Planar’s Lainie Mataras: AV Living Legends #42

Published: 2024-02-05

Planar’s Lainie Mataras is a perfect choice to join Commercial Integrator’s #AVLivingLegends series. As our 42nd inductee into this distinguished group, Mataras joins fellow industry members whose careers truly distinguish them.

Currently serving as senior director consultant, architect design group at Planar, Mataras brings more than 25 years’ experience in the commercial audiovisual and digital signage industry. Prior to Planar, Mataras worked as a regional sales manager for the consultant industry at Sapphire Marketing, where she worked for 14 years. Prior to that, she held a technical sales role at Crestron, where she worked for a decade.

In this interview with Commercial Integrator, Mataras reflects on her journey and the milestones she has marked in the AV industry. She also champions the criticality of women to the industry, and she spotlights her mentorship under Marla Suttenberg, another AV Living Legend!

And if you’d like to read even more coverage relating to our #AVLivingLegends, like Planar’s Lainie Mataras, check out our hub page. It includes direct links to every living legend!

FEATURED REPORT

Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry?

Lainie Mataras: I left my retail career to find a more lucrative one due to necessity and student loans. In the early ’90s, I found a job posting in the local newspaper, The Bergen Record, for an administrative assistant/customer service position at Crestron Electronics. I interviewed with Randy Klein and toured the factory. I had never been in a factory before, so the environment was completely foreign to me. Randy called me back the next day and asked me to meet George Feldstein for a second interview. Can you imagine a second interview with both George Feldstein and Randy Klein? It was intimidating to say the least back then. Little did I know I was sitting in front of AV legends. Randy thought that, if I could deal with screaming babies and pushy moms, working for Crestron wouldn’t be such a hard transition.

So, I went from folding little baby clothes to being one of the first customer service voices for Crestron Electronics. Back then, the customer service team was also the technical support team, which was also the programming team. We wore a lot of hats and worked a lot of hours in close quarters. I always thought that I would eventually focus back on a career in retail, but the people I worked with — like Fred Bargetzi, Rosanne Lang and Ray Coneys — made it feel less like work and more like an AV Day Camp with great friends. Then, I met Randy’s beautiful wife, Marla Suttenberg, who became my mentor. The rest of my career just fell into place.

Commercial Integrator: What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?

Lainie Mataras: The AV industry is home to some amazing people, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of them early in my career. We grew up together in an industry that was innovating at a rapid pace. I never imagined that I would enjoy working in a technical environment, but I did. Back then, the competitive landscape was different. We would go to trade shows and spend our days selling against AMX and Extron. But, after floor hours, all three firms would hang out and have dinner together. Those relationships are still some of my most treasured friendships.

Over the years, I moved around within Crestron, taking on various inside management roles. However, my favorite inside role was in the technical sales department. This is where I was exposed to audiovisual consultants and the RFP process. Here, I enjoyed working on RFPs and watching design discussions turn into projects. I also had the opportunity to work with end clients, which helped me learn how to work with clients in higher education and corporate settings. I gained an appreciation for listening to the needs of an end user and watching that vision materialize within a consultant’s design. Since Crestron was a global company, I met consultants from all over the world, which helped me expand my network.

After about a decade of working in this role at Crestron, I realized that I wanted to branch out of an inside role and head into sales. Seeing the success of my mentor as a woman in AV sales motivated me to take the leap and become a sales representative at Sapphire Marketing. I truly believe that anyone with a desire to get into AV sales should join a rep firm. It is the fastest way to learn about so many different aspects of technology. I believe my years at Sapphire were my ‘AV career MBA.’ The lines I represented were best in class, and I learned a lot from my colleagues and clients.

Commercial Integrator: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life? How have you tried to help shape others careers?

Lainie Mataras: I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the late Fred Bargetzi, former CTO of Crestron Electronics, as one of my mentors. He was a master at approaching all interactions, whether they were complicated, contentious or just super competitive. He had the ability to take something very complex and break it down into small, attainable tasks. Whenever I’m faced with a more complicated project, I often think to myself, “How would Fred handle this?”

Fred taught me how to listen more and talk less and to remain diplomatic even in the most difficult situations and discussions. He also reminded me to know my worth and to not shortchange the skills I have. Working in a male-dominated industry often left me feeling insecure in interactions and unsure if I really had a “seat at the table.” But Fred challenged me when I felt intimidated and reminded me of my net worth.

Working with Marla Suttenberg

Marla Suttenberg, former owner of Sapphire Marketing and current account manager at QSC, was the first saleswoman I met in the industry, and I was inspired by her ability to command the room regardless of how technical the discussions were. I made a pact with myself to never say no to a Marla invite and have pretty much held strong to that pact. She continues to mentor me with her commitment and passion for this industry.

Fred and Marla were pivotal in molding who I am today in the industry, but there are so many people who moved in and out of my career that have “spot” mentored me. I think it’s important for anyone’s growth to continually look for inspiration and mentorship within any interactions they have.

Giving Back to the AV Community

I believe that it’s important to give back to the AV community. Whenever someone asks for help or advice, I feel that it’s my responsibility as a steward of AV to do what I can to assist. Whether it’s helping someone look for a new job or offering advice on how to handle a situation, I lead with compassion, positivity, and optimism. During the pandemic, I saw many people facing layoffs, so I started reposting any new opportunities I saw on LinkedIn with a simple #jobalert. Initially, I thought it went unnoticed, but eventually I received DMs that said I helped people remain optimistic in their job searches. I spent years building my network, and I believe that there is no better way to help someone than to leverage those connections.

You can have a thriving career in AV without being super technical. I consider myself a “social engineer” who connects people and designs interactions with humanity, humility and compassion. I always encourage people I meet to lean into their strengths and their perceived weaknesses will be less obvious.

Recently, I was having lunch with a woman consultant, and we were discussing work/life balance. Working from home has its challenges when you have a young child at home and are ambitious to move your career forward. You often lose your sense of self and self-care to fit it all in. I recommended buying a Peloton and told her that it only takes a few minutes on the bike to escape and give yourself some “me time.” She made my day with a quick thank-you email on how she followed through, bought the bike and is so happy she incorporated it into her daily routine. I think it is important not to shy away from really getting to know your clients. You will be amazed at what you can learn from leaning into those relationships.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career in commercial AV?

Lainie Mataras: In the early days, there was no bigger AV competition than between AMX and Crestron, and that was completely obvious during tradeshows. We were always fighting for market share.

I remember my first InfoComm, where I was super excited to be at the front of the booth greeting customers. One very tall gentleman came to the booth with no name badge, and I was chatting him up on how great Crestron was and invited him to our customer-appreciation party. He said thank you and that he would be there. Well, he was a man of his word and showed up. I was so happy until Randy Klein approached the man and said, “What are you doing here?” That very tall man was Scott Miller, president of AMX, who then pointed to me and said, “She invited me.” The moral of the story is to always ask a person’s name and/or flip over their name badge at a trade show!

Commercial Integrator: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Lainie Mataras: I believe that my greatest professional accomplishment is yet to come, and that’s what makes this industry so exciting to me. However, if I had to pick something, it would be my transition from an inside role to outside sales. Inside salespeople are always in a supporting role, and we take a lot of pride in helping the company achieve its goals through our support. It’s hard to step away from behind the booth and stand out front in order to create your own opportunities and success. But I’m proud of myself for taking that leap and for all the hard work that went into making that transition.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your biggest professional regret to date?

Lainie Mataras: If I could turn back time, I would have jumped into sales earlier than I did. My hesitancy was partly due to the lack of women in those roles back then, and I couldn’t see how my success would translate pioneering into sales without more women surrounding me. Although those numbers have increased, we still have a long way to go. Even after 30-plus years in the industry, I am often still one of the only women at project meetings.

Commercial Integrator: What is the best advice or pearl of wisdom you either received during your career or came to realize on your own?

Lainie Mataras: As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” As a woman in AV, I didn’t take the shots earlier in my career. Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t self-advocating loud enough for myself or was too nervous to push past my comfort zone. My mother always said I was a late bloomer, but now in this stage of my career, I ask for opportunities, try new things and walk outside my comfort zone. I lean on my friends in the industry to help me through moments of insecurity and to guide me into new AV experiences.

Additionally, I encourage anyone new or seasoned in AV to take the shots — stretch yourself within your career to experience growth. Complacency for too long leads to eventual career regrets.


Would you also like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself!  in this #AVLivingLegends series just like Planar’s Lainie Mataras was? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, group editor, commercial and security, Emerald, at [email protected].

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