‘No Substitute for Detail’ and Other Pieces of Career Advice from this Female IBM Executive

What does a career woman do to stand out and excel in a large corporation, while managing work-life balance, and staying motivated? Mary O’Brien, a global executive for IBM Security, shares her career advice for professionals aspiring to a leadership role.

Mary O'Brien imageMary O’Brien is the Vice President of Research and Development for IBM Security. In this role, she runs a team of around 2,000 engineers in 30 locations worldwide who innovates, develops, and delivers a vast portfolio of leading Security products. She runs a very modern, agile organization that delivers products that solve the CISO’s problems today and in the future. Mary has 30 years of industry experience from developing ASICs for the telecoms sector to running worldwide Software and Hardware organisations with tenures in Ireland, UK, and USA.

You have an impressive leadership background. Could you share with us the skills and experiences that you developed over your career that helped you attain this position?

Throughout my career I have learned that there is no substitute for detail. Attention to detail, detailed planning, questioning, tracking and execution, coupled with a close and regular communication with end users/customer leads to quality useful products delivered on time.

I have also learned that employees thrive in a transparent environment, where there is good work to be done, where goals and objectives are clear, where good performance is rewarded and regular, clear, data driven performance feedback is communicated.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?

The most rewarding aspect of my role is the ever-changing landscape, the continuous evolution of technology, the continuous learning and opportunity to grow. I get the pleasure of working with world class innovators in an environment where research and groundbreaking technological evolution is needed, encouraged, funded and rewarded.  Above all else, I get to apply all of this brain power to critical real world problems in the Security space.

How do you manage your work life balance?

I have two sons, both grown up now, but I have worked throughout their lives. I have always found that the leaders I have worked for are completely flexible and understanding of the pressures of family life, but I have never compromised my work. That has meant that I oftentimes worked at nighttime to complete work items. Work life balance is about give and take. As my career evolved, I found it necessary to adjust my working day to align with US working hours. My children no longer need the attention that they needed during their infancy or school days, however work life balance is still a consideration. It is now about fitting in exercise, time with my husband and hobbies.

What are your top tips for someone looking to work at a senior level in a large corporation?

My top tip for someone looking to work at a senior level is to understand the business, understand the competition – both existing and emerging – and watch their evolution, understand your customer, and know the strategy of your business so that you can be an effective part of a successful team.


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