& cplSiteName &

How Rachel Kutz Went From ET to AT&T VP

Sarah Thomas

As the saying goes, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land... in a long, rewarding career in telecom." Right?

We may have minced words here, but that was the case for Rachel Kutz, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s vice president of supplier diversity. While she had a lifelong passion for outer space, a willingness to pivot and go for opportunities she had little experience in helped land her in a 15-year long career at AT&T.

Kutz has held a number of roles at AT&T after starting there as an RF engineer in 2003. Most recently, she was promoted to run AT&T's supplier diversity program. The carrier has committed to spending more than 20% of its supplier money with companies that are led by women or certified diverse individuals, and it's Kutz's job to ensure that happens. (See AT&T Urges Women-Owned Businesses to Tackle New Tech.)

She caught up with WiC about how she's continuing her passion for outer space while building a rewarding career at AT&T, and much more.

Rachel Kutz, VP, Supplier Diversity, AT&T
Rachel Kutz, VP, Supplier Diversity, AT&T

Women in Comms' first networking breakfast and panel of 2017 is coming up on Wednesday, March 22, in Denver, Colorado, ahead of day two of the Cable Next-Gen Strategies conference. Register here to join us for what will be a great morning!

Women in Comms: Tell us a little about your background. How did you go from a degree in astrophysics to the telecom industry?

Rachel Kutz: I'm not lying when I say I don't remember a time when I didn't want to be an astronaut. I grew up watching Star Wars and ET, and it made me want to be an astronaut. The problem is they don't talk about how you go become one. My dad wanted me to go into the military, and I didn't want to do that, so I ended up going to school for a physics degree. I tried to stay as close to the sciences as I could. When I graduated, NASA had just crashed one, maybe two, space crafts, but mostly, I didn't know how to go do it. I was in the restaurant business as a bartender for a long time. I realized if I wasn't careful, I would be 40 and bartending. I knew I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was the mid-90s and the digital spectrum had just been released to traditional cell phone carriers. A friend of the family was a headhunter for telecom, specially for mobile networks and phones. He told me, "with your physics background, you're the right kind of person to go into this." I'm not an engineer, but he said I knew it better than most engineers. He said to go talk to them and read up on GSM and see if you can convince others that you are as good as I think you are." That was my entry way into cell phones. I never saw it coming, but I am sure glad it did. It's been an awesome career.

I started out on the technology side as a radio frequency engineer and worked my way up through leadership on wireless. This is how great AT&T is -- I had been saying I wanted to work on the business side whether on sales, marketing or business development. After about 12 years in the technology side, the business came to me and said, "would you like to try the supply chain organization?" I didn't know what it was. I took another leap and jumped into supply chain and have been doing that now for ten years. It's my second career and the business trusted me to do that, which is another reason this is a great place to work. Not a lot of companies let you do that.

WiC: Do you still get to pursue your love of astronauts and NASA at all?

RK: I read a lot. I recognize that even in the 20 years I've been out of school that everything we know about space and physics has changed. I do try to stay on top of it. I read a lot of books about string theory and chaos theory. I don't have ties to NASA, though I did live in Houston. I do try to stay with the science. I really love that part of my life. I love thinking of the universe and staring at the stars. Even if I'm reading something and I don't know what it means, it's about continuing education. I'm so passionate about girls knowing they can do science and math. It's very much changing. I've been to some women's conferences related to STEM, and I look around the room, and it's filled with beautiful, hip young women who are so smart and they make me feel really good that it's not just "am I smart enough to do it?", it's also now hip and cool to be smart. That has been a challenge. I don't think it's women thinking they aren't smart enough, but will they be pegged an egg-head if they are interested in STEM? That's not the case anymore.

WiC: Why is mentoring important to you, and how do you do it with AT&T and programs like Virtual Student Mentor?

RK: AT&T has many programs for mentoring through its Aspire program. They are constantly building their alliances and the ability for employees to mentor in any way they would want. I was involved in the We Teach Science program, which was a virtual program where I was assigned a student. My student was in Northern California, and I was in Atlanta. We met every week. I tutored her in algebra. It was great. It was one of the scariest things I've ever done. You have a 13-year old kid who thinks "I don't like this and you're a nerd," but it was really great… I love all the opportunities that AT&T offers and am eager to dig in there and expand those options. Most of them are virtual.

WiC: What is the company culture like at AT&T? How is diversity ingrained throughout it?

RK: AT&T has such a long history with employee programs. AT&T should be very proud of their Employee Resource Groups; they have five specifically devoted to women. It's really a grassroots way for employees to get together and join those groups they are most interested in. The other thing I love about it is you don't specifically have to be aligned with the focus of an ERG to join, which is even better. You could go out based on your interests or wanting to meet people or just understand groups, you could join the group and understand more about these cultures. These ERGs are really, really active. I'm involved with three. If I had more time, I'd be involved in more of them. AT&T very much supports them and allows them to function. We get messages at least once a week about one of these ERGs holding a function that gives them more publicity and really provides a service to the overall employee base.

WiC: What is your advice for women in the industry?

RK: My advice is this: be yourself. You have to own your womanhood and who you are. You have to know that it's who you are that got you to where you are today, so have that confidence in yourself and what it is you can do. Be smart. Don't be afraid to be smart but also ask for help when it's needed. The biggest thing is to persevere and have that confidence to persevere and know that any failure just makes you better.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

(1)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/16/2017 | 3:01:41 PM
Career path
It's funny how our career paths can go like that.  You have one thing in mind, or you start out in one field -- and then you wind up in a completely different career that you probably weren't all that familar with beforehand.

I know very few people who went on to become who they wanted to be when they grew up.  Moreover, almost everybody I know is doing something for a living that has little to nothing to do with what they went to school for.
Women in Comms Audio
Archived Audio
Twitter Feed
Women's Watercooler
Discussion Boards
December 22, 2017 3:58:57 PM
UN Women HeForShe
October 24, 2017 7:10:11 AM
Better Online Communication Makes Organization Sense
April 27, 2017 1:54:38 PM
Do you know women in tech?
Sarah Thomas
March 5, 2017 12:08:01 PM
Swedish Mansplaining
March 3, 2017 3:24:50 PM
Women's History Month
Sarah Thomas
February 24, 2017 12:15:59 PM
The career-break penalty
Sarah Thomas
February 17, 2017 10:25:33 AM
Risk taking differences
Sarah Thomas
February 17, 2017 9:51:21 AM
Upcoming WiC Events!
Sarah Thomas
Contribute Here
Women in Comms Poll
WiC wants to hear your stories, experiences and impressions of the comms industry.

Take our short survey here!
AppDynamics highlights the tech segments where women are the most prevalent and showcases a few making a big difference in their field.
Women in Comms Video
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
E&Y Partner Talks Customer Centricity, Culture & Comfort

3|21|18   |   7:55   |   (1) comment

Technology is the easy part of transformation, Janet Balis, a partner and global advisory leader for Ernst & Young's Media & Entertainment division, tells Light Reading. Coexistence, culture, diversity, inclusion and a sense of purpose also play a critical role.
LRTV Documentaries
The Telecoms.com Podcast: Virtually Interesting

3|14|18   |     |   (0) comments

Iain, Jamie and Scott move on from the rigors of MWC by reflecting on some of the conversations they had in Barcelona about how much progress we have made with NFV. The answer seems to vary wildly according to who you speak to and it seems clear that industry consensus remains elusive. Jamie then talks us through some of the highlights of the next version of ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Matrixx Software Founder: Digital Transformation Lends Itself to Diversification

3|14|18   |   4:00   |   (1) comment

Matrixx Software Founder and VP of Marketing, Jennifer Kyriakakis, explains why digital transformation goes hand-in-hand with diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Jennifer shares how Matrixx Software has made both a priority.
LRTV Interviews
Susan Johnson & Her Career Acceleration in AT&T

2|28|18   |     |   (0) comments

Susan Johnson, SVP Global Supply Chain of AT&T, discusses her leadership strategy and how her background in investment banking prepared her for a career in the telecom industry. Susan also talks about lessons learned from the different roles she has held at AT&T over the course of her career.
LRTV Interviews
MWC 2018: Ovum IDs the IoT Hotspots

2|13|18   |   06:53   |   (2) comments

Ovum's Head of IoT, Alexandra Rehak, uncovers the hot IoT topics for MWC, including LPWAN commercialization, use cases for 5G, the use of artificial intelligence in IoT deployments and more.
Shades of Ray
It's Time to Enter the Leading Lights

2|9|18   |   01:03   |   (0) comments

If your company excelled during the past year, you need to be submitting your entry for this year's Leading Lights awards. Get the full details by clicking on this link.
LRTV Interviews
MWC 2018: Facing the Millennial Challenge

2|7|18   |   03:39   |   (0) comments

Ovum analyst Camille Mendler explains why the tech and mobile industries need to focus on delivering enterprise solutions that can be understood and used by anyone as the millennial generation begins to comprise the majority of the workforce.
LRTV Documentaries
What They Should Be Talking About at Davos

1|25|18   |   01:54   |   (0) comments

World leaders, billionaire business execs and tech industry leaders are at Davos for the World Economic Forum. Unfortunately for them, we couldn't make it, but, as Dan Allen contends, two important news stories from Spain this week demonstrated the growing tech-jobs disconnect now common the world over and highlighted what those at the forum should be ...
LRTV Documentaries
Cisco at CES: Creating the Self-Managing Network

1|16|18   |   05:44   |   (0) comments

Forget the self-driving car, Cisco is aiming for the self-managed network – one where machine learning and automation propel both innovation and efficiency. At CES, Cisco SVP and GM of the service provider business Yvette Kanouff talks about how operators can transition toward more automated operations, and also why the annual consumer electronics show is ...
LRTV Interviews
What Cable's Ethernet Gains Mean

12|21|17   |     |   (0) comments

NEW YORK, 11/30/2017 – Vertical Systems Research Director Erin Dunne examines the impact of cable's continuing share gains in the Ethernet services market and entrance into the SD-WAN market.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Boingo & Sprint: Take Challenges Head-On

12|20|17   |   07:49   |   (0) comments

PRAGUE -- Lauren de la Fuente, vice president of marketing and communications at Boingo Wireless, and Terri Reintjes, director of architecture strategy at Sprint, reflect on how their experience as women in the telecom industry has changed over the last 30 years and where there's still room for improvement -- whether it's in supporting more diverse teams or ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Skilled Women Can Fuel Tech Growth

12|4|17   |   04:36   |   (1) comment

LONDON, 12/4/2017 – There are skill shortages in many emerging technology areas, such as artificial intelligence, notes Carolyn Dawson, managing director of the TMT unit for KNect 365, an Informa business. Attracting and training more women to the tech field will help the industry grow faster and better explore a broader range of possibilities. Dawson heads the ...