The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 11, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person Nov. 30.
Next is Business Development Executive of the Year (Public Company) finalist Michelle Rudnicki, who’s vice president of U.S. public sector at NetApp. Here, she talks success in her current role, primary focus areas going forward, career advice and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
My team. One of the best leaders that I worked for would always answer the question, “How are you doing?” with the response, “I am only as good as you are.” As leaders, we can set vision, establish culture, provide direction and coaching and sometimes lead by example, but we can’t do it all ourselves. Our people are the heart and the engine of our organizations.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by a team that can take the vision and guidance that I provide and translate that into direction and action for their teams. Working together we have been able to change outcomes for ourselves and our clients.
One of the other keys to success is our culture. Again, I feel fortunate to be working for a company that promotes a strong set of values that keep us grounded around our customers, our communities, and our business. I know that there are a lot of companies that have similar sets of values, but they are only really effective when they are living values.
For me, this manifests itself in a couple of different ways. One, is in the respect that our team has for one another both professionally and personally and in the appreciation that they have for the mission of our public sector clients.
The other is that we get to have an impact on our communities through the opportunities to volunteer with our co-workers at organizations like the Capital Area Food Bank or through internal organizations like NetVets which is an affinity group for those who have served our country.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
One of the things that I am most proud of with our team is the transformation that we are undergoing. As the world is undergoing this digital transformation powered by new technologies such as Cloud, AI, cyber, 5G, etc., the role of the CIO and IT has shifted to be more aligned to mission priorities.
Likewise, we have adjusted our focus to help customers adapt to these shifts. For a company like NetApp whose beginnings were as a hardware appliance, the evolution to a being cloud led data centric software company doesn’t happen overnight. The changes permeate every aspect of the business from the product portfolio to the go to market.
For NetApp U.S. Public Sector, I have been able to lean on the experiences that I gained in my previous companies of what has worked and what hasn’t to help us shift from being a product supplier to building business/mission value as a trusted partner to our customers. And, at the same time integrating our cloud capabilities.
It’s a journey, but I do feel like we have made progress in terms of shifting our messaging to how we can support our customers on their journey to cloud or to implementing AI, for example, instead of just technical capabilities. This is also beneficial for the partners that we work with who round out our solutions to make them truly mission focused.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Our primary focus is and always has been on data. It is the resource that drives decisions and provides better outcomes for citizens. As we follow the path of this data, there are three major technology initiatives that are important in making that data accessible to those who need the data: Cloud, cybersecurity, and AI/modern data analytics.
Government agencies have shifted their applications to cloud to take advantage of the flexibility, cost-advantages, and inherent security of the FedRAMP and Defense Department-certified cloud solutions. As part of these migrations, understanding where your data resides, where it is needed, and how to appropriately protect the security and privacy of that data are paramount to successful implementations.
Beyond cloud, we need to help our customers to align to the executive order on cybersecurity and the requirements to build zero trust architectures by providing them with the right set of capabilities to detect, protect, and remediate and recover from an intrusion. Building this solid data infrastructure provides the opportunity to use the data to gain greater insights through AI and modern data analytics.
These projects require large amounts of data to be available across the enterprise and on a timely basis to provide real-time decision making capabilities to mission owners. Specifically, we see the need for these capabilities in helping to build public health infrastructure, Climate Resilience and in Suicide Prevention especially as it relates to our military veterans.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
From a career standpoint, my view is that there is not one path. Each individual has to find the path where they have the opportunity to learn and grow while also contributing to the advancement of the organization. For me, I assess opportunities for both what I do I bring to the table as well as how can I grow from this experience.
In the past, I would assess opportunities as a three legged stool ⏤ if a job required three different skills, and if I had two of the three, I could learn the third and it was a fit. As the job landscape has changed ⏤ according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, 65% of students entering primary school today will end up working jobs that do not exist today ⏤ I believe that there is more opportunity than ever to look at your set of experiences and see how they can help to evolve into different job opportunities and in new fields like AI and cybersecurity. I am a long way from my undergraduate studies as a chemical engineer and appreciate all the experiences that have gotten me to where I am now by not just following a straight line but by moving in different directions.