I can’t help thinking about some of the executives that I had the privilege to work with and how they have helped me to shape my career. I know there is considerable focus these days on all the bad leadership in the world of startups and they need to be called on the carpet but I would like to change the conversation to those who have inspired us.
The first person I think of when giving do to those who shaped my career is Hank Geipel, the former site General Manager at IBM in Essex Junction. Hank is no longer with us and I so frequently think that I never told him what an impression he made on me. Hank was the quintessential engineer, an introvert but an absolutely brilliant, deep thinker. When he first asked me to come back to Vermont to lead one of the marketing teams – IBM was beginning its foray into selling it technology in the OEM world, – my response was I didn’t know anything about marketing. His response was “you know what sales people need to be successful, just reverse engineer your sales experience.” He then went on and asked me to identify what I needed to become more confident as a marketer and he would help me to get the needed background. One of the thoughts I had was, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to understand how the leaders in marketing approached training their executive pipeline.” I suggested to Hank that maybe I could participate in training for a company that was really doing it. His comeback was “I know the leaders at P&G do you want to go to their executive development program?” And with that I spent a couple weeks in Cincinnati studying Sunny D from every possible angle and wondering if I could every get our customers as excited about semiconductors as they were about orange juice. Hank taught me to breakdown a problem, make sure you have the information you need to make a decision and give yourself a timeframe, not too hasty nor elongated in making a final call. He had a 24-hour rule when we were dealing with a difficult situation, we spent 24 hours just gathering everything we could learn, analyzing and then we came together to discuss options.
The other person I totally adore is Miriam Vializ-Briggs. Fortunately, I worked for Miriam at critical time in my career where I needed to deepen my understanding of marketing. She had come to IBM from American Express during the early Gerstner years. Miriam came from having created Amex’s “Membership has its Privileges” and I would consider on the forefront on the need to build a community with your customers which she tried to instill in her team. She is and was a true brand marketer with great concern for our customer’s experience. I can still recall when I or others would present to her and true to form, it was overly complicated and not well thought out. She would gently challenge us to reconsider the customer experience and simplify the engagement and not make our poor customers jump through hoops to decipher. At the same time, she had a very disciplined approach to marketing which taught me that metrics and rigor are applicable at all levels of marketing.
There are a few others but I am forever grateful to have had the experience to work with Hank and Miriam and I hope I continue to do them proud in my leadership.