You may have read in MRT that I recently became president and chief operating officer of EFJohnson. Over the course of the past two months, I've been asked many times how I felt about making the transition from a large corporation to a small company.

I compare it to what often happens in the music industry. Many musicians develop a preference for playing smaller halls after years of doing concert tours in large arenas. The key is intimacy and immediate impact. In a smaller venue, you can catch the eyes of individuals in the audience and see the expressions on their faces, so you immediately know who is enjoying the show and who is not.

The progression from a large company, such as Motorola, to a considerably smaller EFJohnson is a bit like stepping from an arena into a small, intimate concert setting. Every decision you make at a smaller company has an immediate impact on your customers, your employees and your suppliers.

The prospect of greater intimacy with customers is compelling. Smaller companies by necessity have fewer organizational levels. When I met with one of our dealers at IWCE, he said that a flatter and thinner organization such as EFJohnson's provides a very short escalation path. Customers can get a decision and see action relatively quickly. The customer benefit is faster problem resolution.

But regardless of size, companies in our industry face a common challenge: making good on the promise of interoperability for our first-responder customers. For a small company, this challenge is magnified. At EFJohnson, we are designing, building and testing products that are intended to work on multiple versions of another manufacturer's network. Our people have to continually stay on their toes to ensure that our products are compatible with the “latest and greatest,” while making sure they do not forget backwards-compatibility along the way. To their credit, Motorola has been cooperative and helpful in working with us to resolve issues to the benefit of our mutual customers. That's how you make a standard work.

A further test of the value of a standard for interoperability is the extension of Project 25 from simply a subscriber-infrastructure interface to infrastructure components. The Inter-RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI) provides the capability for customers to intermix infrastructure elements and/or subsystems from multiple manufacturers on their networks, just as they intermix subscriber products today. The ISSI will introduce competition into the network level and benefit our customers and the industry as a whole. As with the original P25 initiative, we are working closely with the other manufacturers to drive this portion of the standard to completion — hopefully by year-end.

What does this mean for EFJohnson? Project 25 is leveling the playing field, allowing smaller companies such as ours to provide innovation and differentiation to our customers — a feat that would be difficult in a proprietary-protocol world. So I am looking forward to playing in this small, intimate setting of EFJohnson — and watching our customers enjoy the tune.

Ellen O'Hara is the President of EFJohnson. Prior to joining EFJohnson, O'Hara held senior-level management positions at Motorola, including vice president and general manager of the radio products division and vice president and director of the subscriber operations, radio network solutions group. Prior to Motorola, she worked for General Electric and Ericsson/GE in business development, operations and product management. O'Hara holds an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business and a BA from Mount Holyoke College.