In business, change is a given, for both businesses and the executives that lead them. That's especially true at a high-tech company like IBM, which celebrates its 100th birthday this month.
IBM has long been in the information business, starting with scales, tabulators and clocks. The company has been a pioneer in the IT industry, designing and developing products to record, process, communicate, store and retrieve information. As the market changes, so does the company's technology-related solutions.
Today, Sharon Nunes is the vice president of IBM's Smarter Cities, one of IBM's pivotal growth businesses. The Smarter Cities initiative provides measurement and monitoring of information on city operations, such as traffic flow and water use. Before heading up that initiative, Nunes had been up, down and all around the global corporate giant -- starting in R&D, launching new business units like Big Green Innovations and Advanced Water Management, leading worldwide teams, engaging clients -- all the while traveling the world visiting scores of IBM's more than 170 sites worldwide to effect sustainable innovation.
She's an example of making change from the inside out, and for those looking to learn from her experience, she's a model of how to go about learning the ropes of sustainability while climbing the corporate ladder of a sprawling global company.
Part and parcel of IBM's sustainability-driven strategy, the organization Nunes heads recognizes that smarter cities will be economic growth engines of the 21st century and seeks ways to apply the company's unique set of capabilities to create, manage and run intelligent and interconnected infrastructures and systems for urban centers in every major geography.
As Nunes explained at WNSF's clean tech advantage summit in California last November, "to create value, it's important to encourage systematic social innovation," reinventing relationships, and re-evaluating values. That's part of what the company seeks through its collaborative, nine-member Green Sigma Coalition of corporate partners, which brings collective business expertise to its Smarter Cities program.
Lesson 1: Don't Be Afraid of the Detour
Part of successful innovation -- and progress -- is flexibility, she believes. "It's funny because people are always trying to plan for success," Nunes says. "I look at them and say 'it's great to have a plan, but I hope you're flexible, because taking a left or a right turn might lead to interesting results you wouldn't have experienced if you'd stuck to the plan.'"
Nunes' career path exemplifies the innovation inspired by flexibility, with more than a few left turns along the way. Trained as a materials scientist, she began her career in research and development, working for a decade on projects like electronic packaging for modules of IBM's high-end computers, then supporting the director of research with strategy and alignment with other IBM groups.