A person’s career is defined by the people around them. That is a truth that particularly resonates for Jennifer Cardella, senior vice president of global project and vendor services at Viacom and author of The Basics of Process Improvement. “It always comes back to people,” the SVP says, “the people on my team, the people at the company, and the wonderful people who support me and keep me grounded.”
As a student at the University of Windsor, Cardella focused on psychology and business—two fields in which she was able to understand the importance of looking at everything critically and valuing the input of those around her. The first day of class, her psychology professor wrote an Epictetus quote on the board: “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
“He promised us it would ring true throughout our careers, no matter what field we chose,” says Cardella, who still applies the quote in her work. “You have to listen and understand before you speak to gain the full value that those around you bring to the table.”
While she initially worked in accounting after graduation, Cardella soon shifted into the customer- and people-centric project management field—coupling her passion for processes and people. Moving through increasingly senior roles at IAC, BlackBerry, and Perspecsys Inc., Cardella continuously found herself fascinated with the technological aspects of her work. “Technology has a huge potential for making a difference in people’s lives,” she explains. “From making everyday tasks simpler to improving complex processes, technology is at the forefront of everything we do, and I knew I wanted to be even more immersed in tech.”
Excited to take the next step in her career, Cardella studied and trained to become a Certified Scrum Master, applying the business fundamentals she learned, along with the numerous tools she’d been employing in her career, while focusing on how technology intertwined with people would make for a successful project manager.
When Cardella decided to join Viacom in 2015, it was in part because the leadership team shared her passion for realizing technology’s potential and working on meaningful changes for the organization as a whole. Another key factor was the company’s reputation.
“The Viacom networks were what I grew up on,” Cardella says. With a portfolio that encompasses Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central—as well as film, digital media, live events, studio production, merchandise, and entertainment solutions—Viacom is “about stories and experiences, a culture of content,” Cardella notes. “People love stories, and when you add in a layer of technology and media platforms, so many people can access those stories, enjoy them, and relate to them.”
In Cardella’s opinion, the stories and experiences curated by Viacom are unique not only within the tech industry but also within “the industry in general.” She credits this to the creativity, agility, and innovative spirit of the people working at the company. “We’re delivering content in so many different ways, and constantly adapting to an ever-changing landscape in over 180 different countries,” Cardella points out. “We’re at more than 4.3 billion subscribers, and it’s because of our people that drive the delivery of our values.”
Those values—empathy, bravery, and honesty—inspire Cardella in her everyday interactions with her team. “Relationships are so meaningful,” Cardella remarks. “And you know your relationships are strong when people give you their time.”
Cardella adds one more value to the mix: consistency. As she says, “You have to show in every interaction that you’re humble, that you’re actively listening, that you’re validating what people are saying, and that you want everyone to be part of the solution. Remember Epictetus? Being an active listener and giving someone with a different diverse outlook time to join the conversation will more times than not find a solution or an outlook not yet thought of.”
Bit by bit, those interactions add up and determine a department’s culture. And Cardella wants to make sure she builds “the right culture,” a culture in which her team feels important and empowered. “I love seeing the potential in people and being able to help them grow,” Cardella says. “We have people here who started out as administrative assistants and became project managers, and people who started as program managers going into director roles. That’s because my leadership team saw the potential in those people and supported their growth.”
Her relationship with her team members hasn’t gone unnoticed by TechLink’s Tom Potenza, president, and Jennifer Hatton, senior account executive. “Jennifer has always been regarded as one of the best in the business and continues to lead by example at Viacom by tackling a multitude of initiatives and being a role model to many associates,” they say. “Jennifer is truly one of a kind, and it’s been an honor to work with her and support Viacom for the past five years.”
Cardella and Viacom work to put people first in various ways: a company-wide cultural council, a career-pathing program, company-wide annual community service days, and more.
“There’s no shortage of ensuring the right resources are in place for all associates,” Cardella says. “As our CEO Bob Bakish always notes: ‘The people at Viacom make Viacom great.’ Having our most senior leader support the culture, encourage the engagement, and drive the social impact, shows everyone the importance of people.”
Viacom’s Next Generation
Mentoring is at the top of Jennifer Cardella’s priority list. Each summer, Viacom welcomes twenty high school girls to participate in a seven-week immersive coding course called Girls Who Code.
“It’s not just about learning to code,” she explains. “This program connects these young, smart, and inspirational women to other women leaders while showing them the importance of advocating for yourself, standing for your beliefs, and finding people to support you and drive you to flourish.”
After the program wraps, each student can apply for an internship in any division of the Viacom Technology Department once they graduate high school. In 2019, Cardella welcomed a fourth-year intern back for an eight-week summer internship. “It feels like yesterday she was the shy student in the class on her first day of Girls Who Code,” she says. “Flashforward five years and she’s entering her senior year [of college] focused on a degree in project management, with a job lined up for her in my department once she graduates.”
Cardella had the support of her network and her family to achieve the impossible, and she wants the same for the women she mentors. “I enjoy mentoring so much, knowing we’re investing in their future, showing them there’s a need for women at the top, and making sure we’re creating a ladder for them to climb after us.”