Turning the Dial

André Mendes on changing the channel

With only $300 to his name and a one-way ticket in hand, André Mendes boarded a plane headed to the United States in hopes of escaping political upheaval in his native Portugal. Three decades later, Mendes is the CIO and director of the Office of Technology, Services and Innovation for the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington, DC.

What made you get into this profession?
About 39 years ago my native country underwent a revolution that replaced a 48-year fascist dictatorship with a communist regime. My family and I found ourselves huddled around a shortwave radio listening to the Voice of America (VOA) and the BBC as we tried to find out what was happening in our own country.

[When] I was offered the opportunity to manage the global infrastructure for VOA and the other US civilian broadcasts abroad … it was my opportunity to serve this most honorable mission and pay back the gift of information that my family and I had so eagerly received back in the early ’70s.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
What is today, won’t be tomorrow. Change will continue to accelerate and you must embrace it or rapidly become obsolete.

What is your favorite thing about working in your field?
The fact that it is undertaking such rapid transformation, offering enormous opportunity for impactful leadership

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I have a wallaby as a house-trained pet.

How do you see your industry changing in the next coming years? What advice would you give to others to prepare?
Broadcasting will become a gigantic combination of content acquisition, content packaging and content distribution modalities. Media companies must build in standardization and flexibility so that they can accommodate all of the content consumption desires of their target populations. Operational agility will be an imperative. Those who have it will thrive and those who don’t will perish.

Where did you go to school?
I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Maryland.

Biggest milestone?
Landing in the United States of America at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, at exactly 2:32 on July 31st, 1979. I fulfilled a longtime dream to move to the greatest country in the world and began my journey alone as an independent adult at age 17.

What’s your biggest mistake?
Ever thinking that I could drive a massive technology migration project by myself without the support of the organization’s senior leadership.

What advice would you give to others hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Always strive to be thoughtful and pragmatic. You can almost always get what you want by wanting what is best for the mission you decide to serve. Choose your mission carefully lest you confuse success with personal gain.

How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
I always start a new job with the best of intentions and gradually find myself working longer and longer hours as I become more and more engaged. Once I recognize the pattern I try to pull back a bit and settle on a happy medium, but in today’s environment, it certainly takes a constant effort to recognize and abide by the need to keep that balance.