbucks!—pick up a local SIM card and data plan to use the tablet for email, web access and even phone calls (with an app like Skype or Google Voice).

  4. For short trips, or country hopping, it may be easier to buy a global data plan like AT&T’s $30 for 100 megabytes of data, good in most (though not all) countries.

Good to Know:

  • If your phone is locked to a single carrier or region, replace it with an unlocked, global phone.

  • Know what kind of SIM card your devices use, and how to get them in or out of your device. If you need a paper clip to open your device, keep one in your passport case—along with your collection of international SIM cards.

d’Allant Reports Back

“I’ve printed these recommendations to keep with my passports, and I am also considering switching from carrying two Android phones (one for the U.S., one for the rest of the world) to just an iPhone 5 on Verizon.”

Tech Makeover: Carry Fewer Gadgets on the Road

Tech Makeover: Kathleen Dowd
© Boehringer Ingelheim

The Executive: Kathleen Dowd, VP of Sales - Central Zone, Boehringer Ingelheim

The Company: An international pharmaceutical company; based in Ingelheim am Rhein, Germany.

The Challenge: How to reduce the number of devices when traveling, without sacrificing functionality.

Currently: When Dowd hits the road to check in with her 1,500-person, 15-state sales team, she is weighed down with a briefcase that contains two phones, an iPad and a laptop—along with all their attendant chargers. “My go-to device for email is the iPad,” Dowd explains. “But if I am doing a PowerPoint or commenting on a Word doc, I’m more comfortable doing that on my laptop.” As for the two phones, Dowd says she loves the Droid she bought for herself, but can’t bear to travel without her company-issued BlackBerry because she occasionally falls back on it when she can’t get her iPad to connect to a hotel-based Wi-Fi network.

The Solution: Slim down to a single phone and iPad for all but the longest trips. In Dowd’s case, that means tweaking her iPad so it can support her slide decks and document edits, and getting her Droid to provide the emergency Internet access she now gets from her BlackBerry.

How To Do It

  1. Use CloudOn, a free app that brings the Microsoft Office suite to iPad, for editing PowerPoint decks and Word documents when connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, it won’t work offline.

  2. Use your smartphone as an emergency hotspot. Dowd can use the PdaNet app for Android to turn a Droid phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot when she can’t get online any other way, and then get her iPad online by connecting to the Droid. Connecting her personal Droid to her office email system will give her yet another level of backup.

  3. Leave some of the charging bricks at home. A high-powered dual-port charger like the Kensington AbsolutePower Dual 2.1A USB Wall Charger will charge both your tablet and your phone; all Dowd would need are her two shortest, lightest charging cables.

Good to Know:

  • Get an external keyboard for your tablet—like the slender Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad—so you can travel without your laptop/netbook on short trips.

  • Keep all your files on Dropbox and use the Dropbox app for iPad or Android to access your files when you’re on your tablet. If you use a slimmer netbook for travel only, you can even use Dropbox to keep its application settings in sync with the computer you use the rest of the time.

  • Purchase a multi-port charger like the Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger, which includes three AC outlets and two USB outlets.• Leave all the cables plugged into your charger, and you’ll make fast work of plugging in your devices for their nightly charge.

Dowd Reports Back

“I now feel secure enough to carry just the iPad and Droid on my trips and have used my phone as a hotspot several times. This saves a couple of hours of work time per trip, plus a reduction in the stress of juggling devices through security and the wear-and-tear on the back. I’ve also ordered a new charger so I’ll need just one on the road.”

Tech Makeover: Email Help to Eliminate Bottlenecks

Tech Makeover: Chuck Cohn
© Varsity Tutors

The Executive: Chuck Cohn, Founder and CEO, Varsity Tutors

The Company: A fast-growing company with more than 1,000 tutors in 14 cities nationwide; based in St. Louis.

The Challenge: While the company now has 60 employees, it’s a completely virtual operation run from Cohn’s home in St. Louis. How can he dig himself out of his overflowing email (and paper) in-box, so he doesn’t bottleneck his company’s growth? “There is still so much that is dependent on me,” Cohn says. “I work from home, so anytime I am away from my computer, many different processes stop. And people are constantly waiting on me.”

The Solution: Cohn’s situation demands a three-part strategy: stronger staff support for administrative functions, a better email system and a better mail system.

How To Do It:

  1. Identify a trusted staff person to access, triage, direct and process some of the flood of incoming mail and email. (Set up a separate email address for confidential correspondence, if necessary.)

  2. Set up a system of email filters to sort incoming emails into different piles, and forward the appropriate messages to the right people within the company. Use filters that keep mailing lists out of the in-box.

  3. Set up a system for scanning incoming paper mail so that it, too, can go to the right person in the company. Shoeboxed.net provides prepaid envelopes to fill with documents that will be scanned and turned into text files. (Shoeboxed’s plans range from $10 to $100 a month, and provide turnaround as fast as one day, depending on the plan.) Or use a virtual mailroom service like the one from Earth Class Mail, which will scan envelopes and let you decide which ones to open and scan and which ones to forward or shred.

Good to Know:

  • Use mail rules and labels/folders to ensure that only crucial email (messages from current/prospective customers, media inquiries, job offers) come to your in-box. Internal messages, cc’s and newsletters can go to alternate folders that you check when you have time.

  • Let colleagues, clients and friends know the best way to reach you and when. For example, you might ask people to email you if they have documents for you to review, DM you if they have a quick question you can handle by chat and text you if there is an urgent issue.

  • Recognize that at some point, you may have more email than you can address. It’s okay to leave some messages unanswered or (even better) to send a short note saying you won’t be able to reply to their inquiry.

  • When you go on vacation or on an extended business trip, write an auto-reply that asks people to resend any message that requires your attention once you are back (and give them a date). That way you won’t feel you have to work your way through the backlog.

Cohn Reports Back

“These suggestions made a lot of sense. Between removing myself from the process of paying a lot of bills, hiring a marketing coordinator to ‘own’ a lot of the conversations I was having and setting up some of the filtering roles, I’d say I’ve reduced the in-box stress by about 50 percent.”

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