Alum: Kathleen Butler
IBM Tenure: 35.5 Years
At IBM, Kathleen was a member of the Integration and Value Team. Her last job was Vice President and Enterprise Process Owner for Global Sales and Distribution (S&D). She and her team focused on simplifying and integrating customer, business partner and tele-web facing processes to make it easier to do business with IBM and support revenue and profit initiatives. She held various executive positions throughout her career including sales, technical sales, marketing, process improvements and information technology systems.
Kathleen currently serves on the Connecticut Boards of Directors for the Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In addition to giving back, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family and friends, particularly her nieces and nephews. For recreation she likes to water and snow ski, and play golf. She is finally learning to cook.
Q&A WITH KATHLEEN BUTLER
How did you become an IBMer:
I always liked math and computers so it was always my goal to work for the IBM. IBM was “it.”
I joined a local branch team in Long Island in 1974 after graduating from The College of Mount Saint Vincent – before there was even such a thing as a computer science degree. I was part of an incoming group of five new employees; four of us were women. We were the first big influx of women at the time. I worked in technical sales – being interested in the technology part of business.
Having been part of an early influx of women at IBM, how did you feel when they announced Ginni Rometty as CEO?
I worked for Ginni for a short time. She was great to work with and I respect her a lot. I was thrilled when she was named CEO. I look forward to seeing where she takes the business.
What were some of the most influential roles you held at IBM and what did you take from them?
I enjoyed working in technical sales, helping find solutions for a wide range of “intermediate” system clients, managing 10-15 accounts at a time. It takes a great deal of problem solving and I had the opportunity to really understand IBM systems, software and networking. It was extremely valuable to all my future roles at IBM.
A role that I really enjoyed was when I became a Systems Engineer Manager. It was my first time managing other people and it was fun to interact and learn from them. Many of those I managed were men who were older than me. I had to work hard to gain their respect. I found that putting people first was the best way to do that – paying attention to them, helping them grow, and finding ways for them to advance. It was important to not see things hierarchically and thought of myself as part of the team. It also helped that I had the experience, technically, to hold my ground. I knew what I was doing.
As a leader, I learned a lot from my experience as an Administrative Assistant (now known as an Executive Assistant). I worked very closely with executives to learn from their different leadership styles. I got a view of what they worked on and how they handled many different kinds of issues. Specifically, as an assistant to the General Manager of the General Manager, United States, I learned how you needed to adapt your style to various situations and that you needed to embrace change and take risks. This particular leader was the type who addressed issues head on and focused on taking away barriers. He wasn’t intimidating or loud. He made people feel comfortable so that they could more freely share their ideas. He helped his team find the solution themselves, trusting their perspective and opinions. I knew this was the kind of leader I wanted to be.
Did you have a mentor and have you mentored others?
One of the greatest things about IBM is the opportunities you have to grow and progress your career. I had some great mentors myself. I’m grateful for the path I was able to take and mentored 15-20 IBMers at a time to help them advance their own careers. It is a very important role that I still hold for some women in China and Singapore, who I continue to work with to help show them all the opportunities they have open to them.
What have you been up to since you left IBM?
There’s a joke in retirement: “I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” This feels very true for me. I’ve been very active, particularly with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
IBM always instilled a sense of community engagement and giving back. In fact, I helped lead significant year to year increase in the Employee Charitable Contributions Champagne donations for my teams in 2007 and 2008.
After retirement, I joined the Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association Board after working with an IBMer whose husband was diagnosed and passed away from early on-set Alzheimer’s at 58. She faced so many challenges in her personal life but never let it show.. I wanted to help others who faced similar challenges and provide assistance to others like her.
I have a very personal connection to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In 2003, while I was still with IBM, I suffered a spinal cord injury that left me temporarily paralyzed. But I was one of the lucky ones who got most of my function back.. I know that not everyone has that chance and I want to support those who face similar challenges.
I helped start the local Board for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in Connecticut in 2010. We’ve held successful events, such as “roll-a-thons” for able bodied people to experience what it is like in a wheelchair. We’ve raised more than $100,000 this way. I was also able to help a former IBM colleague who had a traumatic injury by connecting her to the Foundation and mentoring her through some recovery. I am still in contact with her today.
IBMers have terrific skills. If they have not done so already, I would encourage every IBM alum to consider putting their skills to work at a local nonprofit that they are passionate about. Most of the retired IBMers I know are doing that.
If you could share advice with a new IBMer, what would it be?
My advice would be:
1) Always put the client first, then IBM, then your Function
2) You are only as good as your people; so develop your people and help identify and Promote Diverse Executive Leaders
3) Deliver on your commitments and measure your value to your client, IBM, function
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