This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Challenges and Opportunities,” written for a general manager at a global IT company president. You can get ghostwriting services from a professional speechwriter. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
Address by an executive general manager, global IT company | Delivered to an arm of the U.S. armed forces, Washington, D.C., April 29, 2009.
It may not be obvious at first glance, but our two organizations—the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and International Business Machines—have a lot in common. It’s not just that Bernard Baruch and Thomas Watson, the respective founders of our organizations, were contemporaries. It’s primarily that they both understood something fundamental about creating an enduring functional system: Technologies, no matter how game-changing they are, come and go. What really matters in industry and in government is individual character. The values we brought into ICAF and IBM will shape the way we and the generations after us will behave for decades, even centuries.
I want to talk to you today about a journey—a “values journey”—that you as a great American institution are familiar with. IBM has taken that journey too. How have our core beliefs over the course of ninety-eight years led us to become the world’s largest information technology company, with operations in 170 countries and 4,186 U.S. patent issuances in 2008 alone?
Let me take you back thirty-seven years. It was 1972. I had just started working at IBM. We had six competitors. Today we have some 60,000 in nearly every corner of the world. This isn’t the same world that Tom Watson, Sr. knew. In 1911, when Mr. Watson founded International Business Machines, he forged a company that ran its international operations from a central headquarters. As an international company, IBM had set up a lot of little IBMs wherever it made sense. What evolved was a set of country-based IBMs, each with its own board of directors. Con- sequently, an IBM Italy or an IBM Japan developed its own hierarchy and—most problematic of all—its own strategy.
Over time, IBM learned that an international company with a lot of “mini-IBMs” across the map didn’t work to the best advantage of the entire company. By early 1993, we began to see, for example, that setting up a fab in every country where we did business was not a cost- effective, environmentally rational way to use our manufacturing capabilities. At the cost of a lot of personal and company-wide pain, we learned that to succeed, we had to leverage the scale of our 400,000 employees and of our vast manufacturing capabilities.
We managed to do this leveraging act in July 2008 when we established IBM-Albany NanoTech, a $1.5 billion semiconductor plant in upstate New York. The plant now manufactures the chips we put into all of our products, from mainframes to client servers. We also had to rethink the way we were going to distribute our goods and services through a globally integrated supply chain—no small undertaking in itself.
Now, when you go from being an international corporation to one that we call a “globally integrated enterprise,” you are faced with a human resources conundrum on a grand scale: How are you going to get hundreds of thousands of individuals operating in 170 countries to share the same organizational mindset? You do that consciously by expressing a set of values that will knit your enterprise together as one entity.
Expressing a set of values to your employees and clients all sounds well and good. But practically speaking, how do you do that?
The answer lies in an online meeting IBM held in 2004 called Values Jam. This three-day event was part conversation, part colloquium, part talkback, part improvisation—just as a jazz jam session might function. Employees, executives, and scientists challenged each other to define IBM’s values and how we would take them into each of our client relationships.
How did we do? Well, participation in Values Jam exceeded our wildest expectations. Some 60,000 people contributed their ideas. And trust me. IBM people do not mince words. Our researchers had to build a search engine to help us surf the millions of lines of text people wrote, and let us look at the patterns that emerged. I kid you not, somebody actually penned a ten-page treatise.
From those three days of “jamming,” IBM was able to put its finger on three simple but widely held values:
1. Dedication to every client’s success. We used to say we were dedicated to our customers’ satisfaction, but we learned from our employees that customer satisfaction is not as important as customer success in the marketplace. 2. Innovation that matters for our company and the world. Roughly half of our employees work in technology areas. Inventing things excites them. Integrating those inventions into products and systems excites them. They are the kind of people who would take their inspiration from these words, attributed to the eighteenth-century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” But those dreams have to result in inventions that matter to real human beings.
3. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. If I make a commitment to you, I have to keep my word. How confident am I of the direct relationship be-tween our values and our success as a globally integrated enterprise?
Two years ago, Sam Palmisano, our CEO, told the financial community that our earnings per share (EPS) would go up to eleven dollars in 2010. Understand that when Sam made this announcement, our EPS was $4.80 a share. In April 2009, we were looking at $9.20 a share. Throughout my career, I never witnessed anything like this. The catalyst for this exponential growth lies in the “extra-financial” values we have incorporated into the way we work.
Every two years, IBM conducts a CEO and government leadership survey. In a recent survey, we found that industry and government leaders want to change the way they do business. They understand that more innovative thinking will inspire more effective business processes and increase revenue. They even recognize that the silos in which they operate tend to inhibit the collaborative efforts—like those of IBM’s Values Jam—that encourage the growth of a more successful business order.
Here’s the kicker: Creating this collaborative environment is easy to talk about and hard to achieve.
Our Values Jam—as well as comparable Innovation and Habitat Jams—were IBM’s efforts to bust our own silo-ized thinking. They were our greatest hope that we would reach the people we needed to hash out new ideas—the very people we usually don’t talk to.
It worked. Values Jam worked.
Last year the company pledged $100 million to fund any intellectual property that grew out of our jams. And because IBM worked not only with employees but also with Business Partners, academics and non-government organizations, the company has put this intellectual property in the public domain. We made our ideas about green technologies, healthcare delivery systems, pervasive mass transit initiatives and revitalized economic systems freely available to all participants.
With over 200,000 technical and scientific personnel and 70,000 business and industry experts at IBM, com- ing up with new ideas and new ways of doing things has never really been a problem. The challenge has been to integrate invention with innovation.
Invention for invention’s sake doesn’t matter. Using an invention in a way that changes society, that enables a new—and profitable—way of behaving or working, matters. That’s innovation.
Admittedly, it’s not our business strategy to become the manufacturer of consumer goods. Selling what we invent to consumer manufacturers does not constitute a missed opportunity for IBM. This was the case with IBM’s invention of the micro hard drive. Apple came along, recognized its potential, and said, “Hey, that thing’s pretty cool. We liked to buy it from you.” What happens? Apple goes and puts our micro hard drive in a little device called the iPod.
Inventing stuff and letting it sit on a shelf without bother- ing to explore its innovative applications—that’s where IBM has learned that true innovation is born through collaboration with other smart people and companies. True innovation grows out of participatory activities such as our jams.
What we have recognized these past few years is that every human being, company, organization, city, nation, natural system and man-made system is becoming instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent. Gone are the days of two separate parallel worlds: one an abstract world of data centers, software, PCs, routers and bandwidth; the other a real world of buildings, factories, hospitals, roads and pipelines. Today these two worlds are converging. It’s this convergence that is at the heart of a world that is flatter…smaller…and getting smarter. Put simply, it is a smarter planet.
In addressing the challenges of a smarter planet, the innovative solutions that arise out of our interactions with employees, clients, partners and universities will have only limited value if the global environment is not technically receptive to them. When we talk, for example, about technological readiness, we are talking about an instrumented world.
The instrumented world is something you already know about. Look at your cell phone or Blackberry. You expect it to do more than let you make and receive phone calls. You use it to take pictures, to locate restaurants, to check your e-mail—the list goes on. Trillions of objects and devices serve as the instrumentation to link these various technologies to create a life that your grandparents would have considered science fiction.
Imagine what our world would look like if instrumentation undergirded our entire social and economic infrastructure. Let’s look at how instrumentation in the healthcare industry would change the way we live every minute of our lives.
Start with the prescription your doctor gives you. You take it to your pharmacist and hope that he or she does not unwittingly make one of the 2.2 million dispensing errors a year in the United States alone. Now, if you had access to an electronic medical record—a digitized history of your drug regimens, allergies, hospitalizations, physicians, insurance carrier—the chances of your receiving the wrong medication would decrease considerably. Each aspect of your healthcare would act as a check and balance on the others. What makes this medical record possible is instrumentation, a way of stitching together the patchwork of necessary systems and devices into a seam- less, standardized healthcare system.
Nobody would argue with the social and economic value of such instrumentation projects, right? The question is, how do we pay for them?
We already are paying for them. Unfortunately, what we’re paying for is underused instrumentation.
The reality is that eighty-five percent of computing capacity sits idle. Think of the more efficient healthcare, smarter traffic systems, intelligent oil fields, more equitable food distribution systems that would evolve out of a wisely instrumented planet. Innovation that matters through proper use of resources is within our reach.
Here is an example of what I mean. An IBM computer scientist named Arun Hampapur began studying the video surveillance systems in New York and Chicago. As Arun saw it, these systems had an inherent problem: They could ingest data, but they could not react to real-world incidents in a timely way. You could only respond to a criminal event once it already happened. That wasn’t good enough for Arun.
Arun and his team came up with algorithms that could identify patterns of suspicious behavior and then instigate a real-time alert. In New York City, for example, Arun’s team defined nine patterns of criminal behavior. A guy standing around in the subway on a 90-degree day wear- ing a trench coat and carrying two duffle bags, for example, constituted one pattern. A white, windowless van cir- cling the block ten times constituted another. And so on.
Who told Arun to develop this digital surveillance system? Nobody. He thought it up on his own.
To date, Arun has filed forty-two patents on this digital pattern-searching surveillance system. Even though IBM has deployed this system in several cities around the world, this thing isn’t really a product. It’s an idea. It came into being simply because one individual looked at a technology that largely exists—surveillance cameras— and thought about using it to solve a problem in a way that really matters: Targeting the pattern before it results in criminal activity.
We haven’t yet calculated the revenue that IBM and its business partners will derive from this solution. But as for the contribution that Arun Hampapur has made to the well-being of millions of people he will never know— here is truly something of value. It’s the value that comes from having values, from believing in the kind of innovation that matters in the lives of individuals and of nations.
I’d like to leave you with four leadership principles based on these values:
• Be grounded in a set of values you believe in. If you are committed to every client’s success, you have to communicate that belief in every interaction with your employees and clients. And reward the people who look past organizational silos or who rethink existing technologies to come up with smart solutions.
• Keep your leadership and management roles in balance. You have days where you’ve got to tell people what to do. You might have to kick them in the fanny. But you also have days where you’ve got to lift them up. The hardest days are when you do both.
• Think huge. Wild and crazy ideas matter. What’s hold- ing you back on executing them? Organizational obstacles? You can deal with them. Skills? You can acquire them. Remember that you are in the ICAF because you already have demonstrated your desire to think huge, to act on your need to make the world a better place.
• Determine your legacy. If an organization thrives only when you run it, you have not made any intrinsic change. Leave something of yourself behind. Share what you know. Become a mentor. ?
The world is ready for a smarter planet. It is begging for strong, smart, value-driven leadership. You are providing that leadership. You are the best and brightest in our country, and it is an honor for me to be here with you. So good luck, God bless you all, and I hope to see you again soon.