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Entisys360 CFO Elizabeth 'Bets' Strohl Retires After Remarkable 50-Year Technology Career

A computer programmer and among the first female vice presidents at Bank of America in the 1970s, Strohl tells CRN she is now focusing on encouraging young women to get involved in math and science.

In the 1960s, Elizabeth "Bets" Strohl was a young widow, working as a lab technician in California, and she was heartbroken.

"I was married when I was 20 years old," she told CRN. "My first husband passed away from cancer at a very young age, and I was very devastated. I was talking to some friends one day and this guy said, 'Why don’t you try programming?' And I didn’t even know what he meant -- I was so uneducated about the subject. I thought he was talking about radio programming."

Her coming technology career would span more than 50 years and include some of the earliest forms of computer coding, pioneering leadership roles at one of the nation's largest banks, and helping to create a company from scratch that continues to grow today.

Strohl retired last week as CFO of Concord, Calif.-based solution provider Entisys360, the company -- then known as Entisys Solutions -- she co-founded with her husband, George Strohl, in 1988. George Strohl passed away six years later.

"I have always been in some kind of IT," the 78-year-old said during an interview with CRN. "Ever since 1966, when I went to work for Bank of America. It's been an interesting career."

Strohl's son, Matt General, currently Entisys360's CTO, was named COO and will take over financial operations for the company. Her stepson, Michael Strohl, is CEO.

"She has made many significant contributions to our success, not the least of which is overseeing the finances as we built Entisys360 into the company it is today," Michael Strohl said in a statement. "She leaves Entisys360 with a tremendous legacy and some very big shoes to fill, and we wish her all the best in her retirement."

Elizabeth Strohl's father nurtured in her a love of math when she was a child, and she graduated with a degree in social science and a minor in math from San Francisco State University in the 1960s.

"I've always been good at math and I’ve always enjoyed it, but I had very little guidance about what to do with my interest," she said.

After her friend recommended computer programming, she signed up for a course at San Jose State College. In the class she learned Fortran, got good grades and was offered jobs at PacBell and Bank of America. She chose Bank of America.

"We called it systems and equipment research," she said. "That was the name of the department. The term 'IT' was nowhere around. I was in applications development. There was also a group called system programming. All of those things fall under current-day IT."

The bank had one of the first IBM 360 computers, she said. She and the other programmers were developing applications for stock transfers, on-demand deposit accounting, savings accounts, business accounting and payroll.

"We would go talk to the users," she said. "We would develop code. We would handwrite code. We would then send our coding sheets to keypunch operators, who would keypunch it. In those days, the computer resources were so rare that it was frequently a week before we got a turnaround of our first run of our code."

Strohl said there were fewer leadership opportunities for women back then, so much so that Bank of America was forced by a court order in the 1970s to open up more management positions to females.

"I was a second-level manager and I was quickly promoted to vice president, probably in 1975, or 1976, and so I was a vice president for six years and then I was promoted to senior vice president," she said. "It happened at a time when Bank of America was really trying to promote women. Now there are a lot of women senior vice presidents and a few executive vice presidents. Not a bunch, but there are a few."

However, in the technology field itself, whether at Bank of America in the 1960s and 1970s, or other companies she later worked for, including Visa and Citibank, she said there was always a strong female presence. Beginning in the 1960s, at least half of the workforce in technology was comprised of women, she said.

"I think there’s some discussion that, yes, it was clerical. You were coding. It was not deemed to be a career field for men," she said. "Something happened that changed things in the '80s and I'm not sure what it was. I'm also very involved with AAUW [the American Association of University Women] and the topic of women in business is one that we discuss a lot. There's a feeling that it was about then, in the '80s, that many men decided it was an interesting and lucrative career, which had not particularly been the case before."

By 1988, Strohl, was busy working two jobs, as a full-time consultant and then on the weekends she did the books for Entisys Solutions. In the 1990s, the company started reselling Citrix Systems. She then worked full-time at the family business, which was eventually renamed Entisys360 in April 2016.

"Through the years, we've grown and grown and now we’re over a $100 million company," she said. "I think we were fortunate to be an early adopter of the Citrix platform and followed on with VMware. It wasn't until later that we started selling a lot of hardware. We are still selling hardware and doing a lot of consulting."

In retirement, she hopes to encourage young women to stay involved in math and science, like her father encouraged her.

"My current focus is talking to parents of preteen girls. If they're interested in any of the STEM subjects, they should encourage them to follow that," she said. "They may have loved math or science in grammar school, they start maturing and they just totally get turned off. I'm not sure of the reason why, but they need a lot more encouragement from parents."

Strohl said she still loves to tinker with programming and used Microsoft Access to write business apps a few years ago to help in her CFO role.

"Those first three years I spent coding and doing business analysis were probably the most fun part of my career," she said. "I don't know why I like things like that, but I do. It's solving different problems and getting computers to make things happen at a much faster speed than human beings can do it. I love math. I still do. I bet if somebody would give me a program to develop, I'd love doing it, even at this old age. That's just me."

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