IBM’s Celebration of Service: My Service To My Community

Last week, IBM turned 100 years old.  I blogged about my thoughts about the big birthday in my post:  Happy Birthday IBM!! My thoughts as IBM turns 100   In that post I talked about IBM’s three beliefs.  One of those beliefs is all about providing excellent service to customers and others.

As part of our Centennial celebrations, our CEO, Sam Palmisano, asked all IBMers to pledge to volunteer at least 8 hours of community service and then post out on our social platforms about our experience doing community service.  IBMers around the world have been tweeting (search on #IBM100 or IBM and #COS) and blogging about what they did for their service time.  This post will describe what I have done to help my community as part of this celebration of service.

Ever since my daughters entered our local school system I have enjoyed helping out in the schools.  As a father, I have always been in a sea of moms. I have seen very few dads volunteer at schools.  I think all those dads out there are really missing something. 

When my daughters were young, I conducted an “Art Awareness” class for each of my daughter’s Kindergarten – 2nd grade classes.  This was a monthly class that was about 10-15 minutes art education and then 30 minutes of a related art project.  It helped the teachers out a little by giving them a break.  For me, I got tremendous satisfaction out of seeing the artist in the children come to life and even more satisfaction when the students would send me cards at the end of the year thanking me for teaching the Art Awareness sessions.

Daily Herald - Ventrella 19Feb2011The last four years I have been involved in running a career day event at Plum Grove Junior High School (my community’s local junior high school) titled W.O.W Day.  W.O.W. is short for “Widening Our World” and is designed to be a career day event that provides information about careers and practical knowledge to the 800 students attending the school.   The last two years, I have been the PTA Chairperson for this event, coordinating over 30 parent volunteers, 35 career speakers, and working with the school’s staff to ensure a well-run event.  I have probably put in 300 hours easily over the last four years planning for and holding this event.

The event, usually held in mid February, starts off with an assembly for the students.  We find an assembly speaker that can deliver a strong and inspirational message to the students that they can accomplish anything that they put their mind to.  This year I secured Michael Ventrella as a speaker.  Michael won the NBC Biggest Loser Season 9 Title in 2010.  Michael delivered four key messages:

  • Believe in yourself. You can achieve anything.
  • Set goals. Picture how you will feel when you achieve them.
  • Break goals into smaller pieces. Focus on the first small piece.
  • Surround yourself with family / friends that believe you can achieve your goal and can support you

After the assembly, the students are scheduled into 4 consecutive 40 minute career presentations/workshops that they have chosen from a list of 35.  During October – January I seek out and find 35 different career speakers from the parents and communities.  Then I work with those speakers to help them develop their presentations which should help the students understand what the career is all about and what type of experiences and education is required to enter that career.  I’ve learned that students like sessions that are 1) interactive, 2) have things they could touch or experience, and 3) were delivered by a speaker who was upbeat and passionate about the topic.

Here is an example subset of the 35 career sessions we had at this past February’s event

  • Comic Book Artist
  • FBI Agent
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Optometrist
  • Registered Dietitian
  • U.S. Army
  • Astronomy Science
  • Veterinarian
  • Engineering
  • Retail Fashion
  • Guitarist
  • Astronomy Science

Putting on an event like this took a bunch of nights and weekends of planning.   However, I get so much satisfaction knowing I have had a small part in helping our students understand what types of careers await them.  Junior high school is a very critical time in their lives.  The career day provides them with information on some of the many potential careers awaiting them after their school years.   I think the biggest benefit of the career day is that it helps our children understand that even at just 13 and 14 years old, they need to start taking responsibility for their future careers.

So that’s my story of how I volunteer my time back to the community.  Providing service back to the community is part of the fabric at IBM.  It’s part of our DNA.

Happy Birthday IBM!! My thoughts as IBM turns 100

“I attribute the success of our business in the main to the power of our beliefs” – Thomas J. Watson, Jr., 1962

image The company I work for is turning 100 years old this week.  The company has earned it’s place in history and IBMers around the world are celebrating this fantastic milestone.  Being a second generation IBMer (my dad was also a lifetime IBMer) I am very proud of this achievement!!

And what a milestone it is.  100 years is a very long time for a company.  Can you even think of five other companies that have survived 100 years?  It is hard to do.  There are many more examples of companies that were successful, but years later went out of business (see here and here).

A Business and its Beliefs

So why has IBM survived all these years?  There are many reasons we could point to, perhaps the most important being great leadership.  But there are others, including IBM’s Research Division, the strength of IBM’s sales teams, and the thousands of dedicated and passionate IBM employees.  Those are all important elements of IBM’s success.

Perhaps the most important ingredient of our success can be found in a quote from the book “A Business and its Beliefs:  The ideas that helped build IBM“ written by Thomas J. Watson, Jr. in 1963.

“I firmly believe that any organization, in order survive and achieve success must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions.  Next I believe that the most important factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs.  And finally, I believe that if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.”

IBM has had a total of 8 CEOs over the span of 100 years.  Each one of them has exhibited strong leadership skills that have helped IBM stay strong and reinvent itself as the needs of our customers have shifted over the years.  Part of being a great leader is communicating values, beliefs, and marching orders to the company’s employees.  Watson Jr. grew up watching and learning how to do this from his dad, Thomas Watson Sr., who was the founder of IBM

image In 1962, Thomas Watson, Jr. communicated a set of beliefs the company would stand by going forward.  When I joined IBM in 1981, I fully bought into these beliefs and it remains with me still to this day…guiding me in my daily activities, both on the job and off.  IBMers around the world have done the same.

The three beliefs are very simple, yet powerful when bought into by everyone working for the company.

  1. Respect for the individual.  This is like the golden rule my parents taught me “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.”
  2. Customer Service.   Provide the best customer service of any company in the world.
  3. Excellence.  Pursue all tasks with the idea that they can be accomplished in a superior manner

In his book, Watson goes on to say

“The basic philosophy, spirit, and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing.  All these things weigh heavily in success.  But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out.”

The IBMers I have worked with throughout my career have been dedicated to those three beliefs.   They have carried out those basic beliefs very well.  I believe IBM is celebrating it’s 100 year birthday this week due, in large part, to adherence to those three basic beliefs.  Our leaders have, in fact, been willing to change everything about our company except those beliefs. And if we continue to do so, IBM will survive another 100 years.

Happy 100th Birthday IBM!   #IBM100