Interview: Zina Hassel Discusses Her New Book “My Armadillo Skin: How I Made It As a Woman in the Field of Telecom”

Zina Hassel is the founder and CEO of ZLH Enterprises (Manalapan), a white-glove, concierge technology consultancy, and is a well-known member of New Jersey’s tech community. She has more than 30 years of high-level executive experience in both nonprofit and for-profit industries, including over 20 years of experience consulting for businesses looking to streamline their telecom/IT costs and processes.

Hassel got her initial taste for technology while working at the New York State Office of Mental Health, so she next secured a position as executive assistant to the president of a telecom equipment company.  “I used my time to learn all aspects of the equipment/PBX [private branch exchange] business, and ultimately was promoted to vice president for administration,” Hassel told us. 

That position included some corporate trouble shooting for profit recovery.  She managed branch offices from New Jersey down through Virginia and learned about installations, inventory management and job costing.  “My branch operations were profitable!” she said. 

At the corporate level, Hassel assumed responsibility for human resources, a new department that was established as the company grew. She also managed the job planning department, which followed contracts from sale to installation.  “It included relationships with field technicians as well as telco, accounting and engineering departments. This was a great way to learn the inner workings of a private telephone company, as it was known in those days,” she said. 

After leaving the phone company, Hassel was invited to cofound a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) in New Jersey.  She spent many years there, learning how to build billing systems, enter orders through graphical user interface systems and provide top-notch customer care. 

“That was the theme that ran through all of my years in the technology industry — how to provide the white-glove, concierge customer service for all things technology.  Having been on the customer side of the fence, I know first-hand how scary and frustrating it is to be in a situation which the technology is not working and you need someone to advocate for you,” she said.  “I have brought all of those experiences (both good and bad) to ZLH Enterprises, and we strive each day to provide our customers great customer service.”

Zina Hassel, author of ““My Armadillo Skin: How I Made It As a Woman in the Field of Telecom” | photo courtesy Zina Hassel

We asked Hassel about her new book, “My Armadillo Skin: How I Made It As a Woman in the Field of Telecom.” The interview, which was conducted via email, follows:

How did you get the idea for your book?

I have mentored several women (and men) throughout the years, so it seemed to be a logical progression to jot down thoughts on what I saw as necessary to progress up the corporate ladder.  Particularly, I wanted to get the message out to young women entering the corporate world for the first time, returning women to the workforce and to men — so that they can understand the particular struggles that women face in the workspace.

How did you go about gathering material for this book? 

Actually, during the COVID-19 pandemic I would spend about an hour being interviewed, and would then turn that interview into a chapter.  Not quite as easy as it sounds.  It takes a lot of time to read, edit, reread, edit and finalize.  As the book progressed, I had to rewrite some of it entirely, so that it flowed all the way through.

Why were you the right person to write this book? 

As the expression goes, “Been there, done that.”  I have been in this technology industry for more than 30 years.  I have mentored many people.  My proudest achievement is my mentorship of my daughter Jodi, who works with me daily.

What is the audience you hope to reach?

The challenges and road map that I supply are not limited to the technology marketspace.  I am hoping to inject some reality into young people just getting started on what they need to be thinking about or doing for career longevity.  I am hoping to reach my male counterparts in the industry, so that they understand and may empathize with the particular challenges for women — and especially in the tech field where our numbers are still so small.

Do you think this book is relevant to members of the tech or entrepreneurship community in New Jersey? 

New Jersey has many tech groups, many startups.  There are even some “think tanks.”  I’d like to get more women involved in technology, and at the same time set proper expectations on both the employee and employer side of the desk.

Is there anything else you want people to know about this book? 

It is a light read and a quick read.  I do not color anything in the book — much like my real-life self.  I am open, honest and to the point.  I believe I’ve done something right, as the reviews have been wonderful and make me blush.

What are four great quotes from this book? 

  • I like to say that my last name is spelled H-A-S-S-E-L (not hassle) and that I live up to every letter in the name. I’ve been encouraged to put what I’ve learned in writing so that others — women, yes, but also men — can learn from what I have experienced. Believe me, that’s a lot. The [technology] industry is a minefield, and I am constantly dancing around trying not to get blown up.
  • It takes a layer of toughness to stand out from everyone else in a business setting. I’ve learned to stand out whenever I need to.  As a woman, in order to be heard, sometimes you need to scream as loudly as some of the men do. And with the same brashness.
  • I emphasize today that many women need to understand the value of joining the right kind of group or association. I make it a point to join different groups. It’s an educational opportunity because I want to know what other people are doing and what their experiences are in the industry that I’m in.

Please give the readers three takeaways from the book, three lessons they will learn by reading the book.

  • Get a mentor. 
  • Be prepared to work hard. 
  • Let your voice be heard — don’t be a wallflower.

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