August 27, 2013 — Welcome to the latest in our series of #WomenCan profiles, highlighting executives and experts who are Catalysts for change within their companies and fields.
Meet: Claudia Brind-Woody, Vice-President and Managing Director of Intellectual Property Licensing, IBM, United Kingdom.
From courtside to corporate: I started out working in sports, after playing college basketball. As a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, I was an assistant coach to Pat Summitt—one of the masters of college basketball—and then became the Assistant Athletics Director. I shifted to academia as an Assistant Dean at the University of Texas at Austin, until a headhunter recruited me to a role as VP of Business Development for a telecommunications company. I was asked to join the 1996 Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to help bridge the gap between technology and sports by managing multiple technology providers. IBM hired me after the Olympics, and since then I have worked in a variety of roles, including a three-year stint in Finland as the IBM Managing Director for the Nokia account.
My personal rules of play: 1) I always listen when someone approaches me with an opportunity, then I do my homework. 2) I see things as opportunities instead of obstacles. 3) I pick my bosses, based on whether I can respect their integrity, their focus on the team, and their track record of leadership. 4) I ask myself, "What would I do if I were not afraid?" And then I do it.
Building a strong team: Playing and coaching sports significantly influenced my business leadership skills. Getting the right talent on the team is critical, and it’s up to the coach to develop that talent appropriately. I use the team analogy to teach everyone (but mostly straight, white, middle-aged men) about the value of a diverse staff. Imagine if you had to put together a basketball team with all point guards to play against a more balanced team made of players of various positions. Who would win? When I explain it that way, suddenly a light bulb goes on for people, as they realize that the team with diverse talent will win every time.
My champions: I have had many mentors who have offered sage advice throughout the years. Some wisdom that really resonated: "authenticity matters." It takes courage to be yourself in the workplace, but it builds a foundation for trust with your co-workers. If you want to be part of a high-performance team, be authentic, so your energy isn’t spent hiding or conforming, but rather on achieving your goals.
Game-changing strategy: It is in claiming my own authenticity that I have been able to be a catalyst for change in the workplace. As a lesbian who has chosen to be "out," I can help make a difference for LGBT employees throughout the world. I serve as co-chair of the IBM LGBT Executive Taskforce, and have been asked to speak in places like Poland, China, India, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, where the topic is difficult but critically important.
Winning tips: Develop an expertise, so you will always be a go-to player on the team. Know what you want, and ask for it. When I was mid-career and looking for my next assignment, my mentor asked me what I wanted to do next. I proceeded to tell her a dozen things I could do. She told me to come back when I could tell her specifically what I wanted. Once I did, I had the assignment I had asked for within six months. Never underestimate the power of asking for what you want.
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