Entrepreneur Jolene McKenna
Jolene McKenna spent just over 30 years at IBM, learning far more than can be covered in one short story. Though she can count many successes in her decades at IBM, which she called a “virtual classroom,” there was always, in the back of her mind, another dream to fulfill.
And then, 12 years ago, Jolene got the kind of life-changing personal news that made her rethink the way she wanted to spend her time and live the rest of her life. Read how Jolene triumphed over her own trials to start living her dream of being a solopreneur, and bringing her hard-won wisdom to others, here:
When did you work at IBM?
I was hired in March 1980 and I retired the end of April 2010. Thirty years and 30 days.
What led you to join the company?
I was a single parent and had just moved to Colorado to be near my parents and sister. With a high school diploma I wasn’t certain what kind of job I could get but I had experience doing payroll, bookkeeping, and order entry using computers, so when a third-shift computer operator job opened up I was hired as a supplemental employee.
I was thrilled when they called me before my first day and asked me to meet with the site manager. He offered me a full-time position instead.
You should have heard me shouting from the top of my lungs as I traveled home on the diagonal highway, knowing that I had a good job, good pay, good benefits so I could take good care of my son. This happened just a month after my son’s 2nd birthday.
What were some of your job titles in the IBM years and some of your more interesting duties you were charged with as an IBMer?
As a computer operator, the system programmers were wonderful mentors who were willing to share their knowledge with us. This is where I learned the lesson, “You don’t have to know everything — you only need to know where to find the answer”. I performed most of the responsibilities within Systems Management Control (SMC) – Change Mgt, Problem Mgt, Recovery Mgt, Configuration and Asset Mgt., to name a few. These gave me a deep understanding of the IT processes that made the difference between good service delivery and great service delivery.
My management career began in 1987. I managed personnel, finance administration, facilities, and VM development. In 1989 I accepted a move to Rochester, New York as one of the Eastman Kodak IBM transition managers. This was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my career.
Again, the best memories were the people. Since most of the Kodak transition team were on temporary assignments from Colorado and Kentucky, we became family for each other. We played volleyball on hot summer days, watched the Kentucky Derby, went to football games and rooted for the Broncos, even though we sat in a sea of blue Bills fans.
I met my husband while on this assignment. And my son loved Fairport, so I was able to work out a permanent assignment in Rochester and we made it our home for the next eight years.
During this time I led many technical projects and was proud to have received IBM’s Technical Achievement Award for a key technical project I led with other IT professionals. When my son left for college, my husband and I moved to Colorado. There, I was asked to mentor younger employees and help improve IT delivery processes for the West Delivery Center. This led to my most satisfying experience at IBM: I led a team of process architects and over time created a team responsible for the process standards not only for the West Delivery Center, but soon for the Americas and ultimately at the global level.
Guess what? The most satisfying part of this job: the people. Before I retired, this small team of process experts was a team of 122 professional serving clients around the world and leading global standards for ITIL, and obtaining ISO certifications at the global level – keeping pace with HP, our closest competitor at that time. I attracted people that loved to make other people’s job better by improving the processes, organization, systems and skills development. But what I really loved was developing the people and teams. In 2007, I received the IBM’s People Leadership Award, which meant the world to me.
Why did you decide to leave the company?
I loved my job and my team and I had the support to pursue executive opportunities. My life took a significant turn about 12 years ago when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C which I had contracted from a blood transfusion during the birth of my son. The virus had caused damage to my liver.
Facing the reality of battling and living with a chronic illness caused me to rethink how I was spending my time and if this is where I would want to be if my quality of life would be altered. I happened to come across a book called Soul Mission, Life Vision by Alan Seale. The biggest message I got from his book was to get involved in volunteering to experience what you love doing and how you can best serve others. I turned my attention to create other interest outside of work and I became very involved with my church and other volunteer activities – and I adopted a new puppy. These things really helped me prepare for the transition out of the corporate world and living my dream on my own terms. I decided that I would retire on my 30th anniversary and pursue my dream of being a management consultant to help these solo entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
I have customized one of my offerings to help people that have experienced similar life-changing news and ask “Now what?” I call this Triumph over Trials and my passion is to help these individuals get back in the driver seat of their life.
What did you want to do after your IBM career? What are you doing today?
I became what is known as a solopreneur. A business owner whose primary service is centered upon their own skills and capabilities. Specifically I am a business coach who serves goal-oriented solopreneurs. Building your own business is a daunting task and there is so much to learn, decisions to make, and transformations that are essential to be successful. My mission is to help these brave souls on their journey to experience both personal and business success. I teach them how to get clear about their goals, get realistic on how to achieve those goals, and help them live in their zone of genius by hiring the right people to help them succeed. Ultimately, I help them create their own Unique Business Blueprint that guides them on their entrepreneur journey.
Can you differentiate for us between an entrepreneur and a solopreneur?
The onset and growth of entrepreneurs has created many different forms of the -‘preneur’ suffix that describe the type of entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are people who see an opportunity and create a business, assuming full risk and reward. A solopreneur is simply someone who sees an opportunity to utilize their own talent and skill (solo), to build a business that delivers a value clients are willing to pay for. Being a solopreneur can be lonely and stressful; they typically don’t go after investment capital but build their business from the bottom up.
Leveraging the support of other skilled professionals can make the difference between the solopreneur success and failure. One unique trait I have discovered about most soloprenuers is they are driven to serve others by sharing their gifts to serve a need in the world in such a way that they can make a living or create wealth.
Was this a long-term dream of yours – something you always knew you wanted to do?
I remember when I was 12 years old and a family friend explained that he had started a management consulting company and I hounded him for details. I told my oldest brother later “I’m going to be a management consultant”. I remember thinking when I started working at IBM saying, “If you have to work, why not create an evironment where you can do your best and have some fun?” This still drives me today and is at the heart of why I do what I do. What is great about helping solopreneurs is they have such a drive and passion for what they do and I help them carve out a path (their blueprint) so they can be successful.
What do you find most satisfying about the work you’re doing now?
I change people’s lives. People come to me because they feel overwhemned and realize they need help in getting past the barriers that are blocking their growth. I love it when I help shift my clients’ energy from distracting, avoiding and self-critical to having powerful confidence in what they want to achieve, knowing the next steps and get revved up to take action.
More than that, I give them the tools that will help them sustain that positive energy and continue to make improvements to their business. I get real excited once their business is stable and we work on coming up with ways to innovate and create new possibilities for their business.
What is a typical day for you, in this role? What happens, what does it involve?
Time management is one of the biggest challenges for a solopreneur. It is easy to get distracted and do the things that are exhilarating and creative versus a balance to move the business forward while sharing your unique value with clients.
Generally every week I try to allocate 60% of my time to my clients or marketing my business, 20% of my time managing the business, 10% improving my business and 10% improving my skills. I schedule my week based on when I am at my best to focus on that activity. For instance, I use Monday morning to update my expenses and finances, Thursday afternoon I focus on my skill development. Working with clients (which is the only revenue generating activity) is a sliding scale. If my calendar isn’t fully booked then I am working on getting clients by attending networking events, following up with prospects, sending out notices of new offerings, etc.
Even though we manage our own calendars, being an entrepreneur is not a 9-5 job. Many networking activities take place in the evening or weekends. My client sessions range from 1/1 sessions to create plans and design solutions, phone consultations and email to support them in making progress to their plans. I use a methodology that guides them in getting clear with their mission, goals and actions and we work together to make incremental yet powerful changes that helps them achieve their goals while making the best use of their time and their money so they have the energy to do what they love.
What did you take from your time at IBM that you were able to carry forward and apply to what you’re doing now? Life lessons, career lessons, best practices, etc.?
When my first manager at IBM sat down with me to do my development plan he asked me what I wanted to achieve in my career, he told me that his job was to help me set goals and obtain them. No one had ever asked me what I wanted to do before, I thought you just worked to earn a living. I totally embraced his offer for help and this probably had the biggest impact during my career and even now as this is my passion to help others identify and achieve their goals.
The works of W. Edward Deming guided me through my career – one of my favorite quotes of his is “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”
The last thing that I took with me from IBM is gratitude. I worked for IBM during an amazing era where technology changed the world and IT Services was growing. IBM was my virtual classroom where I received the greatest education and experiences, worked with some of the best people on earth, and traveled to locations I never would have seen on my own, Amsterdam, Argentina, and Brazil to name a few. Leading the way with virtual teams gave me the opportunity to work with people from every corner of the globe. I tell stories all the time to my clients about lessons I learned from my mentors and peers at IBM that still serve me today. These are the things I will always treasure.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Having calendar flexibility is one of the rewards of being in business for yourself, but it takes discipline to make sure you don’t lose yourself in your business. Making time for the other aspects of my life is an essential must-have for me.
When I left IBM, I rewarded myself by buying a vacation property in Colorado. Managing the rental property was my first business venture, my guests can enjoy a lovely place to experience the Rocky Mountains and it is my getaway. I love to hike and snowshoe in the mountains.
I started a neighborhood book club, which has given me an opportunity to get to know more of my neighbors and read books that I might never have selected on my own. I am very active with my church, teaching Bible studies, being a confirmation mentor, and helping with volunteer leadership. I still love to travel, I have been to Greece, Turkey, and Germany, and have a long list of other destinations on my list.
My son lives in New York City so I love to visit him, and he is my ambassador to the city. My husband and I have two little dogs that get us out for a walk every day. One of my greatest joys is gardening: planting, nurturing and reaping the fruits of my labor… mmmm mmm – those garden fresh tomatoes cannot be beat!