Leadership Insights From IBM’s New CEO, Virginia Rometty

Visionary risk-taking and pragmatic thinking define the leadership of Virginia Rometty, IBM’s first female CEO.

“Really early, early in my career, I can remember being offered a big job,” she said. “Right away I said, ‘You know what? I’m not ready for this job.” When she told her husband, he asked “Do you think a man would have ever answered that question that way?”

“What that taught me was you have to be very confident even though you’re so self-critical inside. Growth and comfort do not coexist.”

Rometty seized that self-confidence and developed her leadership capabilities over three decades at IBM, working in technical, strategy and sales roles.  She built a reputation as a polished executive who could close a sale, forging relationships with companies such as State Farm Insurance Co. and Prudential Financial Inc.  In 2002, she successfully managed the challenging $3.9 billion acquisition of PwC Consulting (more details here).  That project caused former CEO Samuel Palmisano to recognize her potential.  Over the last few years they have worked together to develop the company’s 5-year strategy, preparing her for a smooth transition to CEO.

“She is more than a superb operational executive,” Palmisano said. “With every leadership role, she has strengthened our ability to integrate IBM’s capabilities for our clients.”

“She’s an engaging woman,” said Fred Amoroso, her boss in IBM’s financial-services consulting division during the 1990s. “Customers just love Ginni.”

Rometty is not only great at her job – she is passionate about it. “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 microfinance programs that help tiny businesses get started in markets such as Brazil, India and Africa,” she said. “After 30 years, I’m genuinely excited to get up and apply those problem- solving skills in ways I would never have imagined…”

Rometty recognizes the critical role that visionary thinking plays in her ability to lead IBM.  She often tells herself “Be sure about what I believe,” because belief leads to clarity, and clarity to effective execution.  She gave this advice to current and future executives at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit: “It isn’t so much about telling people what to do, I think it’s about getting people to understand why and have a shared passion about it.  So, if you’re firm on what your beliefs are, you get a great foundation.”

Sources

To learn more about IBM and Virginia Rometty’s leadership, read:

CNN Money – Fortune Magazine

Wall Street Journal

Bloomberg Businessweek

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