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Question: 30-year career

Kevin Clark: Went very fast. Thirty years went much faster than many people would imagine. You know, some people to achieve variety in their career will move from one company to another and find that what they're doing is their asked to do the same thing that they did at the previous company, do that again for us. During my 30 years, I had the ability to have at least seven or eight separate distinct careers because I would master something, decide that that was great but I'd like to try something else. The IBM company is diverse enough and interesting enough and flexible enough that if you express that interest, they let you go take it.

In the last 20 years out of a 30 year career, I actually never took another person's job. I stopped looking for jobs and started to create roles; roles that I would be interested in and that's kind of the dirty secret of Kevin's career at IBM is that they were kind of paying me to do what I like to do anyway. Now I'm continuing to do that on my own.

Question: What’s one mistake you made?

Kevin Clark: One of the mistakes that was made -- and I was just talking about this at lunch with someone, in fact -- was not taking full advantage when we reorganized after the chaos. Sometimes you would land in another area and you would have had the ability to maybe make a different kind of change and you didn't really act fast enough to take advantage of the chaos. Sometimes you would end up reporting to someone that you didn't know. Almost every time that I was discouraged in my career, it was because I was working with someone where we had a little bit of friction. I kind of agree with the phrase, "People don't quit companies, they quit managers." Those are the times when I should have acted a little bit more quickly to get into a good situation. I started to get much better of that later in my career than I was earlier.

Question: What’s the worst advice you’ve received?

Kevin Clark: I guess the worst advice that I received was you need to become extremely deep in one thing and become good at that and stick with it forever. Although, I have developed some areas of expertise where I'm known, really the strength of my background and career is through the diversity of things that I'm interested in, that I continue to learn and I never considered my education to end. I actually have started a group where we teach each other; I knew that my executive education days were over and professional education, so I have started my own professional education self-help group.

By looking at many, many things and continuing to include and transcend known categories, it keeps me fresh, it keeps me interested in what I am doing, and makes me more valuable to the clients that I serve and just keeps me energized for waking up and tackling the day.

Question: Who was your best manager?

Kevin Clark: I remember several managers that were quite good. We had just gone through one of the reorganizations that I talked about. This particular gentleman sat me down and said, "I don't know who you are, or why you're reporting to me now, but I just have a few things that I want to share with you early on. I have every confidence that you're going to do fine here because we hire great people in this company; however, I've got two relationships with you. The first one is professional, the second one is personal. In our professional life, you're either going to do great here and I'll appraise and rate you accordingly or, if not, I'll let you know. Then on the personal side, we are either going to get alone and we're going to be friends or I'm not going to like and that's alright because if you're doing a good job and I don't like, you'll still get the raises, you'll still get the performances, but if I do like you and you're not doing the work, you'll get that signal too."

So I thought that was a very clear three-minute description, or less, of what it was going to be like, what his expectations were, and it just imprinted on me. I still remember those first few minutes with him and thinking how clear that was. I immediately stole it and used it as I became a manager and I had four other people who came to work for me.

Recorded on: August 25, 2009


Thirty Years at IBM

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