When Georgia Rittenberg interviewed for a part-time job at ComputerCare in 2012, the company asked her where she wanted to be in five years. Her response: “Not working here.”
Today, she’s running the company.
As the president of ComputerCare, Rittenberg is responsible for all of the company’s sales, marketing, human resources, technical support, and day-to-day financial operations. ComputerCare, based in Santa Clara, is a managed IT services company and an authorized repair center for the products of hardware manufacturers such as Apple, Lenovo, Toshiba and HP.
But it’s a far cry from the career she thought she would have. Rittenberg became a customer-support representative at ComputerCare six years ago to support herself while pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She had been working with healthcare organizations and nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood and had planned to continue on that trajectory — until she started liking her part-time job with ComputerCare and began moving her way up the corporate ladder there.
During Rittenberg's tenure, the company’s annual revenue increased by more than 20 percent year over year from 2012 to 2015. She also helped to hire and build out the customer service team, as well as to launch ComputerCare’s facilities in Dublin, Ireland. When her now-husband, Alan Rittenberg, retired in 2016 as the president of ComputerCare, she was named as his replacement.
Rittenberg spoke with Crain’s about her leap from public health to tech, her rise through the ranks and the ways her experience informed her leadership style.
Q: You started out in public health; how did you end up becoming the president of a tech company?
A: I applied for a part-time job doing customer service for ComputerCare to support myself as I pursued a master’s degree in public health. I think ComputerCare hired me because they were looking for someone who was motivated and hardworking.
I began to love my job at ComputerCare. Because I grew up around the startup scene in Palo Alto, interacting with ComputerCare’s larger enterprise customers felt very natural. And although I hadn’t studied business administration in school, I felt that many of the skillsets I learned while working with nonprofits were transferable; it was all about relationship-building and listening to customers [to help solve] their problems. I also felt the product we provided was unique, so I wanted more people to know about it.
I ended up as a full-time account manager, and because the office was very small at the time, I shared an office with the then-president Alan Rittenberg. Because of that, I received a crash course in running a business. I was around it all the time; I learned about development and how to go after accounts; and I got this overarching view of the whole business. I later began managing all of our customer-service people and all of our accounts and was named vice president to reflect this work. I became president when Alan retired.
Q: What are you most proud of achieving with ComputerCare?
A: After I started with the company, we grew in excess of 20 percent year over year. We did that through customer retention, which is something I’m incredibly proud of.
Q: What advice do you have for young professionals who want to move up in their careers?
A: Do as much as you can in as many different areas of the business as possible. The more experience you have in each area, the better.
Also, be open-minded as to where you end up. I never expected to be working at ComputerCare; it had nothing to do with what I studied in college. But it’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. No, my career isn’t focused on public health, but I can still decide what kind of health insurance and benefits our employees receive. While a job might not be exactly what you went to college for, it might let you touch on the things you care about in different ways.
Q: Would you attribute your success to your upbringing or to your education?
A: I would attribute that to my upbringing. I was a curious child and always wanted to know how things worked. Growing up in the Bay Area also exposed me to the tech world, so that helped me, too.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: One big lesson I also try to follow is: If you are not personally willing to do it, don’t expect your employees to do it. If someone calls in sick or needs an extra set of hands, people should be willing to pitch in. You have to be the person to set the example that then creates that kind of environment.
I also try to be empathetic. I think it’s really easy for employees in companies to feel like they’re just part of a rat race, so I try to create a positive work environment and let them know that management is listening to them and doing what they can to improve their lives.
ComputerCare is on Twitter: @ComputerCareUSA.