From her undergraduate degree from MIT to her work as a literal rocket scientist to her current role as tech entrepreneur, Tamra Johnson is without question an amazing, accomplished woman. She is particularly important to the origin of City of Angels as she introduced the group to the Give/Get exercise, the ethos of which defines our organization and its mission. More on this amazing founder, investor, mom and general superstar…
City of Angels: Your career encompasses Boeing, JPL, Northrop Grumman, and now your own companies. What's the thread that connects these stops on your path?
Tamra Johnson: I've always been motivated to work on things that challenge me and give me the opportunity to learn something new all of the time. That was part of what drew me to being an aerospace engineering and working on satellites and rockets. Over the last 6 years of founding companies and making investments, I've found the ability to work on problems I care about, to be faced with new challenges and questions each day, and to build something totally new are great ways for me to find satisfaction and fulfillment professionally.
CofA: Your new company, FlexTeam, has a mission that aligns beautifully with that of City of Angels. Tell us about why you started this business?
TJ: When I was working in aerospace, I found female mentors and role models at the uppermost levels of the company, and there were a lot of female engineers being hired as well. But as I looked immediately above me I saw a big gap in the middle. I started to look around and realized it wasn't a problem unique to the aerospace industry, but in industries that were traditionally male, especially in the STEM fields, there was a large drop-off in women mid-career. It's not a pipeline issue like many business leaders like to claim - it's that business structures, company cultures, and work environments were not made by women, and aren't created in a way to support them and the demands they have in life. And when I saw these large numbers of educated, professionally experienced women who had left the traditional workforce, I saw an opportunity to put their minds to work on challenging, substantial business problems.
I'd known my co-founder Saujin Yi since we were undergrads at MIT. She often had people approaching about C-suite jobs and projects, and so we saw an opportunity to bring together that demand with the workforce. FlexTeam provides an “on-demand Chief of Staff” to do the work you wish you could clone yourself to accomplish - financial models, data analysis, marketing strategy, research, etc. We've built out an end-to-end project management platform, and have over 100 members engaged in our FlexTeam workforce.
CofA: A workforce of smart women? We like this. A lot.
TJ: FlexTeam isn't just about the power of these women; we've built it out as a tech platform, and in turn a business and a tool that can scale beyond ourselves and the hours that traditionally go in to a consulting, service-oriented business. Right now, for example, we have two different women that have their own agencies that are working through the FlexTeam platform to both scale their own staff and to provide their clients with a seamless experience. I'm excited to see that continue to grow.
CofA: What is it about you that most surprises people?
TJ: I've been in LA since 2001, so for people that have only known me from that time on, it's the things that were a regular part of my life growing up in rural Texas - hunting, working in the pasture, knowing what a rattlesnake sounds like, etc. :) Given the ideological divide in our country right now, and my experience and understanding of both sides, I have longer term aspirations to hold political office and bridge the gaps (and hopefully bring logic and a GSD attitude to things!).
CofA: You've got our vote, though in return we may need you to protect us from rattlesnakes. Speaking of surprises, your dream trip description is simple and stunning: "Space." When do you predict humans will be traveling to space regularly?
TJ: I hope in my lifetime, because I realized after the second space shuttle accident that space tourism was going to be my most sure way to get to space! All of the development in rockets the last 10 years is encouraging, so how about 2035?
We're in. And more than happy to let you lead the way on this one, Tamra. To infinity and beyond!