Why I Will Always Bleed Blue – An Open Letter to IBM
“While IBM is supposedly transforming, they are also losing business and customers every quarter. What are they actually doing to fix this? Nothing. In saying the company is in a transition and is going to go through the biggest reorganization in its history, will this really fix a very obvious customer relationship problem? No, it won’t.” – Robert X. Cringely, Forbes
“IBM is unexciting. It’s often described as a “dinosaur” for its history of falling behind the hottest tech trends. As the tech sector continues to unveil sleek new devices like smartphones and tablets, and begins making forays into wearable tech, IBM is nowhere to be found.”—Money Morning, Nasdaq
As someone who has spent my entire career closely connected to IBM, I’ve struggled with watching its decisions under fire recently. IBM is going through a challenging transition phase and, like every other major corporation, has had to make some tough decisions that have let me down. But more than that, the slew of callous attacks that IBM has been hit with has left me feeling fiercely protective of the company that has turned me into the professional that I am today.
I joined IBM as a co-op while still in school at Carnegie Mellon and spent over a dozen years there quite literally growing up in the arms of Big Blue, both as a professional and as a person. Over the course of 13 years, I led major projects, pioneered new career paths, was nominated to participate in amazing leadership and executive training programs, and made connections with some of the most brilliant people in the world.
By the time I decided it was time to move on, I had blasted through IBM’s promotional band levels and was on a fast track to executive leadership, providing direction to a world-wide development organization of thousands of people, operating with plenty of autonomy.
Though it was a difficult decision, I left for the one thing that IBM could not provide – the chance to stretch beyond the parameters of a corporate environment.
I haven’t gone far. PointSource is an IBM business partner, so we work with IBM people and products every day. Two years into my new adventure here, I genuinely believe with both my head and heart that IBM is—and will continue to be—an amazing company. My hope is that the people at IBM know that they work for a company that does so many things right.
My advice to IBM? Shake off the haters and keep doing what’s made you so successful:
Keep embracing diversity. Diversity has never stood out as a strength of the technology industry, but throughout the years, IBM has and will continue to foster a work environment that defies that norm. It wasn’t until I left IBM after 13 years that I realized the protective bubble of acceptance I had been working in. IBM’s zero tolerance for bias or professional misconduct allowed me, and other women, to seamlessly rise through the ranks of the company. In 2014, IBM was named to Working Mother magazine’s Top 100 list of best companies, showing that they recognize the value professional women have to offer.
Keep recruiting and nurturing young talent. As someone who joined IBM while still in university, I can attest to this company’s dedication to educating and challenging the young talent within its ranks. In my first year, I experienced IBM’s total trust in my young leadership and enthusiasm, and was given the opportunity to lead major projects and travel immediately to build connections and get the job done well. I was nominated to participate in amazing leadership and executive training programs, and was even fortunate enough be sponsored by IBM to complete my MBA.
My experience was not unique to young people at IBM, which is why it consistently ranks high in BusinessWeek’s “Best Place to Launch a Career” and “Best Internship Program.” IBM’s learning initiatives go further than just mentorship and guidance; the company invests more than $30 million every year in its Academic Learning Assistance Program and created the Blue Opportunity initiative to provide e-learning opportunities, traditional classroom learning, job projects, on the job training, mentoring programs and more for its employees.
Keep empowering top talent to pioneer new pathways. IBM wouldn’t be where it is today if its leadership wasn’t willing to take risks on big ideas. Not once was I road blocked in my ideas, and I know a lot of other leaders who felt similarly.
Sure, you have to pay your dues and prove your worth as with any other company, but hardworking and talented IBMers are allowed—and encouraged—to think outside the box. Suggest a role, suggest a product, suggest a roadmap or program; IBM will give people the room to expand when their ideas have merit, value and a path to execution. Since my first position in a co-op at IBM, I went on to pioneer new career paths, creating an Information Architecture role that hadn’t previously existed to manage IBM’s first team of IAs. My experience was one of many; IBM spurs innovation with its employee-pioneered social policy, giving IBM not just one voice, but the voice of its more than 400,000 employees.
Keep hiring geniuses. IBM has harnessed some of the most staggeringly genius ideas since its beginnings 114 years ago. In my 13 years there, I was exposed to some of the brightest people I’ve ever met; I had both peers and leaders who inspired me, challenged me, and awed me. IBM employees have earned Nobel Prizes, Turing Awards, national Medals of Technology and National Medals of Science. For 22 years in a row, IBM has accumulated more U.S. patents than any other company, proving that its innovation and freedom for ideas is second to none. It’s that talent that remains one of IBM’s greatest assets.
Keep building great products. I have teams of people at PointSource who electively choose to use IBM products. Trust me, these discerningly talented people aren’t impressed easily, so their preference for IBM products over others is a telling sign of the quality and effectiveness of the products. You don’t have to take my word for it– IBM was recognized as a leader in the Gartner Mobile Services Magic Quadrant and in the Forrester Wave. Across domains, IBM is on the board for nearly every analyst comparison. IBM customers know that they are working with the best, and they remain loyal because of IBM’s dedication to producing great products.
Keep leveraging your ever-expanding partner and channel ecosystem. IBM’s long list of partners is a testament to its top-notch products. I am just one of many former IBM employees who haven’t strayed far from our roots. Not only are they leveraging the power of resell and channel programs, they are building intelligent industry partnerships as well, both in verticals and other technology companies.
IBM manages to build partnerships that go beyond the obvious. Take Twitter, for example. Instead of just ingesting the data for use in their own systems like most of Twitter’s partners, IBM is using this data to improve business decisions by building enterprise applications across industries and professions. It’s these types of unique and forward-thinking partnerships that make IBM stand out above the rest.
I’ve tried not to take the countless obituaries I’ve read lately about IBM personally, but I want the people at IBM who are under fire to have faith. IBM is an adaptable, forwarding-thinking, technical firepower. As a former employee and current business partner, I’m still very much entwined in the IBM story, and I credit a lot of our success at PointSource to our experiences with IBM.
The transitions that IBM is going through are difficult, but I have no doubt that the company will come out more vibrant, profitable and inventive as ever.
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