Quantum Leap: Sunny Lu

We partnered with Indiana Humanities for our 13th issue to explore the world of STEM and where it intersects with Fashion and Art, so this month we’re continuing to take a peek at STEM through the eyes of those working in related industries. – Editor

Technology and fostering STEM careers continue to be a central focus in the local community and across the state of Indiana. Sunny Lu, Vice President of Business Development at Telamon, spoke with PATTERN Magazine and shared her insights on Hoosier technology. From her educational background to her career at Telamon, Sunny discusses her thoughts on creating a solid technological industry for the future.

Terri Procopio: Can you talk about your interest and involvement in STEM?

Sunny Lu: I have a great passion within the STEM space. I caveat that with I myself am not a computer programmer, nor did I have any course of study in the core science, technology or math aspect of it. Instead, I have developed an interest in the collaborative space to bring together the core experts within their fields to look at the greatest innovations, the new technologies and inventions, and how do we bring all that together to leverage the efficiency and overall effectiveness within data collection and monitoring into a common use.

TP: Where are you originally from and what is your background?

SL: I’m not a native Hoosier. My background is widespread that I was born in Taipei, Taiwan. I came to the U.S. when I was very young and still retain fluency in Mandarin Chinese. What’s interesting is through that background – from having been overseas and lived in a major city, to living first in Philadelphia, then Chicago, suburban Lisle and finally settling in Naperville, Illinois – I’ve had the trajectory of living from HUD housing to one of the most expensive cities in the state of Illinois. I also have an understanding for those where English is their second language.

TP: What did you study as an undergraduate?

SL: The majority of my family from my father’s generation was split between being doctors and computer scientists. A lot of this was being nurtured in me from the very early stage of understanding the impacts of STEM. I didn’t want to become a doctor and I didn’t want to go into computer programming, and thought I would go to law school. I had a double major in history and political science, a minor in philosophy and was on the pre-law track. I had the opportunity through Purdue to be a Hansard Scholar and study in the UK, where I worked on projects such as how to provide new policies for Afghani women.  I believe a humanities education is a wonderful background. After graduating, I looked at how to translate what I learned on the humanities side into a day-to-day paycheck. I landed at Telamon and thirteen years later I’m still there.

TP: You also have your MBA.

SL:  Yes. Albert Chen at Telamon was giving me incredible opportunities, but I recognized I didn’t have the practical knowledge that I needed to run a really growing, scaling organization. I attended Indiana University’s part-time evening MBA program. At the time, I ran a 24×7 operation, so things I learned that evening in class and I had the opportunity to immediately use. In the program, we had a mix of people at different stages of their careers along with diverse experiences, ideas and backgrounds. I had this great cohort of peers who helped me when Telamon launched a warehouse, when we had new interior renovations and even with HR topics. Kelley was and still is a wonderful organization that has provided me with a tremendous amount of practical knowledge, connectivity and overall strategic thinking.

TP: Can you talk a little about Telamon?

SL:  Telamon Corporation was started in 1985 by Albert Chen, a former GTE employee who had a great financial acumen and really understood the opportunities for a supplier base within telecommunications. What I love best about Telamon is being able to create a company that really had the pretenses of how to be a good supplier. During the telecomm downturn, we diversified into automotive with a totally new mentoring partnership that we took on with Cummins. Teleamon is a core automotive supplier and we support products like wire harnesses and gasket fittings that comprise parts of an engine. We’re in about 60% of cars. We also diversified into energy and healthcare. Last year, we divested the healthcare portfolio into its own company, so Telamon Enterprise Ventures, LLC was created to support a myriad of reasons for the corporation to continue to focus on the largest revenue stream.  

TP: What’s your current role at Telamon?

SL: I continue to do business development. I am the general manager for our marketing solutions group, which is all of the innovative healthcare solutions that we support today.

TP: Why do you volunteer and what has been your favorite board to serve on?

SL: I didn’t get where I am today from anything more than the fact I was born into a family that cultivated and curated volunteering. I have had the education to help me through and philanthropy was taught when I was young. I have volunteered all over, but I have to say of all the boards I have served on, the best was the Central Indiana Community Foundation Women’s Fund. It’s a phenomenal philanthropic organization.

TP: Where do you see the local tech environment heading in the future?

SL: This is not going to make me very popular, but I think very specific areas of growth are being over-saturated and we need to diversify more into different technological components across the state. There are some really interesting pockets when we look at the tech community. I think in CRM automation, that’s great and I’m glad Salesforce decided to invest further in the state of Indiana. But, there are some foundational skillsets that we need. Vertical marketing automation really can be applied to any industry and any business, but I also would like to see us develop true meccas of Indiana technology. Marketing automation is great, but part of the challenge with it is you always have to be so many steps ahead. I do think Workforce Development partnering with Ivy Tech and defining how there are other opportunities to create certification courses is a positive, but when I look at government and academia in comparison to the private sector, they’re not the fastest moving. We need a game plan to showcase what is the 10, 15, 20 years job skillsets that should be continuously turning out of our tech colleges, community colleges, etc.  

TP: In the high schools too?

SL: Yes. We have some great high schools and college preparatory schools that are very focused on student graduation and job placement. The students might not necessarily do the university four-year track, but rather go into the frontline of the workforce. Not everyone should be expected to graduate from a four-year university, but have different strengths and skillset opportunities. What we haven’t looked at is a broader kind of 20-year plan of where we want to go. And with that, how do we build it up, what skillsets are needed to be done in a year, 5, 15, 20 years from now? This will not only ensure that native Hoosiers have an opportunity to participate in these new developing industries that hopefully will be a significant percentage of our GDP,  but also focus on then how do we attract others from outside our community that would be new monies and a new direction of cash flow.

TP: What’s going to make Indiana a star in the world of Tech?

SL: Communicate the successes and share the learnings. The question then becomes if we get a lot of press on state government, why aren’t we getting it on our private sector side? Why aren’t we getting it on our entrepreneurship side? We are neck-and-neck with Kansas City, Austin and St. Louis as being the next tech mecca, but how do we continue to orchestrate a very strategic plan that not only differentiates us from what those cities are doing, but also ensures that there is a strong investment strategy in these new entrepreneurs and technologies.

TP: How can we attract more businesses and professionals to Indianapolis?

SL: If you look at Indianapolis real estate and where Indianapolis was compared to five years ago, you’ll see a lack of inventory and new construction that is absolutely outrageous. Where is the affordable real estate? You don’t attract talent by saying here’s a job, now go fend for yourself. You have to create a community. If you define Indy as core city limits, we have a lot of housing considerations. Mayor Hogsett and his team are doing things on the community- development side, but there are a lot of very talented late twenty-somethings to early thirty-somethings that have relocated back to Indiana and Indianapolis and their resettlement is hard because they’re not used to such a lack of amenities. We have to do everything in our power to keep those folks. We’ve got to get away from “Native Hoosier Mentality” which is a stigma that we don’t want change and things are fine the way they are. If you don’t take risks, you don’t have competition, but then you’re not going to have the advantage. You’re going to attract people that have that same mentality, and that’s very tiring and frustrating to fight against.