Succeeding at IBM – My Journey to Growth and Leadership

Petya.jpgPetya Venelinova started her career at IBM 10 years ago when she joined the Procurement Center in Sofia, Bulgaria. A year and a half later she took her first leadership role. Throughout the years, she has taken over various management and non-leadership roles in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Currently Petya is the leader of the Procurement Center in IBM Bulgaria. She is a certified Six Sigma Green Belt, an Agile advocate, an early adopter by nature, a graduate of several IBM leadership programs, and a strong supporter of work-life balance.

 In this interview, Petya shares her  journey to growth and leadership at IBM

Tell us about your career path in IBM?

I was in my third year of university when I joined IBM and my major motivation to do so was to practice my Spanish language skills. Never had I expected that I will stay in the company for 10 years and still be eager to go to work every day. IBM was my first significant work experience and my first development opportunity. One of the key milestones in my career was my first management appointment. I became the leader of a team I did not know at a time we were re-organizing the team’s scope of responsibilities. This experience opened up a lot of opportunities for me to develop in terms of leading and motivating people, implementing our strategy and managing change, networking with other leaders. I learnt a lot. Another milestone was when I moved to an EMEA non-management role for a couple of years. This allowed me to broaden my network and to prove myself as an informal leader. The third significant moment in my career is now, and I am looking forward to what the future holds.

Can you share with us a challenging situation you have faced as center lead and how did you manage it?

I have been in the role of a location leader for a year and a half and have faced a lot of challenges.  In our environment, the location leader role has flexible responsibilities, so it requires time and effort for me to prove the value of me occupying it. What worked so far is that whenever I am presented with a request to help (be it strictly part of my job description or not), I take that seriously and put all possible efforts to succeed. I also faced the challenge to build my skills for this senior role and admit that I have a way to go. Leading other leaders, fostering common decision making process, representing my unit in front of other senior leaders… I work with such challenges by actively confronting them. The role of a location leader is a demanding one — I need to always be on top of new trends, initiatives, strategies, and ongoing actions in my organization. This requires focus and me walking the talk. In order to be a role model, I need to be knowledgeable and in line with what is going on around the company.

What are the top 5 tips that you would to give to early professionals?

  1. Be authentic. You have a limited time to make a first impression, so make sure that time counts. Demonstrate yourself as the person you really are.
  2. Do not underestimate the skills you’ve gained. Any experience counts! Whether it’s your summer job, a project you did at school, or a trip you made –these are life experiences that teach you and build you up for a professional career.
  3. Focus on understanding the bigger picture. Though this might be hard in the beginning of your career, the sooner you grasp where the company is headed, the sooner you’ll start focusing on getting yourself equipped with the required skills.
  4. Build your network at work. IBM offers extensive opportunities to collaborate with colleagues with diverse background, expertise and skills. Take advantage as much as possible. Networking enriches your visibility on what is going on in the company and allows you to explore different standpoints, focus items, etc.
  5. Build your brand. Look for topics of interest within the unit you work at. Find the one that you are most passionate about and become an expert in it. Use every opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and make yourself available to others to help them learn. Not only will this help you build your brand, you’ll also be gaining new skills. And that’s a must for success.

How do you manage your work-life balance?

I set up the ground rules for myself and then adhere to them. I have a small son at home, so staying long hours in the office or working on weekends is a rare exception for me. Yes, should a situation require this, I am ready to be flexible with my rule, but afterwards I always compensate with a break. I have found ways of letting go of stress. My husband and I love traveling; I spend my free time playing or biking with my son; I do sports at least twice a week. As a leader in my environment, I promote work-life balance among my team members, peers and managers.


Can you give us some examples of the skills that you needed to get to where you are now and how they affect your professional growth?

Apart from the five points above, there are a couple more skills that have helped me grow my career. One is to focus on outcomes and making those possible. I have been faced with many situations that required introducing a change to the way we work. I try to look for the benefits of the change and highlight those to my team and other stakeholders, rather than focusing on the challenges. This has made me a person my leaders look for when change management is required. Another skill is the willingness to actively look for opportunities to challenge yourself. Be it a complex situation, a new process, a changing environment, a difficult conversation with a team member – I would rather provoke and confront those with an open mind, than avoid them. This open exposure to challenges has worked wonders for me and has made me the professional that I am today.

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