The concept of "workday" doesn't match reality for Patt Romero Cronin. As vice-president of Global Business Transformation at International Business Machines (IBM), she manages the corporation's internal information technology needs for 196,000 professionals, 24 hours day, around the world.
"Because it's global in scope, there's no typical time zone in this job. At four in the morning I can talk to Europe, and late at night to the Pacific Rim," says Ms. Cronin, a finalist for the 2006 Hispanic Business Woman of the Year award. On a recent day, Ms. Cronin started at 6 a.m. with a call to IBM's business transformation CIO to coordinate technology needs for the service part of IBM's business, which accounts for more than half of the company's revenues.
Then she presided over a conference call of the Hispanic Diversity Group to plan a series of career seminars for Hispanic executives. In the afternoon she focused on the transformation aspect of her job by reviewing internal IBM processes. Working with specific geographical and technical teams, she figured out how to streamline IBM's business methods and then incorporated the necessary hardware, software, and networking to make the new methods function correctly. Finally, she discussed "deployment" of these methods, planning the execution globally.
At 4:30, she spent some time at her Bay Area office in San Ramon, California, with IBM colleagues visiting from Europe, Asia, and other parts of the United States. Then she went home for dinner with the family, supervised her children's homework, put them to bed, and worked from 8 to 11 p.m. on a presentation for the next day. "Then a quick call to check in with my people in Asia, and off to bed," she concludes.
Worldwide Work Place
Like "workday," the concept of "work place" seems simplistic in Ms. Cronin's world. Her boss lives in Austin, Texas, and she regularly consults or handles projects for about 300 executives around the world. "This configuration is not unusual," says Mike Dawkins, general manager for Services Excellence and Ms. Cronin's direct manager. "Everyone who works for me works globally. When we realign, instead of moving people around, we reconfigure. Of course, we have terrific technical support."
Ms. Cronin mostly helps other IBM executives, but the company uses its own IT capabilities as a showcase to outside clients. "Our goal is to allow our strategic partners [clients] to be innovators, but IBM must be the innovator's innovator," she says. "We have things internally that we can take to customers. Being an innovator, innovating at IBM, and then taking that to customers enables them to move their business forward."
Money looms as a big challenge in advancing IBM's use of technology, according to Mr. Dawkins. The company loves to show IT in action, but like most major corporations, it works hard to manage expenses. Ms. Cronin "has been remarkable," Mr. Dawkins says, "at that dual responsibility – increasing capability and reducing costs."
For her, the best part of her job involves dealing with people across cultures, a skill she derives from her Hispanic heritage. "I have made it to my position because of my background. As a child, I was constantly blending two cultures," she says. "Now I'm blending a team with Korean, Japanese, Latin American, and European members. It's almost second nature to me because I did it as a child."
Colleagues describe Ms. Cronin as a consummate executive. "The first thing that pops into my mind – she's very competent," says Mr. Dawkins. "She's organized, knows the subject, and plans well. And whatever she plans, you can count on its execution."
"She's committed. When she takes on a project, she sees it through," concurs Linda McCracken, president of Junior Achievement of the Bay Area, an organization that teaches children about the free enterprise system by bringing executives as guest lecturers to local schools. Ms. Cronin serves on the organization's board and acts as "the chief force behind IBM's participation," according to Ms. McCracken.
Ms. Cronin also has served for six years on the Pan American Roundtable, an organization dedicated to promoting higher education among Hispanics.
Firm Grasp of Software
She started at IBM in 1981 as a software engineer with the Office Products Division in San Francisco. In 1983, she moved to the IBM Silicon Valley Laboratory as a programmer to work on the database programs DB2 and IMS. In 1994, she became director of worldwide marketing for database products, and two years later was named director of marketing strategy and business development for independent software vendors.
Before assuming her current position, she was vice-president for IBM's e-business services and integration group. In that role she led a global team of more than 12,000 IBM consultants who helped clients plan, design, and implement e-business solutions.
The most high-profile assignment of Ms. Cronin's career came in 1999, when she was appointed vice-president of Olympic Technology Integration for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The task involved developing software for tracking Olympic athletes, measuring their performance, and communicating results to the public.
"The Olympics are always complicated because there are new requirements, new games, and a new organization created just for those games," says Mr. Dawkins, who came to the project after working on the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. "We were a bit behind schedule and a had a lot of [software] development work to do."
But Ms. Cronin delivered. The critical software was written and tested by a subcontractor in Spain, where her fluency with the language and familiarity with Hispanic culture smoothed the job. The final assemblage of programs included immigration and application forms for every athlete from every country; game schedules, scores, and statistics for 37 sports; and channels to wire results and graphics worldwide to broadcasters, news agencies, and sports commentators.
"I was proud to be part of a global team, made up of people who spoke multiple languages, represented different cultures, and worked in different time zones," says Ms. Cronin. "Nonetheless, we flawlessly delivered 13 million lines of code right in front of a global audience of millions of spectators."
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