A mentor and leader, powering Caterpillar’s performance through technology
I grew up in Glasford, a town of about 1,000 people. My parents are Peoria natives, and my dad still lives in Glasford today. I am a third-generation Caterpillar employee. My grandmother worked in the foundry during World War II, and both of my grandfathers worked at Caterpillar. My parents met at Caterpillar, and my only sibling, Susan, works here, too. I guess you can say we are a Caterpillar family!
I was a pricing analyst at Caterpillar for five years before I worked in Cat Logistics as an account representative calling on automotive clients. My first formal leadership role was back in pricing. From there, I was a product manager, then commercial manager in Remanufacturing, followed by human resources manager for one of our prime product facilities. I served as business manager in Global Mining, chief financial officer of the Mining Division after the Bucyrus acquisition, and vice president of the Finance Services Division before coming to Global Information Services.
My career path has not been typical, but with every position, I asked myself three questions: Can I contribute and add value to the role? Will I enjoy the work? And will I learn something new that will help my personal and professional development? There were times I entered a role without having deep expertise in that area, but it added a tool to my toolbox as a leader. Sometimes, those are the best roles.
What is it like to lead a team responsible for global information technology, especially in light of your non-technical background? What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? Greatest accomplishments?
It’s awesome to be able to work with experts in the IT field every day. IT is not my background, so I am certainly learning a lot from the people in my division. I am also able to share my business knowledge with them and help bridge the communication gap between the IT group and the business. I am thoroughly impressed by everything that IT touches at Caterpillar, which can be a differentiator for Caterpillar’s competitive edge. The challenge, though, is how quickly technology changes. As a global manufacturing company with a global workforce, it is tough to keep up and get ahead of technology trends.
What are your larger goals in your role as CIO? How do you see Caterpillar’s technology evolving in the coming decade?
Ultimately, the goal is to help our customers succeed. Technology is a significant factor for customers when they decide where to take their business. My goal is to power Caterpillar’s performance through technology and give our workforce what it needs to work effectively. We can accomplish that by transforming the IT organization into a strategic partner that provides proactive technology solutions to business problems.
Tell us briefly about your commitment to Peoria, to helping others and to giving back to the community.
I am continuously impressed by the generosity in this community, and I don’t just mean Caterpillar. I have had the opportunity to work with several organizations through the years that are full of people who wake up every day focused on how to help other people. We are lucky to live in an area where there is such generosity and caring. We all need help sometimes, and I am thankful for those in our community who have devoted their lives to helping others. I want to play a part in that as well. I also appreciate working for a company that encourages me to give to the causes I care about. I’m lucky enough to have worked with organizations like Easter Seals, Crittenton Centers and The Salvation Army. I commend Peoria’s social services community and hope to continue supporting those causes for years to come.
You were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. How did you handle this news, especially given the intense responsibilities of your career?
It was a shock. We found it through a regularly scheduled mammogram. After telling my family and my team at work, I told my organization through a video sent directly to all employees. I wanted to share that story because I know how easy it is for all of us to put off physicals and screening tests. I figured if one person chose to make time to get their test scheduled after hearing my story, then it was worth going public with it. It also coincided with my job change to chief information officer, and I did not want my new team to feel that I had just “disappeared” in some way. I felt it was important to explain my absence from work. One in eight women will face breast cancer in their lifetime, and I have gotten to know several women with aggressive cancer and extremely difficult treatment plans. I feel very fortunate that my cancer was found early and that I am healthy today.
How do you maintain a balance between work and your personal life?
There is no magic formula. You have to figure out what works for you, and understand that what works for you is not the same as what works for everyone else. Also, no one is going to ask you what you need in terms of balance—and that’s okay. It is each person’s responsibility to determine what balance looks like for them and then make that a priority in their lives. When my kids were small, I knew the most impactful times I had with them were breakfast and dinner, so I protected that time as much as possible and made myself available at all other hours, if necessary. I still protect those times, even as they are older.
What is your leadership philosophy?
This sounds simple, but I live by this: The best I can do is the best I can do. If you do your best at everything, what else can you ask of yourself? Once you feel you have done your best, it is important to give yourself a break and have confidence going forward. I think it is important not to get stuck by the things that don’t go so well. That can impact your ability to make decisions, and the worst thing you can do is feel so nervous to make a mistake that you do nothing.
I also believe leaders have to find an authentic way to communicate. Transparency and open dialogue are important. People are most fearful of what they don’t know. Because of that, it is less of a risk to face my team and say, “I don’t know,” or “I know, but I can’t share that and here’s why,” than to say nothing at all—especially when business is tough. The bottom line is: treat others the way you want to be treated. People do not want to feel like there are closed-door conversations happening all the time. It’s important for leaders to be visible, available and willing to engage in open dialogue.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My parents taught me to always have perspective; we all have challenges, and the way we deal with them is what helps to define us as human beings. My cancer diagnosis was shocking and depressing, obviously. But my perspective was that it was caught early, I had an excellent medical team and the support of wonderful friends and family, and I am doing well. There are a lot of things to be positive and happy about in that.
Happiness is a choice. We all have to decide if we pursue that choice. I would say that my parents not only offered that as advice, but they role-modeled that behavior in their lives. My mother was one of the strongest people I have ever known—and as I reflect on her 80 wonderful years on this planet, I realize that they were wonderful because she made it so, not because everything was good all the time, because it wasn’t. But she chose happiness. She never felt sorry for herself and always put forth extra effort to help those in need. My father is facing health challenges today and even through that, he keeps a positive attitude and never loses faith or gives up. He is facing his illness the way he has lived his entire life: goal-focused and pushing forward.
What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
It’s more important to “know what you don’t know” than to “know what you know.” I think all business people—but maybe even more so, women, in my experience—feel they have to know everything all the time or they will look inferior to their peers. The truth is no one knows everything. Having the confidence to admit what you don’t know and rely on the experts around you is key to growing in your leadership capability. This also requires a level of confidence in your own abilities to be able to admit when you don’t know something.
What inspires you?
People who overcome obstacles and do remarkable things are inspirational. There are people in the world facing enormous challenges—whether it is a disability or living in poverty—and you always see heroes emerge under the most difficult circumstances. I try to remember that whenever I think I’m having a bad day. Perspective is a beautiful thing.
As a child, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
A teacher. I had a second-grade teacher, Mrs. Collins, who was so kind and a great educator. She made me feel like I could help people by teaching. While I’m not a teacher today, I do enjoy mentoring others and continuously learning how to improve as a leader at Caterpillar. iBi