Putting the pieces together: A connector extraordinaire of the IBM ecosystem

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As GM of IBM ecosystems and social business evangelism, Sandy Carter knows that productive and positive relationships are at the heart of success.

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Sandy Carter is a social business leader, influential speaker and author. She is currently general manager of IBM ecosystems and social business evangelism. As such, she is responsible for IBM’s worldwide relationship with independent software vendors (ISVs), which contribute to approximately one-third of IBM’s revenue. She spearheads IBM’s social business initiative and manages key partnerships with the development, academic and venture capital communities, and is focused on critical areas of business ecosystems like big data, cloud, mobile, social and analytics.

Thank you for your time today. You have quite an illustrious career. How would you describe the value that you bring to your current role?

I am a connector by nature, and this job requires that I connect developers with investors, and boutique systems integrators with tools, capabilities and networks -- could be people, resources, opportunities, VCs, go-to-market companies -- to become successful.

Tell me about a project that you consider a great success that shows this value at work.

Without a doubt it was IBM’s sponsorship of digital.NYC’s connection hub which, in digital.NYC's words, enables people to "launch, work for, invest in, partner with, or learn about" a New York startup. It streamlines the ability to identify, engage and connect with a needed resource, funding, partners and suppliers. But it also works the other way, to give established organizations a way to monitor the startup landscape and connect with new businesses ready to break out.

The government of Ecuador used digital.NYC to meet companies when representatives visited New York City. They are taking the concept back home. So are Austin, Amsterdam and Singapore. I am very proud of that because we helped to get IBM involved, and to get an agreement with the mayor, VCs, entrepreneurs and others to do something great for New York and, as it turns out, cities around the world.

Describe a tough assignment. What is the toughest assignment you’ve had and how did you handle it?

My tough assignments were usually when people didn’t want me in the role. One particularly difficult situation was when I was told that an underperforming team needed to be turned around to produce better results. The team was made up of experienced men and one of the major issues already identified was a lack of communication. I created a weekly huddle to ensure regular basic interaction among us all.

To help build relationships and ensure that the weekly meeting was going to be high-quality, I picked out particular quotes, tailored to each individual, and left them on each person’s desk before the huddle. I understand that you have to encourage each person differently and I love quotes.

Did it help refocus the team?

Not right away. Three weeks later, a guy on the team says he speaks for the group in telling me that they don’t like the quotes and to please stop putting them on our desks. It is a girly-girl thing to do. At first I was taken aback. Then I thought, I am a girly girl. It is being true to me. So I kept doing it. The team eventually did turn around.

The punch line to this was that 15-16 years later, that gentleman was retiring and I was invited to his retirement lunch. I sat next to his wife and introduced myself. She said, oh, you’re the one that did the quotes? I said yes, and that I knew he didn’t like them. She said, whatever gave you that idea? He’s kept every one in a shoebox and still has them to this day. This shows that you should stick with what works for you, including being a girly girl if you are one.

If you could mentor your younger self, what would you want to get across?

Two points come immediately to mind.

  • View relationships as lifelong, not momentary transactions. Invest in them and open yourself up to learning from them.
  • Take risks. When I went from marketing to sales to technology, each move was a risk -- I didn’t know if I would be successful or not. But I had enough curiosity and believed enough in myself to take the risk anyway. 

On that subject, what are you tackling these days? What do you recommend that others learn?

I have two recommendations:

  • Two broad technologies
    • Internet of Things -- ever-smarter devices are invading every part of who we are and how we pursue goals.
    • Data analytics -- partly a follow-on of the previous, there are going to be ever-increasing oceans of data. How do we turn that data into meaningful, actionable intelligence? That is where my second recommendation comes in …
  • Storytelling -- you could have great data and really understand it but you still have to get people’s attention, articulate the value of it and why it matters. People are hard-wired for story; organize your findings into the most digestible form.

What are things good senior leaders should know?

I would suggest ...

  • How to gain a broader perspective by building an understanding that is greater than your own industry and to understand overall concepts that are happening globally. For example, I was just talking with bankers in China, and they wanted to know about trends and information around the retail industry, because that is where they see banking going.
  • How to build, motivate and inspire teams -- nothing happens without good people.
  • How to set a vision -- to define not only what to execute on today, but also where we’re headed and understanding the trends affecting tomorrow.
  • Understand that it is all about people. It is not just B2B or B2C, but people to people.

Thank you for your time and insights. I know our readers will find them valuable.

You are very welcome.

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