How former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty learned to embrace being a female role model

Ginni Rometty, then CEO of IBM, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 21, 2020.
Jason Alden—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Good morning.

I first met former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in 2014, when Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram profiled her for a cover story. I was impressed with Rometty’s determination to change the stodgy technology giant. Her guidance to her team: “Don’t protect the past. Never be defined by your product. Always transform yourself.”

Now, Rometty has put the principles that guided her through that nine-year transformation effort into a book called Good Power, out tomorrow. I spoke to her last week and asked why she had decided to add hers to an already crowded CEO memoir market. Her response:

I wrote the book to give people tools on how to make meaningful change and solve problems, but to do it in a positive way…It took me a year to decide to write it. I had to be authentic to me. Could I tell it in a way that I would be vulnerable enough that people can learn from it?”

She does open up—about how her father abandoned her family, how she helped raise her siblings, about her own decision not to have children in part because she felt she had already done that. And she tells how those experiences helped mold the principles that guided her life and her career: the importance of being in service of others, of knowing what must change and must endure, of “stewarding good tech.” For her, stakeholder capitalism comes naturally.

But most of the book addresses her struggle to reinvent IBM for an era when it has to compete with the likes of Amazon and Alphabet. She cites the 2014 Fortune cover, with its headline: “Can IBM Ever Be Cool?,” and recalls her reaction at the time:

“I cringe when I read it. The sentiment conveys the intense pressure IBM is under to quickly become something different than what it is. But just how different? This nuance is always in the back of my mind, simmering…Every day I wake up feeling the intensity and urgency to change in my very core.”

Rometty’s role in the IBM transformation story is also notable because she was the first woman to lead the company in its 111-year history—and one of the still too-few to lead a Fortune 500 company. She writes:

I resisted the idea of seeing myself as a female role model because I just wanted to be seen for my work, not my gender….(But) as my profile grew inside and outside IBM, I recognized that just by doing my job I was in a position to be in service of other women…who wanted to build their own careers, or go into fields and jobs dominated by men, and gain the confidence to believe they could because, perhaps, someone else had done it.”

You can buy the book here; it’s worth the read. Other news below.

Alan Murray


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Jackson Fordyce. 

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