The Tech=Icon series continues, with Corinne Sklar sitting down with CBR’s Ellie Burns to talk about being a collaborator, her current role as Global CMO at Bluewolf, and how failure should be treated as a gift.
EB: Why did you choose a career in tech/STEM?
CS: I didn’t really choose a career here, it was more organic than that. My father was an electrical engineer who worked in Ballistic Missile Defence, and when I was growing up Maths and Science was an area we were pushed. However, my mother was an artist and creative, so I had the best of both worlds. I ended up going to art school and studying intermedia arts and journalism. I worked with engineers on one side and dancers on the other, and worked to bridge the gap between the scientific and the creative. This has been a hallmark of my career, and it’s manifested in working to build a global digital agency and helping to transform how our customers engage with their own customers using technology, but beautifully and creatively.
EB: What were the main challenges you faced at the start of your career and how did you overcome them?
CS: My career start was fairly steady in growth – sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. For instance, being based in San Francisco right as Salesforce was getting started and being part of Bluewolf. But one reason I feel I was able to grow in this environment was by being fearless. I was never afraid to articulate a gap or present a market opportunity. I spoke up – I asked for challenging projects. If I didn’t do those things, I might not be in the position I am today.
EB: Tell us about your current role. What motivates you? What has been the driving force behind your career strategy?
CS: I currently run global marketing and strategy for Bluewolf, an IBM Company. I’ve been at Bluewolf since the beginning, and our entire founding management team is very deeply involved in every aspect of the business, and especially with our customers. It’s our customers and their unique needs which motivate me and our incredible global teams.
At my core I am a collaborator, and that’s what sparks my imagination. There is nothing more fulfilling to me than working with a customer fill a blank white board with ideas on how to innovate, and then see it come to life. I love engineering new ways to innovate with our customers on how to transform their customer experience and industry. I love the bleeding edge.
We have customers across the entire spectrum of their digital transformation journey and with different areas where they need to focus. I really love to hear the bold ideas customers have around rethinking business models and entering into an entirely new way to engage.
EB: What have been your most significant achievements in the IT industry in the past year?
CS: The acquisition of Bluewolf and the amazing integration and partnership with IBM. I am honoured to be part of an organisation with such a long history, but still truly has a values-based vision for the technology and the future. In addition, IBM, Salesforce and Bluewolf have launched a significant partnership and vision for AI which is inspiring and game changing for customers.
EB: What is your proudest achievement to date?
CS: Building Bluewolf with my partners and all of our employees and customers. We have done some incredible things over the last decade. I can’t name them all, but we have made markets and won victories and lost battles, but throughout it all has been this incredible group of people. I remember them the most, our breakthroughs and celebrations and seeing all of us grow.
EB: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
CS: Not to be cliché, but failure is a gift. It’s true we learn when we take risk. Growth is physical – you doubt yourself, you might get nervous, but as Ginni Rometty says, growth and comfort can’t co-exist. I know this is true. I’m also a huge advocate for women in business. I co-founded an organisation, The Women Innovators Network (WIN), to help bring women together and reach the highest levels of management. I believe that women must help pull up other women with them.
EB: What would be your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?
CS: Have a voice. Have an opinion. Ask for what you want and build a strong, supportive network of contacts.
EB: How would you encourage more women into the IT sector?
CS: Technology is everywhere. If you are an artist, a writer, or in non-profit or finance, technology is changing every industry. It’s the new enlightenment, a new renaissance. What could be more exciting than that!
EB: How do you think businesses should approach diversity and inclusion?
CS: Measure it. Put goals out there. We have done a lot of talking – we now need companies to lead. Marc Benioff of Salesforce has done just this by pushing past dialogue and actually doing something about it.