Women at the Top

Throughout my career, so far, I continue to be inspired by the women in my life and in the working world. This week I read an article about newly appointed IBM CEO, Ginny Rometty, this has inspired me to research and write about the women who make it to top , what inspires them, motives them against the odds to get to the top of normally male dominated positions, why do women start the businesses they run and how do they balance what is important to them in there lives and what makes them tick. So each week I will learn and share lessons about how women are making it to, staying at and enjoying it at the top.

This article is part of a series by Miranda de Freston on “Women at the top” Subscribe to Footdown blog

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty

In 2011 the The IBM board of Directors elected Ginni Rometty as president and CEO of the company, to start in January 2012, making her the first ever woman to head up IBM, an awesome achievement.

IBM via Bloomberg

“Ginni got it because she deserved it… It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies. She is more than a superb operational executive. With every leadership role, she has strengthened our ability to integrate IBM’s capabilities for our clients. She has spurred us to keep pace with the needs and aspirations of our clients by deepening our expertise and industry knowledge. Ginni’s long-term strategic thinking and client focus are seen in our growth initiatives, from cloud computing and analytics to the commercialization of Watson. She brings to the role of CEO a unique combination of vision, client focus, unrelenting drive, and passion for IBMers and the company’s future. I know the board agrees with me that Ginni is the ideal CEO to lead IBM into its second century.”  S Palmisano IBM CEO 2003 -2011.

This move promoted her from IBM senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing and strategy, where she was accountable for revenue, profit, and client satisfaction in the 170 global markets in which IBM does business. She was responsible for IBM’s worldwide results, which exceeded $99 billion in 2010 and also for leading IBM’s global strategy, marketing and communications functions.

Ginni Rometty is on the Board of Trustees of her alma mater Northwestern University, as well as on the Board of Overseers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and on The Deming Cup’s committee at Columbia Business School, which recognises individuals for operational excellence.

Ginni Rometty Background

Born in 1958, Ginni Rometty grew up in a Chicago suburb and is the oldest of four children. She has a Bachelor of Science degree with high honors in computer science and electrical engineering from Northwestern University. After graduation in 1979, she started an internship with General Motors in Detroit, where she met her husband Mark and joined IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer. She splits her time living in White Plains, New York, and Bonita Springs, Florida, where she and her husband Mark are avid scuba divers.

Career Highlights

  • In 2002, she championed the purchase of the big business consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, for $3.5 billion, this acquisition was the largest in professional services history, creating a global team of more than 100,000 business consultants and service experts
  • Credited with spearheading IBM’s growth strategy by getting the company into the cloud computing and analytics businesses.
  • Successfully led several of IBM’s most important businesses over the past decade—from the formation of IBM Global Business Services to the build-out of our Growth Markets Unit, which is expected to contribute as much as 30 percent of IBM revenues by 2015.
  • Named in Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for seven consecutive years, ranking #7 for 2011.
  • Led her group into the business of providing technology for complex transportation systems and upgrades of the electric grid. That spadework blossomed last year into IBM’s uber-strategy of providing the business expertise to help create a “smarter” planet.

Ginni Rometty on Taking Risks

CEO with a conscience

As well as being on the Board of Overseers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Rometty is a leader in diversity initiatives including IBM’s Women in Technology Council and the Women’s Leadership Council, and is one of the senior sponsors of the Women’s Executive Council. She is a frequent speaker at industry and business conferences.

Speaking at Northwestern University commencement speech last year, she said:

“IBM’s long- standing mantra is ‘Think.’ What has always made IBM a fascinating and compelling place for me, is the passion of the company, and its people, to apply technology and scientific thinking to major societal issues. Every day I get to ‘Think’ and work on everything from digitizing electric grids so they can accommodate renewable energy and enable mass adoption of electric cars, helping major cities reduce congestion and pollution, to developing new micro- finance programs that help tiny businesses get started in markets such as Brazil, India, Africa.  After 30 years, I’m genuinely excited to get up and apply those problem- solving skills in ways I would never have imagined when I was sitting where you are.”

Rometty on her Success

In an interview Rometty credits her husband with a crucial insight that helped shape her corporate ambitions and says she has grown the most in her career through “experiential” learning.

“I learned the most in my life and career when I took a risk.”

“Her succession at IBM has been the result of careful, long- term planning by the company’s board. Rometty not only held many key positions at IBM during her career, she also has received mentoring and exposure to global leaders important to IBM’s future” said R Kanter a Harvard Business School professor.

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My Thoughts

This is no over-night promotion or success story. Ginni’s success comes from 30 years service at IBM, where she started as a System Engineer. She has worked hard in many areas of a large organisation, developed her skill set and made huge impacts on business revenues and strategy. Also from what I can see she has made personal sacrifices; having never had children and her husband provides a role that supports her in a very demanding job.

In the 2011 list of Fortune 500 companies, ranking of America’s largest corporations, 12 are run by women. That’s just 2%, so Ginny joins an small group of women at the top in the America.

Good luck to Ginny in heading up IBM and I look forward to reading more about her journey at the top.

2 Responses to “Women at the Top”

  1. Lynne Copp says:

    Miranda,
    A great article, thank you!
    Over the past 2 years I have been conducting a major piece of research to define excellence in female leadership; to define the model that supports women to rise to the top using authentic leadership skills. My research is entitled Lipstick Leadership, and the results are compelling. I interviewed women and men in the private and public sector, across most sectors and internationally. I also interviewed non-exemplar women and men in order to eliminate those aspects that were common to both genders and to all levels. What I was left with was two groups of leader – those that had adapted to the traditional leadership style, and those that had used their authentic style. I then interviewed, and analysed until I was left with the model of excellence that 100% of these successful exemplars used.
    Lipstick Leadership is now the topic of a lot of my public speaking and at the moment is being reviewed by myself an d colleagues to define the leadership culture that will support both genders to succeed – we have discovered that there is no glass ceiling, but there is asbestos in those walls!
    I would like to reach out to you and connect, so that we can collaborate and I can support your work too. Drop me an email if you are interested.

    With best wishes,
    Lynne

  2. Miranda de Freston says:

    Thanks for getting in touch. The work you are doing sounds fantastic and I would love to know more and work out a way we could work together. I will be in touch.

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