An Insight Into Executive Leadership Development – Attributes and Rewards of a Great Executive

 The Inspirational Executive series features Janine Cook, IBM Systems Vice President for the UK and Ireland.

 The Inspirational Executives series consists of interviews that profile executive IBMers to demonstrate how one may successfully build an executive career in this increasingly demanding market. Juggling work, life, and family commitments is a daunting challenge, but this series reveals how, with careful time management, flexible leadership, and a willingness to embrace challenge, IBM can support successful executives to succeed in every aspect of their careers.

Janine Cook Photo Aug 2017.JPG
Janine Cook


Janine is a client-focused, innovative change leader, who makes things happen. She has over 20 years of business management, sales leadership, and people management expertise, and has an extensive track record of leading sales teams and working in partnership with clients at board level across multiple industries. Janine is a natural leader and collaborator who has built lasting personal networks in clients and with key business partners.

What is your current role at IBM?

I lead the Systems Business which comprises of Server (System Z that runs 87% of UK’s credit card transactions), Power (it is our Power 9 chips that are used every time you use google) and Storage (both Hardware and Software) which is growing in the UK market due to the explosion of data and regulations.  We face those challenges head on with our evolving portfolio through product announcements and acquisitions such as Cleversafe.

My role is to empower and lead our team of sellers, technical sellers, marketing and channel teams to drive our infrastructure and hybrid cloud message; to help bring success to both our clients and our network of business partners and influencers.

 What personal attributes do you believe have contributed towards to your success?

Authenticity – I’ve always believed that being authentic is key to success at every level and I would find it hard to be anything but myself.  Part of being authentic is to treat people or approach a task the same internally, as you would externally with clients and partners.

Transparency – Those that have worked with me would use this to describe me (I hope).  We always have to play some politics, especially upwards, but if we use transparency in the right way it creates trust. And where would we be without trust.

Resilience – We must show resiliency as we transform our business; we can agree and discuss development plans but roles are constantly changing. That can also be the exciting part of being part of IBM but the key to coping with those developments, is resiliency.

Straight Talking – I also believe in straight talking.  Sometimes hard messages and constructive feedback are best dealt with upfront but should be balanced with positive feedback. A simple thank you is very powerful; not just to be given but also received.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?


The highlight of my day is when l see the progression of an individual in my team. Without a happy engaged team, we will never grow revenue and achieve our financial objectives. In all my roles, I have invested in mentoring and not just my direct team.  Some of the interns I’ve supported are now executives themselves (yes I’ve been here that long).  Spending quality time with our early professionals continues my education, especially in areas such as social selling which I think we all must embrace.

When we hold promotion boards, even for junior roles, I always ask what mentoring they have done for others.  We all have skills we can share.

Of course, I can say, the other reward built on the foundation of engaged happy teams is achieving success.  We are all built to be competitive and I’m always proud to say I’ve achieved my targets.

How do you spend your time when not working?

 Despite having children of 22 and 25, they are still a major part of my life (and still live with us).  I’m very proud of their creative careers in Architecture and Cinematography – they must get that from their dad!

I am hugely passionate about travel. For every day I’m not at IBM, you will find me somewhere new in the world; it’s become an obsession to find the next location, bargain and if I get time to practice on my cooking skills, even better.

I occasionally row on the Thames, training for the Great River race every other year. Next year I face the challenge of rowing 34km in a gig round the island of Venice, an upgrade from 2 years ago in the double kayak!

I have recently become the Curator of Ted X Kingston Upon Thames, as I love where we live and wanted to actively participate in the community.  It’s proving a great way to stay in touch with different topics and develop a wide network.  I am fascinated by social media and how it influences our social and work lives.

Being really proud to live and work in London, I do try to maximize the benefit by visiting the theatre, art galleries, and of course restaurants as much as possible.

How do you manage your work/life balance?

The concept of work life balance is becoming dated; we need to think of it as ‘blended life’ with mobile tools and locations.  I always try to be flexible in my hours so take back time for myself after some long weeks at quarter end but know I may need to take a client call late at night.

We always have a choice, we can always switch the phone off or resist sneaking a look at email at weekends but ultimately it’s a personal choice.

Personally, I like to blitz emails very early in the morning, then try not to return until I’ve had a few meetings or it can become my sole focus.  However, I don’t expect others to reply early in the morning or at weekends, again this is my personal preference.  I also think having some active outside interest helps us all to switch off (you can’t keep seven rowers waiting by the river for you) and we perform our roles better.

Do you have any recommendations for those aspiring to an executive career?

Be yourself and don’t pretend – it’s just not sustainable or we should have taken up acting.

I do really like the concept today that the executive roles we once aspired to may not exist in the future as new ones develop.  So if you want an exec career you need to be a rounded individual with as many different experiences as possible.  My career has spanned many brands, roles and functions and has helped me become who I am today.

I also advocate progressing your career in the time lines that suit you. That’s the strength of working in IBM.  I chose not to become an executive until my children were independent.  Both my husband and I had to compromise on job moves to ensure we had partnership to support our children. IBM allowed me to have that choice – the freedom to pace my progression, and I am very happy I did!

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