Clara Conti is a partner leading the newly created Business Development/Capture and Proposal Center of Excellence at IBM. Throughout her career as a hands-on change agent in organizations ranging from entrepreneurial startups to large global organizations, she has been a champion of authentic leadership, cultivating a growth mindset, mentoring future leaders and empowering high-performance teams.
With an unwavering focus on growth, sustainability and market leadership, Conti’s expertise and critical contributions include strategic planning and execution, sales strategy and pipeline development, executive leadership coaching and mentoring, operational and financial risk management, and managing large organizations.
Those actions align with her “motivate, lead, transform,” mantra. She says getting the job done is critical, and helping a team reach its potential requires a deep understanding of the individuals she leads.
“I find it essential to motivate my teams by understanding what’s important to them, encouraging authenticity and delegating leadership roles on projects that help them reach their potential,” Conti said.
“Authentic leaders are all about building relationships and cultivating connectedness,” she added. “If they are successful, their employees should do the same with whomever they work, and a chain reaction should continue from there.”
Conti operates on the idea that “leadership is more than management skills,” and that one’s mindset is key to organization success.
Conti said much of her work is focused on a digital reinvention strategy to create sustainable business development strategies in the sales and growth division. The future of work is human-centered, Conti said, and many of her work goals over the next 12-18 months revolve around automating and streamlining operations so employees can focus on the work machines can’t do.
Conti’s next goal is applying the digital reinvention strategy internally to use technologies that help better understand data and derive insights that can drive decision-making.
“True transformation doesn’t start and stop,” she added. “It’s a continuous process. What were once features that made companies exceptional have now become expectations. As those demands increase, they force companies into what we call Digital Darwinism. If we want to continue to transform the way the world does business, we need to view each challenge as an opportunity.”
Conti grew up in Rhode Island surrounded by strong, independent women who empowered and inspired her to become the businesswoman she is today. Her great aunt, an ordinary housewife with an extraordinary sense of courage, fought for women’s rights so the next generation could see more of the view from the top and less of the climb.
Conti indicated the most rewarding aspects of her work involve “seeing the women around me living so boldly — fearless in the pursuit of better business, confident in their intelligence, and committed to supporting their communities.”
Conti also works to connect with employees and the community through mentorship programs, a book club for women and by giving back to her community through contributions and philanthropic work focused on families in need in the Northern Virginia area. She also contributes to sales and marketing podcasts and writes for her blog at www.claramconti.com.
“Careers are not straight lines,” Conti said about her multifaceted background in internet and physical security, simulation software and management consulting. “I think you’re better off not having a ‘straight line,’ as it gives you a broader perspective and ability to integrate experiences from different roles and industries.”
Conti’s background includes being the founder of the security software firm Aurora Enterprise Solutions; being the CEO of the intelligent video software firm OBJECTVIDEO, Inc.; serving as turn-around executive for various companies; and operating her own consulting firm for several years prior to her joining IBM early last year as a partner and deal coach for large coaching complex deals in IBM Global Business Services, North America. The latter led to her taking on the role leading the Business Development/Capture and Proposal Center of Excellence.
Conti’s career highlights include leading the installment of intelligent video surveillance software at the U.S.-Canadian border as part of a national safety initiative after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and winning a Macy’s contract that employed 80,000 individuals with disabilities.
“It is no coincidence that these highlights are tied to impact on the greater community,” she said. “I have worked for several commercial companies and served as the CEO for a publicly traded company. The experiences that stand out the most are those that showed strength in numbers, and what we can accomplish when we push our limits.”
Conti’s advice to future leaders: “If you want to create a workplace and a life that positions you for success, focus on your mindset — it truly is the key to everything. Remember, everyone, and I do mean everyone, has something to offer, something to teach. When you see an opportunity, accept it. Don’t let fear get in the way. Appreciate and make room for mistakes, and recognize that a growth mindset involves embracing the entire journey, and not just the destination.”