2014 GovCon Award Nominee, Anne Altman, Discusses 30-Plus Year IBM Career

Anne Altman, IBM US Federal

Anne Altman, IBM U.S. Federal

On Sept. 4, the finalists for this year’s Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards were announced and WashingtonExec is bringing you its annual series with the nominees.

The winners will be unveiled on Nov. 13 at The Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Professional Services Council. With more than 1,000 business and public sector leaders attending the event, our series will keep you up-to-date about all the finalists for this year — who they are, what they do and why they are worthy of winning.

Our next interview is with Anne Altman, General Manager, Federal Government and Industries, IBM Corporation. She is nominated for “Executive of the Year” in the $300 million and more category.

WashingtonExec: What would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?

Anne Altman: The ability to listen and to create an aspiration which inspires others to want to follow. I believe that leadership is bestowed, not assumed, and it is through one’s actions that one earns the title of leader.

I would recommend that when it comes to their recruiting efforts, that they not underestimate the new generation — the Millenials — and their passion for service and making a contribution. I think government contractors can do a lot more to tap this incredible talent base.

WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style?

Anne Altman: They would say that I embrace diversity, value inclusion and strive for making a difference in all that we do in support of the business of our government, our citizens and our employees. Being authentic in what I bring to the job is very important to me, and I believe it inspires confidence; however, it is less about a management style and more about a passion to lead.

WashingtonExec: How would your team describe your leadership qualities?

Anne Altman: To begin they would say that I inspire people to see possibilities, to see the future and envision how we get there. They would say, that I am open to suggestions, that I lead with conviction and I and my team are accountable for results.

WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

Anne Altman: In 1994, IBM sold its Federal Systems Division which I had only recently joined to help build a commercial integration business. The sale presented a decision point for me personally, go with the divestiture or stay with IBM. I stayed with IBM. I was assigned to lead the transition team for the divestiture. That responsibility set me on a path to do many different things within IBM. From software sales to marketing to running the mainframe and public sector businesses, I was challenged and grew on many fronts. Each of these experiences expanded my understanding of the business, increased my network inside and out and better prepared me to bring the depth and breadth of IBM to our federal clients while advocating and translating the technology requirements of the government to the IBM company.

WashingtonExec: What is the No. 1 book that you gift to individuals?

Anne Altman: I have been influenced by many books, many authors, and many leaders. You may be surprised, but there is one book that stands out from my childhood. My father was in the newspaper business. Our house was a place where big ideas were discussed and debated. And following his lead, I was a curious kid, always asking questions, “What’s behind the clouds” or “What’s beyond the stars?” To support that curiosity (and to limit my endless questions) he bought me a book called, Tell Me Why. My Dad is 90 now, and I still have and treasure that book as a reminder of the value of curiosity. It’s a quality I inherited from my Dad, and that curiosity — always asking why — has helped me tremendously throughout my career.

WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?

Anne Altman: First, I would say congratulations on making the rewarding choice to help serve through this unique opportunity we have in government contracting to make a real difference in the world. Second, I would recommend that when it comes to their recruiting efforts, that they not underestimate the new generation — the Millenials — and their passion for service and making a contribution. I think government contractors can do a lot more to tap this incredible talent base. Third, I would encourage them to focus on developing the skills of their team, particularly around the area of data analytics, which is going to be absolutely critical for government as it grapples with the incredible growth of data and the need to extract insight for mission outcome.

WashingtonExec: What was your first job?

Anne Altman: I was an IBM “co-op” in college, working in accounts receivable/payable. My degree is in marketing, and I originally planned to go into advertising or marketing; however, I did have a passion to fix things and get my hands dirty. For instance, when I was in high school, I rebuilt a car. And, as fate would have it, the IBM branch I was supporting had an outing that included a boat ride on the branch manager’s sail boat. In a somewhat awkward situation, the inboard motor would not start. Little did they know that it was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my mechanical prowess. As they say, the rest is history, instead of pursuing a job in marketing, IBM offered and I accepted a role as a Systems Engineer.

WashingtonExec: Overall, how did that experience shape your career?

Anne Altman: It set me on a spectacular 30-plus year path with IBM. IBM has afforded me to grow and experience many businesses and responsibilities over the years. Today it is expected that a young person will work for seven to 10 companies during their working lives. I have had the opportunity to do so within one company, IBM — from sales and marketing to solutions and technology to local and global roles as well as the management of P&Ls.

WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?

Anne Altman:

  1. Be authentic, true to yourself and your values. There will always be social and business temptations to behave otherwise, but adhering to the principals you believe in helps you make better decisions and helps others trust those decisions.
  2. Find a cause and make it part of your life’s work. A cause can be nearly anything that drives you. What matters is that you believe in it.
  3. Love what you do — it gives you the energy to be your very best.

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