How My Experience Validated My Choice To Work For IBM – It’s The Culture!

What makes people build long careers at IBM? Culture of inclusion and career diversity? Arabella Arcuragi, a Digital Strategy consultant based in London, gives us insight into her diverse career within consulting, and shares some career advice for people interested in building a career at IBM.

With Arabella Arcuragi

Arabella's Work Photo(3)Arabella started her career at IBM in 2013 as a Consultant in IBM Global Business Services, the consulting arm of IBM. In the past five years, she has been a Customer Value Strategy consultant in Strategy & Transformation, an Experience Strategy consultant in iX, and now joined the Centre of Competency about a year ago to specifically focus on Digital Strategy. She is currently a Senior Managing Consultant for the Digital Strategy Practice.

She has a slightly different background to a number of her colleagues, in that she started her career in development consulting. Arabella was an advisor to government ministries and multilateral donor clients on private sector development projects in the Balkans.

How would you describe your current role in IBM?  

In the Digital Strategy Practice, my team primarily works at the tip of the spear in client engagements to advise C-suite or Business Unit leads in topics around Digital Reinvention and how to avoid disruption. This has been challenging for me, but very rewarding. I gained so much from having hands on technology delivery experience in previous roles, but it’s clear to me now that the Strategy space and direct business advisory are the areas where I want to continue to focus my career.

One of the best things about my new role is the ability to work abroad; I have worked on projects in Zurich, Tel Aviv, Madrid, and London so far, and delivered a number of workshops and pitches in Ireland, Norway, and Munich.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me starts by going into the client office at around 7:30am, so that I have some time to myself to answer emails and enjoy my coffee (I can’t do mornings without coffee!). My days are relatively busy with client meetings and workshops, moving from one office to another, and checking in on my team. So I like to come in early and have head space to put pen to paper each day.

What is one of the best pieces of career advice you have gotten?

One of the best pieces of advice a manager once gave me was to make two to-do lists each day: the first one with the five things you could accomplish in that working day, and then a second with all of the running things that you wish you could get to, but realistically wouldn’t. This has helped me a lot. That means I have to prioritize each day what I can achieve, it makes me feel a lot more motivated when I can check off my list at the end of each day, but it also means I don’t forget about the other things in the back of my head that I know will need to be done next.

How do you manage work life balance?

It is tough to find work-life balance being a consultant. I have had roles where I work abroad five days a week, and even the roles I have had in London where I am based, the hours can be very long. The way I handle this is by setting boundaries with myself. When I first started, it was typical that I would work on the weekends, and even bring my laptop on holidays ‘just in case.’ Now, I have made a working practice with myself that I do not work on weekends unless I would be willing to ask the whole team to, and I never bring my laptop on holidays. I also think it’s fine to work on a tough project where you and the team work a number of extra hours for a few weeks at a time, but then you need to follow that up with an engagement that is more in line with regular working hours.

Why has staying at IBM worked for you?

Staying at IBM has worked for me because I have had the opportunity to work for different clients, in different industries, in different countries, and on very different types of projects for the entirety of the time I have been with the company. This very much fits my personality, and personal motivation to come to work each day. I love to be challenged, to have to learn on the go, and to never be sure what the next project will bring. I have thought a few times about moving in-house somewhere, but honestly, it just doesn’t appeal to me because I can’t imagine doing the same thing day in and day out!

I also know a lot of people say this, but it is completely true – generally the people that I have worked with at IBM are extremely nice colleagues, and very bright. I have seen a culture of supporting one another and helping others grow, rather than one of constant competition.

It is a big company, and you certainly have to find your tribe, but I have now worked on a few engagements where we were on the same consulting team with other management consultancies, and that experience has really validated my choice in coming to IBM.

What advice would you give to people looking to progress their careers at IBM?

Again, I know a lot of people say this, but network, network, network. One of the great things about working in a company that has a collegial culture is that one should never feel nervous to reach out to someone they want to work with, or that one would like to understand their experience, and ask to have a coffee; the worst thing they can do is say no, and then there are always other options in such a large organization.

I have never sourced a project from the formal channels because I prefer to work with people that I have either worked with successfully in the past, or those who someone I respect in the organization has worked with and recommended. So I always tell new joiners to make sure to go to social events, meet people, let people know what they are interested in and what areas they would like opportunities in; chances are, you will meet someone, or someone who knows someone, who is looking for exactly the skillset or experience you have to offer.

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