How to make a career in a very large company

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: Interview with experts. Date:16.06.2011, 16:21.

How can one find one’s place in such a company and grow successfully with it? We ask Inna Kuznetsova. She is the sole vice-president of Russian origin at the headquarters of IBM, the author of the book “Up! A practical approach to career development”, recently published by Russian publishing house “Mann, Ivanov and Ferber”.

Inna Kuznetsova. Photo by Inna Penek

Inna Kuznetsova
In her current role as IBM Systems Software VP of Marketing & Sales enablement Ms Inna Kuznetsova built sales and marketing organizations for IBM Systems Software, the newest product line in IBM Systems and Technology group. It was created in 2009 to address the fast growing business in operating systems, virtualization, energy and system management, security and availability tools across all IBM hardware platforms. In addition, Ms Kuznetsova’s current organization includes cross-IBM Linux and Virtualization missions and she represents the company on the governance board of Open Virtualization Alliance. In the end of 2010 she expanded her role to cover joint marketing, sales enablement programs and strategic initiatives with ISVs working with IBM STG.

In her prior roles Ms Kuznetsova headed IBM Linux business in 2007-2009, was the WW Director of Marketing Planning and Execution for IBM Unix servers in 2006-2007 and held other executive and managerial positions. Ms Kuznetsova started her career in IBM in Russia in 1993 and moved to the US in the end of 1996. She was profiled by Forbes in Russia in June 2011 as the first VP of Russian origin in IBM headquarters. She also published a bestselling career book in Russian (Up! A practical approach to career growth – Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, Moscow, 2011).

Ms.Kuznetsova has MS in Mathematics & Computer Science from Moscow State University, Russia , and MBA from Columbia Business School.

– Inna, please, tell us, how did you come to work at IBM.
– In the early 1990-s I was doing the post-graduate study at the Moscow State University. The domestic science was in a crisis. It was hard to find a job where I could apply my intellectual potential and English skills. In 1993 I interviewed for a job with IBM, where as I later found out, 14 people applied for the position. My future manager promised to get back to me in two weeks – so just two weeks later I called him. Apparently, that call made a difference since he looked for someone who could be aggressive in sales, and I got the job. I started my work in IBM branch in Moscow as a marketing support representative for one of server platforms helping tobridge technicians and sales professionals. Because of the low number of people in the branch our job descriptions were very informal. I had to do a variety of tasks besides talking to customers and configuring servers like installing a demo system when an engineer was away or run national languages support projects. By the end of 1996 I became the head of the Sales Department that focused on customers in government organizations. Once you start selling well, you almost inevitably end up in sales. I led major projects with the Russian railways, academia, libraries, public organizations and telecommunications companies. In 1997 again aproached IBM for a new job, only this time it was in America.

– How was it?!..
– I came to the U.S. with my family though without the work permit because of the visa status. The immigration status change would have required a sponsorship from a local hiring company. I understood right away that I could not be idle. So I called everyone I knew at IBM. To be honest it was not easy to ask for a job in a foreign country… In the beginning I got a supplemental position without benefits. In a couple of years after showing good results project by project I was offered a permanent position and with time, a green card sponsorship, then worked my way back to managerial jobs. In 2006 I was promoted to an executive and became the Director of Marketing for IBM Power Systems servers.

– You are the vice-president today. What position do you now dream of?
– I’m superstitious and prefer not to discuss my future goals publicly, yet I am very interested to continue my personal and professional growth in a global company environment. In particular, I like being able to work with many cultures, as well change industries or professional fields. For example, I spent worked with Russia, have been engaged with multiple projects in China, Japan and Southeast Asia countries. I was a part of the managerial team that launched IBM Life Sciences, one of the most successful emerging business initiatives. And overall, I am the most attracted to the areas of new business or fast business growth.

– How have you become a writer?
– The story of my book «Up!» is typical for the era of blogs and social media. I started a Russian-language blog on «Live Journal» a long time ago. Once I became vice-president, I often have been asked about my career, management, conflict resolution or the value of business education. So I started to group such questions together and share tips on how to solve a particular problem or manage a personal career. My friends often encouraged me to write a book, so I checked out the Russian market of the business literature. It became clear that there were many success stories translated from other languages but not enough practical advice or books targeting Russian readers in the first place. There were many books on how to develop a small business but none on how to succeed in corporate life. I approached a couple publishing houses with a proposal to fill this gap, and a s result ‘Up!” was published by «Mann, Ivanov and Ferber» in the end of 2010 year.

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