Five Questions With: Kelly Mendell

Kelly Mendell
KELLY MENDELL is president of MIKEL Inc. in Middletown. / COURTESY KELLY MENDELL

Kelly Mendell is president of MIKEL Inc. in Middletown. An industrial engineer, she talks about the work the company does for the U.S. Navy, and also offers advice for young women interested in pursuing the STEM fields.

PBN: What interested you in this business? I know it was founded by your father, but why did you want to follow in his footsteps?

MENDELL: I was always interested and good at math in school and it was a natural progression to major in engineering. My engineer father was a role model. And I thought solving mathematical types of problems would be an interesting and good way to make a living. I worked at various large companies in engineering and management roles. After some time, I figured out that I would like to enter management and stop doing the detailed engineering work. I liked the idea of program management, which requires a wide skill set to be successful. Accordingly, I decided to get my MBA and to refocus my career.

While in my last job before MIKEL, I had my first child, which had a profound impact on me. I decided to try to work on a part-time basis to try balancing motherhood and staying committed to my career – two things very difficult to balance. Fortunately, at that time, MIKEL, the undersea technology company that my dad founded, started growing; he needed someone to administer his programs to enable him to focus on the technical work and he offered me a part-time job. Little did I know what this new job would become: the “part-time” arrangement was very short lived; I loved it, loved the feeling of creating something and being successful at it. The company grew along with my role in it. I was appointed president in 2008 and we established our WOSB – Women Owned Small Business.

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PBN: Can you talk about some of the work that you do? Is most of your work for the Navy?

MENDELL: Currently, we work solely for the U.S. Navy. Our work involves the development of new technology and, if successful, the deployment of new products for the undersea community. Our SANS product – the Submarine Acoustic Navigation System – is a great example of taking a concept all the way through the development and test cycles to deployment, where the U.S. Navy currently uses it to perform exercises at sea. Also, we provide technical services to various U.S. Navy organizations that are responsible for submarine operations and systems. Our analysts, technicians, engineers and administrators help the Navy get to their goals.

PBN: How long have you been in Middletown and how many employees do you have? Any plans to hire more this year?

MENDELL: We have been here since 2009 and are currently renovating and expanding existing space to incorporate a larger technology-development area. We plan to stay for as long as possible. We have more than 150 employees and currently have many job openings listed on our website.

PBN: To what would you attribute its growth?

MENDELL: We outperformed our growth projection for 2016, with a 40 percent growth rate.  We anticipate a 20 percent growth rate this year based on our current work and opportunities. Should we win new projects, that projection will increase.

PBN: What advice would you give to young women who want to work as engineers in these typically male-dominated tech fields?

MENDELL: The ratio of women to men appears to be leveling off. When I was in college, there were about four women in my classes of about 40 students. Based on the resumes I see and the candidates we interview, my sense is that is changing. The administrative side of the business is very heavily dominated by women, however we employ several women engineers, including some of our top leaders. In any case, as an employer, we want a balance of talent and perspectives – not necessarily some male-versus-female ratio. We are looking for a wide variety of skills to provide a better solution with a holistic view.

I would advise women: Examine your goals. Mine was to have a job that provided a decent income in my interest area – engineering. The need for female engineers has been consistently positive, the market unsaturated in a growth area, the pay range good, the field increasingly interesting and important. I don’t see that changing in our new century.

Some more advice: Identify a female mentor, join appropriate organizations and network. You never know what opportunities lie ahead. Sometimes you must make them.

Lori Stabile is the PBN web editor.

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