Hello to all my fellow readers! I have missed you. During the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity to meet so many new people in our industry and being the curious person that I am, I find myself asking people how they entered the industry. So, when I came across these three women, I reached out to Connected Design and presented this roundtable idea, to which they were delighted to share this interview. It also serves as a compliment to an upcoming feature in Dealerscope magazine. Let this be the precursor to finding talented women in consumer technology.

I am pleased to introduce you to Emily Drivstuen, project manager at Wipliance, Kathryn “Kat” Ourlian, analog manager/system designer at Upscale Audio, and Norma Garcia-Muro, VP of Marketing at Kaleidescape.

Norma Garcia-Muro

MEO: Tell us a little about yourself:

Emily: I am a Project Manager at Wipliance and lead our shades and lighting control department on the technical side. I focus on residential projects in custom homes and high-rise buildings in the Seattle area. I recently finished the 42 story Spire building in downtown Seattle, where we installed over 3700 shades in every unit as well as the amenities.

Kat: I am the Analog Manager overseeing system set ups, creating videos, product sales, to product management and servicing. I also design and calibrate systems and enjoy the hell out of taking products apart and rebuilding them. I went to Audio school in Madison, Wisc. and got my degree in recording arts, and spent my day and nights in the recording studios. I’ve worked in recording studios in New York, Colorado and California.

Norma: I started my career in the entertainment industry, working for top companies such as Lucasfilm, Paramount Pictures, Dolby Laboratories, and THX. My 20+ years of experience in Film, TV, Home Entertainment, and Cinema Technology allowed me to shepherd legendary brands like Star Was, Indiana Jones, and Mission Impossible. I was extremely fortunate to have sat next to visionaries and witnessed how they master the art of storytelling with talented teams. My nickname at Lucasfilm was Jedi Road Warrior, because I traveled the world talking about Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, R2D2 and Yoda. In 2021 and 2020, I was named one of the Top 50 Women in Global Cinema. At my core, I’m a passionate mentor, cinephile and audiophile. As a former wine grape grower of a small family-owned vineyard, I’m also a wine connoisseur. Today, I serve as vice president of marketing at Kaleidescape.

Kathryn “Kat” Ourlian

MEO: How did you get into our Industry?

Emily: I was working as a manager at a tire corporation and Lee Travis, the owner of Wipliance, was one of my customers. Every time he came in, he tried to recruit me, and it finally worked. I started out green as can be and was an apprentice for two years before I started managing my own projects.

Kat: I grew up in Detroit, MI and started playing violin when I was three years old. My great uncle was a violinist, so I did private lessons and recorded with orchestras my whole life. I got my start in New York City before moving on to Colorado, where I met Kevin at Upscale Audio in 2017. He offered me a killer job and moved me to Los Angeles becoming their sixth employee.

Norma: I like to say the CI channel found me. When the pandemic hit, I was furloughed from THX, where I served as the head of cinema marketing. Like many others, the cinema industry turned upside down during COVID, and I was uncertain about my future. A headhunter contacted me on LinkedIn about a role at Kaleidescape. Coming from the cinema world, I was already familiar with the brand. But when I interviewed with Tayloe Stansbury, our CEO, I was convinced to join. His passion, knowledge, business approach, and integrity shape the company. The future is bright at Kaleidescape.

Emily Drivstuen

MEO: Share a fun fact about yourself.

Emily: I love to waterski in the summer as well as golf. Creating and playing music is another one of my passions.

Kat: I quit violin to become an athlete and take on rowing. I was recruited for the University of Wisconsin to row with them for college. While I went to university, I found myself hanging out with musicians — making my own music and not doing the things I was supposed to be doing, and quickly figured out that a degree in engineering while rowing was not for me. Music is my passion.

Norma: I can do a wicked Billy Idol lip-curling sneer. I oddly discovered my, ahem, talent while watching MTV videos. When word got around high school that I could impersonate Billy Idol, my schoolmates would chant, “Billy, Billy” anytime a song was played at a dance. That was my signal to hit the dance floor, give a slow, intense stare, and then, bam! Thee sneer. I’m out of practice now, but if I hear his music playing and the moment is right, I try to give a lip-curling tribute.

MEO: Lastly, what advice would you give to others who may want to work in our industry or to those who are currently working in our industry?

Emily: This industry is a lot of fun because technology is always changing.  We constantly get to keep learning new things. There is a lot of diversity in the work we get to do so it never gets boring.

Kat: It is important to know that perspective is everything. As a person who has lived and traveled many places, you see how people live and grow differently. A $500 audio purchase can be a $500,000 purchase to someone else. When people understand their connection to music, then you can see how and why they invest in it. It is important to know that everyone is different, and we are all here connected for the same reason. I want to get the kids excited about high-end audio and when I do demos, I start them with an entry level system, than heighten their senses with the best sound experience they can have. My best advice is find your passion and excel at it.

Norma: Help one another succeed. All boats rise when we collaborate. The world is changing rapidly, and technology is at the forefront; the pandemic expedited it. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, but for positive change and true innovation to occur, we need diverse voices, faces, and backgrounds. I would love to see more synergies and more women in executive posts. For those who wish to enter our space, seek a mentor! She/he can help you navigate the treacherous waters and, more importantly, become your sponsor. Join an organization and network, network, network. 

I’m currently a mentor at Women in Exhibition, where senior execs help women in middle management rise the corporate ranks through coaching and career advice. For the past two years, I mentored at the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) Women’s Cinema Leadership Program, based in Brussels. When anyone early in their career reaches out to me on LinkedIn, I try my best to respond, and time permitting, I schedule a short chat via Zoom. The greatest gift you can give someone is your time and knowledge.

As we look ahead to the upcoming CEDIA Expo, I challenge you all to go out and meet three new people. Networking is a huge part of how we get to know one another and often lead to the most lucrative business opportunities. Until then I look forward to seeing you in Dallas for Expo.

About me: Maryellen is the Founder of Connected Design magazine and currently works for Somfy Systems as Business Development Manager, Partnerships. She is an avid sports fan and incredibly passionate about smart home technology. She is currently enrolled at Saddleback College studying Interior Design and is a 2020 Most Powerful Women in Consumer Technology award winner for her work in launching Connected Design magazine and mentoring women in our industry. Maryellen can be reached via email at maryellen.oswald@somfy.com