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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Aspen Institute 36th Awards Dinner

Category: Regional
November, 2019
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

It is a great honor tonight to be asked to introduce Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of IBM, and a dear friend and colleague.

I have served IBM as a director since 2005, and currently, I chair the Directors and Corporate Governance Committee, and sit on the Executive Committee. As a result, I have a particularly privileged view into the “high standards of honor, integrity, industry, and philanthropy” that tonight are being honored with the Henry Crown Leadership Award.

Ginni Rometty, who has served as CEO of IBM since 2012, has courageously and gracefully transformed a 108-year-old company for leadership in an age in which the volume of digital data that humanity is generating is altering our world completely — an age in which we require new ways to turn data into information, to uplift, and even save, human lives.

IBM is a very large ship to turn around, with nearly 400,000 employees in 175 countries, but Ginni’s vision and gift of inspiring others have allowed IBM to set the pace in fields that include artificial intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing, and the hybrid cloud.

After graduating with high honors in computer science and electrical engineering from Northwestern University in 1979, Ginni began her career with IBM in 1981, as a systems engineer for banking customers. As Senior Vice President of IBM Global Business Services, she led the largest acquisition in the history of professional services, successfully integrating Pricewaterhouse Coopers Consulting into IBM, with great sensitivity to the challenges of merging cultures, and with a warm welcome to the newcomers that ensured the success of the match.

Today, as IBM CEO, she has spearheaded a powerful combination with Red Hat, the open-source cloud software company, after the third largest acquisition in United States technology history closed in July, 2019.

As Senior Vice President and Group Executive of IBM Sales, Marketing, and Strategy, Ginni sharply increased IBM’s presence in emerging economies, and with “the smarter planet” initiative, helped businesses, governments, and civil organizations to use the “Internet of Things,” and sophisticated analytics and algorithms, to create much more responsive and human-focused systems for transportation, food, energy, and health care.

As CEO, Ginni is distinctive in her willingness to invest in long-range objectives, and in research in nascent fields that may take years to bear fruit. As a result, IBM is a wonderful partner for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in many remarkable research projects focused on great global challenges, including…

  • The Jefferson Project, which is using smart sensor platforms placed in fresh water ecosystems that generate massive amounts of streaming data, to better understand the threats to our fresh water resources in a thirsty world;
  • Our Cognitive and Immersive Systems laboratory, which is creating smart situations rooms with hierarchies of intelligent agents, to facilitate meetings and to vastly enhance group decision-making; and
  • Our Center for Computational Innovations, where the frontiers of data-centric, artificial-intelligence-enabled high-performance computing are being explored.

Her strengths as a leader include the compassion and frankness with which she discusses the societal changes and challenges spurred by the digitization of everything. Indeed, she insists that the builders of new technologies have to bring them safely into the world.

Ginni has averred that “trust is the defining issue of our time,” that data belongs to its owner, and that artificial intelligence must be used transparently and wisely.

She has spoken of the need to make the benefits of technology inclusive, and to ready those without bachelor’s degrees for what she calls “New Collar” tech jobs, as artificial intelligence transforms the world of work. Toward that end, IBM has partnered with public schools and created a remarkably successful new educational model spanning grades 9 to 14 called P-Tech, or Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools. P-Tech students graduate with both a high school diploma and a no-cost associate’s degree in applied science, engineering, computer science, or another STEM discipline, and with the skills — should they chose not to go on to a bachelor’s — to move into high-growth jobs generated by our digital age. Many P-Tech students are the first in their families to earn a college degree.

Ginni Rometty is at once deeply principled, as a person and as a CEO — yet truly willing to take large risks to benefit her business and the world at large. This combination of qualities is inspiring, exhilarating, and endearing. She is a wonderful leader, and a wonderful friend.

Ginni, congratulations on an honor truly and well deserved.