Leader Profile #2: Director, North America GTS Consolidation, IBM
The reason I chose to meet with this individual, who is the Director of Finance for GTS Consolidation, was to reconnect with a mentor I had worked with some time ago, while also picking his brain on what is necessary to get to a leadership role within IBM. I worked with him in my first role at IBM, and have stayed in touch with him ever since. He has actively recruited me to move to NY, so I also pressed him on the opportunities and the necessity of working at CHQ for IBM. I was hoping to have a candid conversation on leadership and what it takes to get there.
Position: Director of Finance, GTS Consolidation, North America
Company: International Business Machines (IBM)
Industry: Finance, Services Outsourcing, Technology
What is your background in working at IBM?
I started at IBM right after earning my undergraduate just like you. I started at of the delivery centers in St. Louis and had a number of contract FA and overhead roles in Services. I knew that my ceiling would be limited if I did not make my way out to NY in some capacity, so after a few years in St. Louis, I moved to New York as the US Delivery and Global Rates Coordinator. I then moved to the IBM account and did their labor rates, and then I went back to STL as the manager for the SDC. This was my first management role, and it was a place I felt comfortable because I had worked in that environment before. I then left management and was the lead measurements and forecast coordinator for all of GTS. I then moved to Arizona and became the financial services manager for the American Express account. Then I returned to NY as the WW GTS forecast and planning manager, and after 1.5 years, left to take a job in operations/sales for one of our services accounts. Then I returned to Global Process Services as the CFO and stayed in that role for 4.5 years before moving to Australia where I was the CFO. Finally I moved into this Director position for GTS consolidation. I feel I earned many of these opportunities because of the work I was able to show I was capable of in New York. Being in the room with the decision makers was absolutely critical to my success.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders at IBM?
Build a set of skills and experiences that round you out enough in order to be considered for the next thing. You need to be willing to take the step, take yourself out of your comfort zone, and do the extra things. You need to put in long hours and be comfortable with being uncomfortable and you need to make yourself vulnerable. You must volunteer, and say let me give that a try…it will add to your skillset and show your leadership team that you are putting yourself out there. It’ll show them that this guy has the ability to get the job done.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a leader?
As the CFO of Australia, I found it challenging as it was difficult to deal with some of the cultural differences. Although it wasn’t as tough as what I might expect in Japan, China, or the Philippines, there is still a significant culture change and as the CFO who has the final decision making authority in anything from Pricing to Sales, the way people worked made it a bit difficult. Even working in a multi-national that is IBM, it put into perspective some of the issues you could face managing the operatiosn of another country. It had a different cadence, tools, mindset, work ethic, and corporate code. As the final decision maker, I needed to have the confidence in my ability to make the right decisions when it came to contract negotiations, sales, compensation issues, disputes, and terminations. I needed to understand the laws in the country and know how it affected the way I could do business.
Additionally going from Finance to the operations/sales role was difficult because to the customer, I was the direct face of the IBM Corporation. Their priority is your priority, it doesn’t matter what IBM is asking, your priority #1 is working for the customer. Skill-set required was to staff people with finance and accounting experience, and part of the reason I was a good fit for the role is because I had those past experiences. It was a challenge because I had to pick up project management pretty darn quickly, and I wasn’t necessarily the best sales person, so I needed to focus on my negotiating and partner skills. The team around you is absolutely critical. There is only so much you can do.
In your role as a leader, do you still seek out advice and if so, explain how important it is?
I absolutely seek out advice of those people I work with. Not only have I done that before but I still do that today. Seeking advice and counsel is extremely important especially when working in a demanding environment and in dealing with our North America GM every day. It is essential you are putting forward the very best set of recommendations and LISTENING. Building consensus and seeking this information from those around you is the key to problem solving. I obviously didn’t get to this position alone. You cannot work in a vacuum. Issues will pop up all the time. In finance you are providing counsel, advice and advocating financially for the company. Reaching out to management, GMs, peers, and contacts is key to a leader’s success and it never goes away. If it goes away, you probably are in the wrong position and aren’t doing the job as best you could be. It’s absolutely critical.
The conversation lasted about an hour and it was more conversational than question and answer. This individual is someone I can relate to as a single male who puts his career first and foremost. He emphasized numerous times the importance of surrounding yourself with the most skilled people as possible. After taking some time to reflect on what it means to be a networked leader, this interview taught me that in order for you to be successful, it’s essential that those you work with are successful. Although it might be you as the final decision maker or the vision behind the end goal, you can’t get to that direction unless everyone is moving in the same direction. It is also important to take challenges head on and it is vital that you put in the time necessary in order to solve those challenges. Additionally, it’s not just the relationships you build with those you work with, but it’s also the relationships you build with those that you work for. The success of the client is priority number one. That doesn’t just mean an external customer but an internal customer as well. Those were my key takeaways after this meeting. Following this discussion, we have set up time on a quarterly basis going forward to keep in touch.