Women in Tech - Leanne Ward, IBM
Leanne (Lee) Ward is the IBM Partner responsible for Cognitive Process Transformation, working with customers to deploy cognitive solutions that address business challenges and create new insights.
Profile: Lee has travelled extensively and has a substantial background in running very significant P&Ls and major transformation and change programs. She has led teams from small professional teams of 10 members through to 3000+ organisations. Her attention to customer satisfaction and retention is second to none.
Lee has worked across many industry sectors including Finance and Banking, IT&T, Federal and State Government and Infrastructure, maintenance and facilities management and commercial small business. She is a long-term lobbyist for Diversity and Inclusion in business in both a corporate and voluntary capacity and has led several programs to improve diversity in the workplace. She has been a voluntary executive coach with Menttium (a US NFP) aimed at development of women in Asia Pacific, including emerging economies. She was the Chairman for the Unisys Australia Superannuation Committee for seven years during and post the Global Financial Crisis and Vice Chairman for Integricare NSW – a NFP in the children’s services sector.
Lee has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematical Computing from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and an MBA majoring in Human Resources from the University of New England, Australia and is currently completing a Doctorate in Business Leadership exploring ethics in emerging and new technologies and the development of courageous followers in organisations. She enjoys being active and jogging in the mornings as well as catching up with friends over dinner or going to movies.
What are the key things you attribute your success to?
I have always followed my passion, believe it or not, I had not touched a computer until I arrived at University. I was all signed up to study Maths and Physics and had planned to go onto become a teacher. As soon as I was introduced to computers I was fascinated and ended up completing a Bachelor of Science with a double major in computer science and mathematical computing.
As a graduate, I was fortunate enough to have two offers at both Qantas and IBM and although the thought of all those cheap flights was alluring I decided the opportunity at IBM and the exposure it would give me would be the best starting point for my career in Technology.
I knew I wanted to be close to the customer rather than being behind the scenes and started in a sales support role. My mentors have played a big part in my success both good and bad. I have had mentors who allowed me to fail and also picked me up, people who coached me and tested me which all helped me develop.
Throughout my time at IBM for 14 years, I had the opportunity to take on new roles and challenges that helped me grow my experience in new areas and I think this was essential to my success. This forced me to ask questions and use the team around me to help achieve outcomes. I was also never afraid to ask questions. I was successful in a very diverse range of roles which led to bigger roles every time.
After I left IBM, I spent the next five years at EDS (which later was acquired by HP), then 10 years at Unisys and then set up my own management Consulting business in 2015. After several engagements, I decided to rejoin IBM after a 19-year break...
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What gave you the courage to take on all these new opportunities?
I think I always had self-belief, a lot of this comes from my father, he always backed himself and displayed a curiosity, that I inherited. Growing up, I remember we used to look out at the stars and wonder what else is out there too - what were the possibilities? You should never stop learning, keep learning to be relevant and interesting.
What have been your career-defining moments?
There have been quite a few over my career but a big move for me was at IBM when I shifted into the Services business. This was a big decision at the time as IBM hardware and software was leading edge and very successful but I felt that the service side was the way forward and where I wanted to focus.
Another defining moment was when I took the role of Client Delivery Executive for the Commonwealth Bank Account - six months into having a baby. What I didn't see coming was that the CBA acquired the Colonial Bank the week I joined which mean a lot of hard work. Despite that, the work was very rewarding not only financially but also from a personal growth perspective.
What are the most challenging situations you have faced in your career to date?
There have been many but one of the hardest times in my career was around the GFC time when I was working for Unisys. Times were tough and our clients were hurting and we knew they had to reduce their spend. At this time, with much reflection and consulting, I decided that we needed to get control of this situation and understand how we could assist our clients through this tough period rather than allow things to unfold which might be the equivalent of a "free fall" for our business. We decided to go to every Unisys client to understand their challenges and how we could help them through this period. What happened was that while customers stopped spending on most projects, where they did have discretionary spend, they chose to spend with us as we had earned their trust working with them on an extremely difficult problem. Despite all the odds in 2008, we had one of our best years. Coming out of the GFC, clients were happy to provide references, speak at conferences and we renewed 100% of our contracts that were due. It was a really tough time but we had the courage to execute the strategy and it paid off in spades.
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What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in Technology?
A lot of younger women ask me about how to network and my advice is always to see every interaction as a networking opportunity. Try and get to meetups and forums that give you the opportunity to connect with interesting people. Another element I think is key is to invest in your own life long learning if you want to remain relevant - don't expect a company to do this for you. Throughout your career sometimes you learn from others what you want to do and sometimes you learn what not to do.
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