10 Questions for IBM’s Katharine Frase
FORTUNE — Fortune’s annual
Brainstorm Tech conference
brings together the best and brightest minds in tech innovation. Fortune periodically turns the spotlight on a different conference attendee to offer their personal insight into business, tech, and entrepreneurship.
Dr. Katharine Frase was appointed chief technology officer of IBM (IBM) in March 2013. She sets IBM’s technical strategy and defines areas of growth in addition to cultivating emerging technologies. We asked her 10 questions including whether she thinks business school is necessary for entrepreneurs, her superpower of choice, and what she does for fun. Read on for Frase’s thoughts on tech, business, and missed opportunities as well as her inclination toward a musical hobby.
1. What technology sector excites you most?
I find the big data [data so large that they require extra processing power, like traffic or geolocation data] and analytics space the most exciting, the notion of data everywhere and the new ability for humans to turn that data into insight. This frees us up to make better decisions. It’s not just about putting sensors everywhere.
2. Is business school necessary for entrepreneurs?
I don’t know that it is necessary for entrepreneurs to finish business school, but I think they should take some traditional business courses. Business is like a sport; you always need to know how the game is going to get scored. Accounting, finance, regulatory concerns — this is how the business world scores its game, and that’s important for entrepreneurs too.
3. What is the best advice you ever received?
My Ph.D. advisor told me it is very important to do good science, but it is even more important to be able to communicate it.
4. What would you do if you weren’t working at your current job?
I would sing.
5. What is your greatest achievement?
I think that my legacy is the leaders within IBM that I have mentored and coached over the years.
6. What has been your biggest failure?
Fifteen years ago, I had an opportunity to present to a business strategy team, and I did a terrible job because I didn’t understand how those senior executives think. I created a strategy and set of answers that were right for an audience of my peers, but not the right strategy and answers for people running a company. That kind of situational awareness is critical — knowing your audience and asking the right questions and providing the right information your audience needs to get things done.
7. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
I would like to raise my children to be responsible and contributing adults.
8. What was your biggest missed opportunity?
I never took the opportunity to work overseas. I’ve had global roles, but during my working career I have never permanently lived outside the U.S. That’s a missed opportunity
9. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To understand and speak every language.
10. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?
I am a chronic list-maker. I so love to check thing off the list that if I do something that wasn’t on my list, I add it anyway just so I can cross it off.