Leader Profile #1: Vice President, North America Pricing, IBM
The reason I chose to meet with this individual, who is the VP of North America Transactional Pricing at IBM, is to get a better sense of what it is like to be a senior leader at IBM. She has had a number of roles in Finance, most recently taking over this role in mid-2015. I have been working with her for the better part of a year, and it is important for me to get a better understanding of where she has come from professionally, personally, and what it takes to be a leader in today's every changing work environment.
Position: Vice President, North America Transactional Pricing, Finance
Company: International Business Machines (IBM)
Industry: Finance, Technology, Systems
What is your background?
I started at IBM right after earning my MBA. I came in as a Expense and Resources analyst and worked for IBM Global Financing (IGF). At the time, I worked with the future CFO of IBM and believe that this experience set me on a great trajectory for the opportunities I received down the line. I then moved to Treasury and dealt with all of IBM external debt, then moved back to IGF. After about 1.5 years, became the manager of the team I was on. After a few more moves, I became the CFO for Global Financing which I would consider my dream job. I was the one whose neck was on the line when decisions were made and loved the amount of autonomy. After that CFO role, I did one more stint in treasury before becoming a Vice President of the pricing organization.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders at IBM?
No matter if you are an analyst who is starting your career right out of college, a pricer who has been with the organization for 15 years, or an executive running a billion dollar segment of the overall business, you must make your mark on everything that you do. You must transform your job. You must work well with others. You must have conviction in what you know and what you don’t know and make recommendations that need to be heard. And, you must be comfortable with being unpopular.
What job role was the best for your long-term success and why?
I would have to say the very first job that I had at IBM was my most critical role. At the time, I was an expense and resources financial analyst for John Kalles, and a guy by the name of Mark Loughridge, who would later become IBMs CFO. 2 months into the role I was meeting with these guys, seniors sales VPs, and GMs in telling them where they were falling short with their expense targets, and what they needed to do in order to meet them. I was overly detailed but I loved the scope of work. As a woman, I needed to quickly prove myself by focusing on the details, providing numbers, going behind the scenes to understand what was going on, and providing concrete recommendations for what I believe would help them run their business more efficiently. This first impression lasted a lifetime because it was these individuals that would be some of the deciders down the line when I was up for consideration for my first executive level role. I made my mark in a way that they remembered who I was, the work I was able to perform, and the person I was. Although I worked with them in other capacities, it was this impression I made 16 years earlier that became beneficial beyond measure.
How do you adapt as a leader to changing circumstances in IBM’s business environment?
As a leader, it comes down do your knowledge and skill-set, but ultimately it’s those people that you put around you and what THEY are capable of. I am a strong believer that as a leader at IBM we are the ones that need to set the vision and it is that vision we live and breathe every day. As an effective leader, you must also understand the kind of people do you have, and be cognizant of how these diverse personalities mesh. You must STUDY THE LANDSCAPE and fully understand the problems and the issues your customers, employees and stockholders face when running a specific business unit. It’s also important to Shut your mouth and listen. That may sound blunt, but in order for you to relay the vision of your executive team, it is essentially that you understand it completely. Figure out what strategy that will work, you must be decisive in your words and actions or the team will wallow. You must also keep running if you truly believe in something.
There were other questions and discussion points with this individual, but these were the main questions and answered that were of value during our hour long conversation. After taking some time to reflect on what it means to be a leader at IBM and some of the things that this VP shared, I identified two very important messages. The first is to “Make a Mark on Everything that you do”. Big or small, by transforming an entry level job, or making an entire team more efficient, this will show your company the true impact and value you are able to bring them. Be confident and decisive and if things don’t go as planned, it’s okay to admit to your mistakes. The second is to set a vision and be clear in its path. As a leader, the last thing you want to be doing is confusing your team of the direction they should be going. Have that vision be the centerpiece in all you do, say, and direct, and your team will take notice and fall in line. Those are two areas that I will continue to focus on as I make my mark on my career at IBM. It was great to hear that no matter level you are in the company, it is still essential to transform the way we do business.