How I Got Here

Working Mother - - Contents - Michelle Peluso IBM, Chief Mar­ket­ing Of­fi­cer

IBM’s CMO re­flects on the role of fail­ures and risks in her im­pres­sive ca­reer jour­ney.

LO­CA­TION New York City CHIL­DREN Au­den, 9, and Cole, 7

Fif­teen-minute meet­ings. Mak­ing quick de­ci­sions. Lead­ing by ex­am­ple. That’s what’s helped Michelle Peluso win the re­spect of man­agers and re­ports—and get home to her fam­ily at a rea­son­able hour ev­ery day, de­spite her lofty ti­tles and moun­tains of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. That’s not to say she hasn’t strug­gled along the way. “You don’t al­ways get it right. You’re go­ing to fail and mess up and dis­ap­point your kids, your­self and your boss some­times,” Michelle ad­mits. “But it’s worth it to show the girls who come be­hind us that we opened the door for them even far­ther. You’ve gotta pick your­self back up.”

Case in point: In the wake of 9/11, the rev­enues on her now-de­funct on­line travel com­pany, Site59, hit rock-bot­tom. “We were a cou­ple of blocks from Ground Zero. I had a dev­as­tated em­ployee group. Our busi­ness model was in jeop­ardy. In­vestors were freak­ing out. We had stranded trav­el­ers. We had to op­er­ate on all fronts in cri­sis mode. It took ruth­less pri­or­i­tiz­ing and in­cred­i­ble fo­cus—with huge heart. I poured ev­ery­thing I could into mo­ti­vat­ing and in­spir­ing the team. The great­est lead­er­ship les­son of my life came out of that.” Just a few months later, the busi­ness was ac­quired by Trav­e­loc­ity, which led to a se­nior vice pres­i­dent po­si­tion there, and even­tu­ally, her next CEO gig.

Her ad­vice to other work­ing moms: “Bring your whole per­son­al­ity and au­then­tic­ity to work. Take grace along, and find hu­mor in it all.”

“For­give your­self, learn what you can, and move for­ward with even more tenac­ity.”

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