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

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

4 Big Tips for LinkedIn Endorsements and Skills

In case you haven’t noticed, LinkedIn endorsements are here to stay. Why not make the most of this network feature on your profile?

Linkedin candyIn this fascinating piece from Careerealism.com, here’s why: Using this section wisely is essential, because LinkedIn has now made it searchable by recruiters. So if you want to maximize your chances of attracting hiring managers’ attention, start doing these four things today.

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What do you think of LinkedIn’s endorsements feature? Do you think endorsements are helpful? Let us know in the Comments.

New LinkedIn Profile Design – Time To Overhaul Yours? 13 New Tips

new LI profile

In case you missed the news, LinkedIn launched a new profile design in October (here’s a sneak peek).  LinkedIn is arguably the number one social media site for business and professional networking with more than 187 million members in over 200 countries worldwide, as of September 30, 2012.  It’s a hugely popular site and recruiters spend a lot of time looking at user profiles.  Just in time for 2013, here are 13 new ways you can make your LinkedIn profile more irresistible in the new year, whatever your goals may be from Business Insider.  (And when you’re finished polishing your LinkedIn profile, join The Greater IBM Connection group on LinkedIn if you qualify:  http://linkd.in/Ru0wWj).

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For more information:

–Posted by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

The Delicate Art of the Networking Email

Whether you’d describe yourself introverted, extroverted, or (like most of us) somehwere in between, everyone could use a helping hand when it comes to pulling off a successful job search through networking.

And there’s a tool you’re probably already using, everyday, that can help you do it. We’re talking about email, and it works.person

While the best networking might happen in person or through acquaintances, email can be a great way to build new relationships online.

See all the tips you need in the full story at Brazen Careerist.

7 Networking Tips for People Who Hate Networking

Are you someone who hates even the THOUGHT of networking? It has to be done, and yet….Well, Greater IBMers, take heart: in this article, Jennifer Williamson shares seven surefire strategies to get you through the networking events in your future. (From distance-education.org)

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What tips would you like to share? Let your fellow Greater IBMers know, in the Comments.

Hate Small Talk? Just Remember These 5 Questions

Do you love going to events, but find yourself stranded during happy hour, tongue-tied and tucked in a corner? Initiating and maintaining conversations while networking is a necessary skill, and one you can easily improve with these simple tips.

table of headshotsMastering small talk will help you find common ground to create a mini-bond with new contacts. Small talk may feel trite and unimportant, but it’s the small talk that leads to the big talk.

Ideally small talk will uncover common interests, business alignments, the six degrees that separate you, potential need for your product or service, and basically whether or not you enjoy each other’s company. The goal is not to become best friends or a new client on the spot. Although it’s nice when those instant connections happen, usually that’s not the case.

The goal of conversation at functions is to establish enough common ground to determine a reason to connect again. Questions to get the conversations flowing:

“What’s your connection to the event?” This question can uncover mutual contacts and usually leads to a more robust answer than if you asked the typical “Have you been to this event before?”

“What’s keeping you busy when you’re not at events like this or at work?” This question gives the encouragement necessary for the person to share his/her passions and outside interests. It is an excellent way to add some enthusiasm into a conversation that has hit a lull, especially if he/she would prefer to be doing that activity at that moment.

“Are you getting away this summer?” This question can lead to conversations about family, reveal special interests and, if you like talking about travel, it’s a sure-fire way to keep a conversation interesting.

“Are you working on any charity initiatives?” This question makes it easy to launch into a deeper connection. If they’re not involved with any projects, they often share reasons which is usually revealing, and if they are doing something of value they will be more than happy to share.

“How did you come to be in your line of work?” For some, the path to where they are today can be quite an interesting ordeal. Having a chance to revisit their story to success can leave helpful clues along the way as to who they are and what makes them tick.

Keeping a conversation rolling is simple when you learn to listen and ask appropriate probing questions that naturally grow from the dialogue. You only need to prepare a couple of questions in advance. If there is a genuine connection then you can proactively engage in conversation.

When a person doesn’t participate actively in a conversation with you, that’s a red flag to say to yourself, “Okay, this is not one of my quality contacts, it’s time to move on and meet someone else.”

Ultimately, the decision each person has to make during this initial contact is whether or not there is enough connection to warrant future interaction. It’s during these small conversations that people form their opinions about whether they like you, trust you, and believe you’re competent.

Actual business talk is quite limited at functions. Learning what people do and perhaps about some of their big developments or projects is about the extent of the business talk expected. Deeper connections are formed through finding common ground that is not work related.

There is a balance between too much and too little business talk. If you don’t talk business at all you may miss an opportunity to communicate who you are, what you do, and what you have to offer and that you are competent in your field. There are some people who you can know for years and never hear them talk about work. You just assume they are retired or not interested in more clients.

However, if you talk about your work too much you run the risk of boring others. Too much “shoptalk” can easily put a damper on an evening. Watch for cues from your conversation partners. How are they responding to the conversation with you? Are they engaged? Are they obviously looking for a new conversation partner? Are they listening to and understanding what you are saying? Are you giving them more information than they expect, want, or need? Are you monopolizing the conversation and not giving others a chance to share ideas or ask questions?

Match the depth of dialogue to the environment.

You don’t want to let people overhear confidential or inappropriate information. Plus, talk that is too deep at business functions can lead to heated conversations. New contacts could be put on edge. Over-heated conversations can quickly be subdued by simply making a closing agreeable statement that offers little room for a rhetorical comment. This tactic will diffuse the situation quickly and without incident.

For example, say with a smile, “Well, that’s one issue we’re not going to solve tonight,” or simply close the conversation with “I certainly understand your perspective,” minus the “but” that is sitting on the tip of your tongue.

You won’t win points for always having to be right. You may win the debate while making someone else look bad, but in the end, you’ll make yourself look worse. You will, however, win points for having social graces if you are the bigger person and cool potentially fiery situations.

You have to know when to let go and kill the discussion even if you believe you are correct on the issue. In the grand scheme of things, we must value the opinions of others and accept that it is not important to win every debate. The last thing you want to do is to appear as the know-it-all who must end conversations as the perceived winner.

Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered.

When it comes to small talk, don’t think you must say something strikingly intelligent each time you speak. Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered.

No doubt small talk can get a little dull after a while. So, take it upon yourself to make it interesting. To prepare for conversations, choose your five favorite safe topics. These will make it easy for you to swing an otherwise stale conversation into one that makes you a genuinely enthusiastic conversationalist.

Have you ever been in a conversation that just wasn’t clicking, then suddenly the mood changes and you both have a smile on your face as the conversation starts firing on all cylinders? That’s because you found common ground. It occurs when two people have an interest in the same topic.

By determining in advance what interests you, half of the equation for stimulating conversation is complete. Now your job is to guide the conversation from topic to topic until you solve the other important half of the equation: What’s of interest to your new contact?

Finally, it’s about your attitude.

I must admit, after attending hundreds of events and interacting with thousands of people, there are times when I feel small talk is simply a dreaded requirement. I’m writing this so you know that I completely understand if you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t care about all this superficial conversation.”

When I get in those moods, I remind myself that the person I’m meeting has the potential to be my next big client or a newfound friend. If those thoughts don’t shift my attitude, I’ll set a personal challenge to create a super-duper fantastic conversation with a new contact. For some reason, this additional challenge seems to inspire me to get enthusiasm back into the small talk. If that doesn’t work, I just remind myself that the person I’m talking with deserves my respect.

The real key to great conversations is to relax. Let the conversation flow naturally. That’s easiest to do when you’re fully engaged and genuinely interested in the conversation topic and the person with whom you are talking.

Do you have questions you typically use to break the ice and form lasting connections? Tell us about it in the comments.

The Information On Demand Conference and Blended Networking via Greater IBM

IBMer, Jack Mason, IBM Strategic Communications & The Greater IBM Connection Executive Producer

 

Next week’s IOD Conference in Anaheim is a prime example of how The Greater IBM Connection will add value to the in-person networking at such business events.

The network we’re building will give IBMers, past and present, who may meet each other at such large gatherings (more than 5,000  people are expected at the IOD Conference, one of IBM’s largest events)  to stay connected with each other through the online network we’re building.

Of course, people are bound to continue making connections through traditional mechanisms like business cards. What’s different about Greater IBM as a new kind of business social network is that once two people meet and say “let’s connect through Greater IBM” they will not only have each other’s contact information, but more insight into to each other through the richer profiles all members control.

What’s more, they can also see each others contacts, and perhaps find ways that they are already connected to each other through a common friend or colleague.

From the start, we’ve envisioned that Greater IBM should be an example of “blended networking”…a community that enabled in-person events to become more valuable by enabling current and former IBMers who meet in a variety of realworld circumstances to be able to follow through and interact with other through a robust online directory.

Of course, sometimes this will be contacts between current and former IBMers, with the prospects of leading to new business opportunities for each.

But sometimes Greater IBM will enable former IBMers to connect with each other (or even current IBMers who might not otherwise get to know each other, which has already happened to me in the process of helping launch Greater IBM.)  In either case, the value of people being able to extend their contacts and relationships is clearly strategic in today’s highly networked world of global business.

So, if you are one of the thousands of current or former IBMers attending next week’s IOD Conference, you might consider joining the network today, and encouraging  the Greater IBMers you meet at the event to keep the connection going via this promising new platform.

Join Greater IBM Today 

To invite a current colleague or former IBMer into Greater IBM, share this invitation link with them:

http://www.greateribm.com

Once you are both in the community you can create a Connection with each other that will become part of your social networking profile.


Core Connectors

ConnectorGreater IBM has made a “call for core connectors”. Hmmm. Core connectors? What kind of cores are they that need to be connected? Most of the current IBMers are not old enough to remember “core” memory that was used in mainframes. Core connectors also sounds like something from a Lego parts list. Both of these thoughts are nostalgic but we all know that is not what IBM has in mind.

The goal is to build a social networking community — a “place” where the possibilities are endless — collaboration on projects, personal networking for jobs and deals, referrals to and from IBM, and networking just for the fun of it. One of the key questions being asked is how does Greater IBM get highly-networked ‘core connectors’ to spend the time to help get things going and spur organic growth of the community. Not easy for sure.

The challenge is that the people who are the best networkers are already so busy networking that it is hard to motivate them to take on yet another “channel” of communications. I encounter the same challenge at the numerous boards where I am privileged to serve and that have the same goals as IBM — building their communities. I don’t claim to have the magic answer but in short the best approach I have seen over the years is to apply tenacious program management, just as IBM is doing. Occasional emails from people encouraging the “cc’s” to visit the blog and or group and post something eventually work. It is a given that the people with the most to contribute are also the ones with the least time and so the occasional nudge often causes things to happen.

The other angle is to publicize success stories about how the community has actually helped someone. It is best if the person actually helped tells their own story — again perhaps with a little prodding. The successes are often subtle and indirect. It isn’t that someone posts “I need a job” and they get an email with an offer for the dream job. More likely the job (or deal) comes from someone who knows someone who knows someone who read something about an opportunity or a person and then was able to make the connection. Sometimes there are multiple bank shots involved. Here is an example of what I mean.

I started writing “reflections” in 1996 and they evolved into my blog. In the early days of RSS (really simple syndication) many people didn’t know what a blog reader was and didn’t know how to include an RSS feed into their browser or news portal. I started enabling people to “subscribe” to my blog in a way that generates an email version of each story that I write. There are now more approximately 400 people who read patrickWeb via email. When readers like a story they tend to forward it to their friends and this results in more subscribers and more readers. Some of the readers are reporters. Sometimes a reporter will send an email asking for an interview. The interview gets covered in the press. XYZ Company decides to hold a conference for their customers and they call or visit the Washington Speakers Bureau to get an outside speaker. The WSB refers XYZ to the interview that was in the press and sets up an engagement for a paid speech. In some cases the story that lead to the chain of events may have had nothing to do with the ultimate subject of interest to XYZ — it was the communications that lead to something that lead to something, etc. The same principles apply to getting a job or landing a deal.

Building the community and getting tangible results from it takes a lot of time and tenacity. Greater IBM is on the case and making progress. I encourage all of us out there with stories to tell to keep telling them. You never know where they will lead.

Related links
bullet Other patrickWeb stories about blogging

bullet Other patrickWeb stories about IBM

IBMer Kevin Aires: A Galaxy of Stars, a Universe of Galaxies

IBMer, Kevin Aires, IBM Global Business Services, London; member of The Greater IBM Connection Development Team

 

As an innovator in IBM I take an interest in some of the cutting edge initiatives and programmes going on here.  I had connected with a colleague in Canada and we were surprised by the number of times we had come across each other in different ways.

He said, “[It] always amazes me how we have 320K employees and the same 30 or 40  people paths cross daily on a extremely wide variety of initiatives.”

This got me thinking.  Are there just 40 creative people in IBM?  Of course not.  Perhaps it means however that my colleague and I are in a cluster of people who are very well interconnected without realising it, but lack wider connections.  We could imagine this as a galaxy of contacts.

Looking from my perspective, I look out across the night sky of contacts I have, not realising that they are just within my little galaxy in IBM, and that there may be a vast void until the pocket of contacts in the next galaxy.

To connect with people beyond my galaxy, firstly I am going to need knowledge of where “there” is and why I might want to travel there, and secondly a way of getting there.  Enter the “Core Connector” or “wormhole” in my analogy.  I need someone who is familiar with my galaxy, but also travels around in some other galaxies and wants to show me around.

What we are looking for is these wormholes to connect up the galaxies, these “Core Connectors” who can travel beyond the social voids and introduce people so that these galaxies can meet and do business.

Your mission is to boldly go where not many people have gone before….  Sign-up as a Core Connector, and introduce us to some new Alumni galaxies.  Contact us, if you are interested in taking part.