IBM Alumni: Jerry Holl Shares Lessons Learned from 3,634 Mile Bike Journey

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Jerry Holl, IBM Alum and adventure seeker

IBM Alum: Jerry Holl

IBM Tenure: 12 years

Jerry Holl is a sales professional with over 30 years of experience in business, including sales & sales management positions for IBM, Moore Corporation and Piper Jaffray, Inc. From his extensive cross-industry experience, he’s gained a wealth of information on businesses, business models and best practices. Jerry has a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and an MBA – both from the University of Minnesota.

Jerry recently completed a 3,634 mile solo bicycle journey from Alaska to Mexico. Details of the journey and access to his daily blog written during the journey, a raw unedited stream of consciousness often written laying in a tent at night after a 100 mile day.

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When did you join IBM; how long were you an IBMer?

I joined IBM right out of graduate school and was with the business for just under 12 years. I had studied geological engineering in undergrad and then got my MBA. I did some work as an economic analyst for a large oil company, but quickly knew it wasn’t for me.

I wanted a career that would let me engage with people and the greater world.  I just knew a sales role best matched my personal characteristics.  So, I approached and was hired by IBM as they are the prominent ‘Harvard’ of sales organizations.  They also embody the values and practices that are important to me.  IBM products and services made a huge impact for the customers in the mid-size businesses where I sold, and were transformative to those businesses.  I liked the big ticket (for those customers) big impact aspect of selling into those businesses.

What were some of your roles and duties with the company and what did you find most satisfying?

I worked in field sales and marketing, first as as salesperson, then a marketing manager, and finally as a branch marketing executive serving as an IBM branch leader.  IBM was a great match for me. I was there during a high period of growth for mid-range systems …so I was able to deal with all aspects of customers’ business problems and opportunities across all industries. Due to the cross-industry selling, I was able learn about their business models in a high level and fundamental way. It was tremendously educational.

Every day in sales felt like a field-trip.  I needed to really understand their business and problems to find solutions that would work.  And I got to work very closely and collaboratively with customers to come to the right solutions. This took a certain kind of attitude and curiosity.  Customers can tell when you truly have their interests in mind. They will open up and want to do business with you when you are more concerned with solving their problems and capturing their opportunities as opposed to just making a sale.

I was successful in my roles and I attribute that to a combination of putting client first and holding high professionalism standards — doing things on the up and up.  It’s essential to follow through and do what you say you will do.  I also had a real personal hunger to succeed and a love of the job.

I credit IBM with providing my best foundational business experience.  In regards to my career, it was a time of my highest learning and highest growth.  Ultimately, I left IBM because I grew as much as I could in the local branch and was committed to staying in Minnesota.

Did you have any mentors? Are you still connected with your former IBM colleagues? 

IBM attracted very high quality individualsMany of them remain great friends today.  You couldn’t help but grow and develop strong business practices just being around those individuals.  As a sales manager, I was constantly mentoring my team.  My style was very hands-on: teaching, developing, getting in the trenches and getting involved in their deals where necessary.  Part of mentoring and training is to show people how to advance the ball, not just tell them.

I gained many insights specifically from a couple Branch Managers. When you have a great leader you learn through osmosis as you see how they professionally handle situations.  And, I also learned what not to do from less effective managers.

Being so large, IBM had a lot of important structure to maintain standards and control to make things work. But sometimes those structures were too cumbersome and weren’t right for certain customers.  That’s when you need to take some risks and push for change.  With so much structure, you have to be adaptable and break structure where appropriate to put the client first.

Conversely, in my roles outside of IBM, I experienced what it was like without structure.  It was often chaos. I took what I learned from IBM to create the mechanisms and practices that help improve productivity and quality, building structure for a bunch of cowboys.

You want “wild ducks,” but not adverse wild ducks; you want those who use strong judgement to bridge the gap between customer and your own business interests, creating a win-win for all parties.  There is never a need or reason to leave a wake of problems in any of your dealings.

What did you want to do after your IBM career? What are you doing today?

I continued to work in sales and sales leadership, then in financial services sales.  But after I paid off my house, my kids’ education, and all my major commitments. I needed new ‘explosive’ growth.

I wanted to do something off the wall, something completely different, something where I couldn’t help but grow.  As one friend called it to be big, hairy and audacious.  And I wanted it to be constructive, healthy, and to test the limits of my capabilities. I wanted it to be remote, solo, physically grueling, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery.  So, I decided to take a solo bike journey from Alaska to Mexico.

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Jerry in Oregon on his biking adventure.

I conceived of the trip and left in about a 3 week period.  Why wait; why over-plan?  I hadn’t specifically trained for this journey.  I didn’t even think that much about it.  I was just confident I could do it. And, if I wasn’t in biking shape, I’d have plenty of time to ride myself into shape!  My experience at IBM had given me confidence in my ability to deal with situations that came my way.  I used the same ability in this circumstance.

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Biking trip pit stop at Big Sur.

There was  risk, but it is what I wanted.  And, it would require me to persevere even when I might not want to.  I encountered challenging terrain, 20 bears, other wild animals, traffic, brutal headwinds and changing weather.  I also re-discovered that people are really-really good!  Everybody along the way who saw my exposure and effort went out of their way to try to help in some little way, whether it was giving a candy bar, filling a water bottle, or providing information and directions.

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Jerry on the San Fransisco Bridge on his bike adventure.

Prior to this journey, I had never ridden my bike for more than 25 miles.  And, had never ridden a loaded bike with all my gear.  I just had to dig in …and it was very rewarding.  Sometimes I ran short on resources, simple things like like food or water, but I always found a way; discomfort is not danger.

When I left on the trip, I was ‘mechanically disadvantaged.” I never took the time to learn the basic mechanics of my bike.  Embarrassingly, I didn’t even remember (from childhood) how to change a tire, patch a tube, and had no idea how to fix a broken chain.  I broke my bike chain in the middle of nowhere in Alaska and just by blind luck, a female biker rode up who had a manual.  She was a godsend as we both figured out how to reconnect my chain with a spare link and repair my bike.  I dislike mechanical repairs and figured that during the trip I would just have to figure out the ‘mechanical’ problems as they occurred.

To me, the mechanical issues were discrete problems with known ‘how-tos.’  Although I didn’t (and still don’t) have the mechanical skills that was not a reason to not go.  More interesting to me were the mental situations and decision points without discrete how-tos, such as how to read my mental condition, physical condition, strange encounters, road and traffic hazards, frontier bandits, and wild animals, which required constant situational decision-making.  In a funny way, all of my IBM experiences contributed greatly to dealing with these mental situations.  I couldn’t realistically prepare for most of them. I  just had to make judgements as I encountered them, but, I just felt confident and capable of figuring them out as I went.

I kept a daily blog about the trip, and have subsequently written a manuscript which I intend to eventually publish as a book.  Basically, I want to encourage people to not let their life just happen to them, but to take control and actively build your own path and future.  Although there was occasional real danger, mostly it was exhilarating joy with occasional blissful hardship and discomfort (which is not danger – know the difference).  Don’t be afraid and frozen with the prospect of failure, rather, turn it on its ear and look at the tremendous reward if/when you’re successful.  It’s intoxicating.

Most people have more skill than they think they do.  So, in addition to writing about my adventure, I’ve also written a sales training program. It’s a practical and pragmatic step by step approach on how to conduct complicated large ticket, long sell cycle sales based upon all the lessons I’ve learned in my professional career.  My unique training describes  the steps of the sales process and the ‘art’ of what the salesperson needs to perform in each step.   It organizes the methods for a salesperson to take their intrinsic baseline skills and trains them how to effectively advance the ball and make the sale.  All with the customer’s interests at heart.

The bottom line:  Don’t fear the unknown. Take your skills and run with them.  Don’t over-think and over-plan. Get in the game and adjust.  You’re better and more capable than you think you are and, if you never get on your bicycle you will never know if you can do it.

Do you have key advice for those still advancing their careers?

  1.  Find where your heart is.  There is money in every profession if you are the best …but you won’t be the best if you don’t love it.  Be honest with yourself.   Ask yourself if you can get excited about this?
  2. Get in the game. Go.  Don’t over think, over-plan, or worry about others being better. You will always need to get better …and you will.
  3. Don’t think about specific jobs. Think about what skill-sets you’re developing in your role and how they apply to your passions and future – both personally and professionally.

I’m really passionate about sharing what I’ve learned with others. In addition to sharing my insights via the bog and my sales training, I’ve also started a business to help people who are looking to change careers.

I can help advise anyone who is contemplating or making a career change.  I have an advisory service to help individuals shine and differentiate themselves in an interview. I am also available to speak to groups about leadership lessons learned on my solo bicycle journey from Alaska to Mexico.

Finally, I have developed and delivered a very practical and pragmatic sales training program focusing on the interpersonal aspect of persuasion and influence in the sales process …in my view this is the toughest and most rewarding part of the sales process.

You can contact me if you have interest in any of my stories or work via LinkedIn.

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Related:

- By Jessica Benjamin, IBM Brand System and Workforce Enablement, CHQ

Don’t Get This Wrong: What Your LinkedIn Pic Says About You

People do business with people they trust, people they relate to – is your photo trying to hide something? In this piece from LinkedIn.com, by , see how you can use your choice of photo to better connect with others for success.

A good profile photo can help build that trust and even likability – so it’s critical to get it right.

According to the author, “I see hundreds of LinkedIn profiles every week and 50 percent fail when it comes to their photo. As a business owner or executive, it’s crucial that people trust you and connect with you. You are the brand. Opinions are formed in a nanosecond. And that means the photo at the very top may be the most important part of your LinkedIn profile.”  What does that tiny thumbnail say about you?

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Author Rene Shimada Siegel is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a specialized consultant placement firm for marketing and communications experts. She is a frequently requested speaker on topics such as starting your own business and marketing your unique personal brand.
Follow Rene on Twitter: @renesiegel
 

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Greater IBM, are you considering updating your own LinkedIn profile photo? Let us know what you thought of this story, in the Leave a Reply field.
 
 
- Posted by Regan Kelly

Want to Be a (More) Successful Entrepreneur? 5 Top Tips from NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg

“The most powerful word in the English language is “Why.” There is nothing so powerful as an open, inquiring mind. Whatever field you choose for starting a business – be a lifelong student.” – Michael Bloomberg, 3-term mayor of New York City

Entrepreneur Mike Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg

In this piece from LinkedIn.com, Bloomberg shares 5 dynamite tips for becoming a successful entrepreneur, based on his own unique experience of building a company from the ground up, leading New York City as mayor, and founding a philanthropic organization. Get them here, from LinkedIn.com.

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Greater IBM, we know there are lots of successful entrepreneurs in this group. What tips would you share?

- Posted by Regan Kelly

Who Uses LinkedIn? Infographic

Who in the world is using LinkedIn? Where do they live? Work? What do they care about? (And which company do they care about MOST?)

This graphic from BusinessInsider.com breaks down the data:
who-uses-linkedinRelated:

The Greater IBM Connection LinkedIn Group

- Posted by Regan Kelly

Your LinkedIn Status Updates: 7 Do’s and Don’ts

The LinkedIn status update feature can be a powerful tool to keep you connected with the many far-flung members of your professional network.

Careful when you’re about to hit that Post button….

But beware: it’s easy to make a mistake when it comes to the kind of information you should be sharing through your communities. Read some definite do’s and DON’Ts from social media expert Maggie Herbert at LinkedIn.com.

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Greater IBM, what would you add to these? Have you got any tips to share?

- Posted by Regan Kelly

Where is Your Internal Social Strategy?

@khalidraza9

@khalidraza9

The need for social strategy:

A friend of mine joined an organization recently and emailed to ask me to mentor him on use of social tools within the organization and also to help him create more robust SocialGlamor for him in the wider world.

While chatting with him, I asked, why does he need to use these tools – and his response stumped me! He said he wanted to use these tools to catch up with the people around him who are using them everyday. He did not know WHY he needed to become social. He also mentioned that he does not have time for it but his leadership wants him to become social. This is more dangerous that the Cloned Social concept!

Where are we heading?
What is StrategyThe use of social tools, like Twitter, Facebook, Connections, blogging., etc should make us more productive, is what i understood all along, but recently the pull-push marketing has made the use these tools just a fashion statement. “Because everyone is using it, you should,” is a fallacy and will make more fatigued employees and will defeat the purpose.
Read the complete post on SocialGlamor.

The 12 Types of Social Media Users: Which One Are You? (Infographic)

When it comes to how you use social media, are you a lurker? Or more like a Ghost, a Changeling, or a Peacock? Which one are YOU? (Infographic by firstdirect.com)

sm users

- Posted by Regan Kelly

What You’re Talking About This Month

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In this issue:

  • Best of the Blog: Your Top Five for March
  • IBM Honors Eight New Fellows: Congratulations to the Class of 2013
  • Join the Conversation

Best of the Blog: Your Top Five for March

6For the month of March, here are the five most popular blog posts at The Greater IBM Connection blog. In order:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for your comments on the blog!

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IBM Honors Eight New Fellows: Congratulations to the Class of 2013

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty this week marked the 50th anniversary of the IBM Fellows Program by honoring eight IBMers with the company’s highest technical distinction. Only 246 individuals have earned this designation in the company’s history, 85 of whom are active employees.

The Class of 2013

The Class of 2013

“As we have for half a century, IBM is today honoring its most outstanding technologists and their contributions to computing and society,” said Rometty, IBM chairman, president and chief executive officer.

The eight new fellows – read about them here – join a distinguished tradition of excellence and innovation. Congratulations to the Class of 2013!

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Join the Conversation

One benefit of membership in The Greater IBM Connection group at LinkedIn is the opportunity to take part in – and learn from – the many lively conversations among our 80,000+ members. Ongoing discussions today include:

  • When You Left IBM How Did It Change Your Life – Or Not?
  • How Will Big Data and Social Media Change the Nature of Project Management?
  • Ever Wonder How to Be of Higher Value?

What do you think? You can reply to these and many more – or start your own discussion – if you’re a member of The Greater IBM Connection group of LinkedIn. (Note: The Greater IBM Connection on LinkedIn is not open to contractors.)

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Stay connected with The Greater IBM Connection by:

You’re Doing It Wrong: 9 Mistakes You’re (Probably) Making on LinkedIn

What separates the master networkers from the amateurs? The former tend not to make these 9 mistakes – 9 things that many are doing wrong on LinkedIn, and more importantly, how you can fix those mistakes.

Linkedin candy- By Greater IBM favorite Jeff Haden at Inc.com.

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Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. Follow him: @jeff_haden

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What would you add to this list? Tell us in the Comments.

– Posted by Regan Kelly, Editor/Community Manager, The Greater IBM Connection