Gretchen Gottlich, Enterprise Information Executive
IBM Alum: Gretchen Gottlich
IBM Tenure: 3 years
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Gretchen is currently an independent consultant running her own company, Wallace Rose Investments, LLC, specializing in leading the development and deployment of Big Data solutions across many industry sectors.
She also founded and maintains the @5280BigData Twitter site which provides a global Social Media distribution channel for the wealth of Big Data thought leadership, mind-share, start-ups, tools, and solutions in the Boulder/Denver region. Gretchen also has a legal background and worked as a Regulatory and Compliance Manager in the Healthcare and Financial sector. In her spare time Gretchen is finishing up her second Master’s degree in Communication and Technology management. This semester she is studying Global Internet Law and thus being re-acquainted with her love of the rigors and cerebral machinations of law she is now also studying for her LSAT exam. Her dream is to study Intellectual Property law at UC Berkeley on scholarship.
Gretchen has degrees from University of Maine, University of Arkansas, Indiana University, Denver University. She has also done executive MBA program work at UC Berkeley, College of William & Mary, University of Portland.
When did you join IBM, and what led you to join the company?
I joined IBM January 1997. My father worked as an engineer for GE and traveled around the world building Nuclear Power Plants. When I “grew up” I wanted to be just like my Dad and travel around the world and “do important stuff” only I wanted to work for IBM (How I knew this in first grade I don’t know ;). Later after NASA ,a short stint at Fruit of Loom (designing, building and deploying their first intranet), and being a founder of an Internet start-up I decided my intellectual home was to work in “Information” and IBM was of course at the top of list.
What was the workplace like when you joined, and how did it change over time?
Back in 1997, I am not sure IBM the entire company had truly embraced the significantly disruptive effects of the Internet, the huge opportunities that would become available, and, specifically, how FAST products and services would need to be available to go to market. From a strategic perspective, IBM totally “got it.” I was working at the Hawthorne lab at that time and lots of work on the WOM was going on (the ore-cursor to WebSphere). Some part of the business understood the speed of change, but some still had yet to learn.
But very quickly under the leadership of Lou Gerstner, all IBM quickly “got it” and came up to speed in the global marketplace. IBM is huge, and it was really something to see a Fortune 500 company move so quickly. One could say nimble. And there again is another strength of IBM, the company can come together and move as “one.”
What did you like most about your career with IBM?
What I liked most about my career at IBM was demonstrating the embodiment of what it was to be an IBMer. There was something enjoyable to me to know I was on “that” team and it challenged me every day to be the best that I could be as researcher and as a consultant. You don’t hire IBM to not get top-line results. You hire IBM to get “it” done well and know that you have a technical team that will support you 24/7. The customer meant something. The customer, that relationship was everything.
What were some of your more interesting roles and what did they entail?
IBM offered me many wonderful roles and opportunities. However, I think two of best engagements.
I was an Asia/Pacific Senior. Enterprise Architect Consultant (Global Services) and worked in Canberra, Australia for one of the Government Ministries. I led a team that in expanding the account by 17% within six months by implementing $1M USD web services integration architecture to support outsourcing efforts, utilizing COGNOS BI and performance management solutions. We sold and delivered this solution using an “Agile like” methodology. This was before the published draft of the Agile Manifesto in 2000. This Agile like methodology was something I had created and fined tuned while at NASA and leading the Internet effort there.
The second exciting project was when I worked with the NA Transportation Global Services team. I was on the team that did the “Watershed Study” which provided research and forecast how the Internet was going to completely distribute the Travel Industry sector. The team interviewed research scientists at MIT and also traveled to London, Stockholm, Singapore, and Paris to interview corporate leaders in Travel Industry around the globe. Those were some very exciting times when the Internet was “very young”.
“Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules…repeated without end.” – Benoit Mandelbrot
And I have to add a third. This memory is very close to my heart. I was at the Hawthrone Lab in New York and was sharing with a colleague that I had just finished The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrot and that I had found it quite fascinating. My colleague calmly replied, “Oh yes Dr. Mandelbrot he is upstairs on the second floor.” I was so excited I believe I forgot excuse myself from the conversation before I flew upstairs, raced down the hallway looking at the name tags on the doors and when I found this cerebral GOD I tapped lightly on the door and asked if I could come in. I believe all I could do was just gush like some silly teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber. One of the richest rewards with working for IBM was being able to meet incredible minds that were contributing to Research and Development.
What has been your experience working as a woman in the technology industry?
It has had its ups and downs. I can’t say any one region was more challenging than any other. Issues that many women face in the workplace are perhaps more to do with a particular someone’s viewpoint and not geography. I have worked for many large IT companies and I will say that although IBM is fantastically large there was always a sense that you as a person and an employee were cared for. And I put person first there deliberately. There was always this wonderful pride of being an IBMer. We all were/are professionals.
What characteristics, skills, or attitudes set you apart and helped you be successful?
I have a very good ability to see the strategic business value of a technology. I am also extremely adept at listening to the customer and understanding (really hearing) the pain the customer is having. One thing that I believe set me apart from others early in my career at IBM is that I quite readily reached out to others, companies, scientists, business owners and asked lots of questions. I wasn’t afraid to not know the answer and ask the questions. The value of this came into play with program management. I get things done. Period.
What were some of the most important lessons you learned – from both successes and failures? Who/what were the most influential to your careers?
Oh, wow I have far more failures in my career than successes =).
- Define the requirements not the solution. It’s important to listen to the customer and understand what the customer requires/needs and not jump into an immediate solution. For example a customer might require/need transportation from point A to B. The customer might think they need a car, when in fact Light Rail might fulfill the need especially if maintaining a small carbon footprint is also a requirement/need.
- The relationship with customers is built on trust. Trust is EVERYTHING.
- Professionally, when you do what you truly enjoy, energy is infinite and the resulting value is magnified. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Major influencers on my career range from Einstein, Mandelbrot, Mrs. Goggins my third grade school teacher, Carnegie, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien(s), the original Star Trek series, and TQM Training.
What advice would you give to Greater IBMers to help them be successful in their career? And is there anything specific to women?
My advice to up and coming IBMers is to learn all you can both technically and business-wise with the wealth of resources that IBM offers. Remember it’s an honor and a privilege to be part of IBM and you’re in good company. (All double entendres intended).
For women, the fact that Ginni Rometty is now CEO and Chairman I believe says it all. Our time is now. Go make it happen.
Why did you move on from IBM and do you stay connected – with the business or your colleagues?
I moved on from IBM because I was in a hurry to reach for the brass ring and I felt I needed to advance faster. In hindsight, I left too soon and/or I never should have left. I sometimes think I wish I knew then what I know nowJ. I do stay in contact via some Linked In sites but not so much at a personal level.
Tell us about your work today and what you’ve taken from your experience at IBM to this role.
My work day is much like any consultant’s work day: there is a mission, there are planes to board, hopefully there is a road-map, there are politics to manage, and internet services to implement and integrate to meet customer requirements. I do whatever it takes to get the job done.
What I took away from IBM was “knowing” with complete confidence what it was to be and equally important how to be an exemplary consultant with professional integrity.
What do you see are the major upcoming trends in your field and how do you stay attuned?
Big Data and all that fits under its umbrella. I host a Twitter site called @5280BigData. The purpose of @5280BigData is to promote Big Data concepts, tools, and services developed in the Denver/Boulder metro region among global Big Data Research and Development and business communities. Companies I interact with a regular basis are Hitachi Data Systems, SendGrid, Precog, FUSE, GNIP, Unvirsity Colorado Denver/Boulder, Tagwhat, Trueffect, Techstars and Big Data organizations in London, UKI also write and present papers at conferences. A couple of my favorite available online:
Posted by Jessica Benjamin, Brand System and Workforce Communications, IBM CHQ