IBM’s Anne Altman set to retire; new leader named
IBM Corp. is a huge company with hundreds of thousands of employees, but if you mention IBM Federal, people are likely to think of one person – Anne Altman.
She has held various leadership positions in IBM’s government business for most of her 34-year career at Big Blue, including her most recent position as general manager of IBM Federal.
Now, at age 56, she is retiring, and Sam Gordy, formerly senior vice president and group president of integrated systems at Leidos Inc., has been named as the new general manager.
Gordy’s first day will be Monday, and Altman’s retirement is effective Jan. 31.
“I’ve been thinking about this quite a while,” she said. “And it’s the right moment. I have an extraordinary leadership team in the federal market, and I feel like I can pass the baton and do so when my team is really prepared to be successful in this new world we live in today.”
Altman began her career as a systems engineer working on an IBM project at the FBI, and rose through the ranks. In 1995, IBM was retooling under CEO Louis Gerstner Jr. and decided to sell its Federal Systems Division to Loral Corp. That business was heavily involved in satellite and defense work and wasn’t known so much for IT.
Altman was picked to manage that divestiture, which raised her stature at IBM and led to a series of other posts in software, global sales and marketing.
But IBM never completely left the federal market and was focusing on hardware, software, research and consulting. In 1999, she returned to the federal business in a marketing role. By 2001, IBM formally created a new federal group with Altman as its managing director.
An early success was the $1.3 billion Automated Customs Environment contract with the then Customs Service. Then, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred, and IBM never looked back on its decision to recommit itself to the federal market.
Altman left the federal business in 2007 and led the company’s server hardware business during the launch of one of its most important products, the System z mainframe.
She then led IBM’s global public sector business before returning to IBM Federal in 2013.
“I’ve worked under four CEOs, and I’ve experienced more positions and responsibilities than I ever imagined,” Altman said. “I’ve traveled the world with IBM, and I’ve had global roles, but my heart has always been with the federal business.”
Since she returned to federal she’d led a transformation in that business that parallels changes in IBM as a whole as it moves toward becoming a company focused on cognitive solutions and cloud computing.
Altman ticked over several ways IBM Federal has changed since 2013. The company has:
- Created a cloud innovation center
- Hired IBM’s first chief innovation officer to pull innovations from IBM Research into the government space and take government needs back to the research group
- Built two data centers that are FedRAMP certified and more certifications are on the way for other facilities
- Created an analytics solutions center that draws on cognitive computing and Watson’s capabilities for the public sector
“We also restructured the organization to align around the core strengths – security, analytics, cognitive, mobile, commerce, and the cloud – to bring deep expertise and skills to serve the market,” she said.
She also recognized that not only does the federal government have a workforce challenge, but so does IBM, which led her to create her Millennial Council. ”How do we work with young professionals to make sure their voices are heard because they have views of how the business of the future can look,” she said. “So they have been guiding me and help to set the agenda.”
Over the years, Altman has also been very active in industry groups and considers many executives at rival companies as colleagues and not competitors. “We all have the greater interest of government at heart,” she said.
She’s been active with Northern Virginia Technology Council, AFCEA and the Professional Services Council, to name a few. For PSC, she is leading the search committee to find the replacement for Stan Soloway, that group’s long time president and CEO. And no, she isn’t recommending herself for the job.
Among her many honors is a 2005 Eagle award giving by Washington Technology's sister publication, FCW, for Altman's work supporting the federal government.
After 34 years of going 100 miles an hour, as she described it, “one of the things to do now is to step back and give myself some space,” she said. “I need to breathe and evaluate what will be next, and I guarantee you, there will be something next.”
As she transitions out of IBM, Altman said it was important that a successor come on board quickly. The company has been conducting a search for the past few months as Altman told CEO Ginni Rometty about her decision. The hiring of Gordy also fits a trend at the company of looking to the outside as a source of new leaders.
An IBM spokesman said the company hired 200 executives in 2015 from outside the company as part of a transformation strategy to bring outside perspectives and new ideas.
For Altman, it was important to not leave a gap in leadership in the federal market. “It is IBM’s largest client, and it is an extraordinary marketplace; that is why we didn’t want a hole,” she said.
She has been preparing what she called “control” books detailing IBM’s culture, relationships and the team Gordy is inheriting. The two will be at IBM for a couple weeks together. A short transition, but Altman said that is better than one that would stretch out over months. A long transition isn’t necessary.
“He’s an experienced executive, and he’s getting a great team,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere, so he can reach out anytime.
Her most immediate plans are a trip with the National Symphony to Spain. She’s the treasurer of the symphony’s board of trustees.
She’s also signed up for a workshop at GAP International and its Leveraging Genius Institute. “I’m going to use that as an opportunity to invest in myself and think about what I want to do next,” she said.
Whatever is next, chances are the federal space is where she’ll likely play. There is plenty of room for an Act 2 for Altman, or as she said, even an Act 3.
Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 13, 2016 at 12:02 PM