Ep 44: Susan Emerick: All You Need is Within You

Diva Tech Talk was pleased to interview Susan Emerick, Global Marketing Executive at IBM (www.ibm.com), educator and published author.  Susan’s multifaceted career and expertise highlights how far the technology industry has come in empowering clients to transform their businesses and develop competitive advantage using advanced analytics, machine learning, deep learning, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.  She co-authored a book:  THE MOST POWERFUL BRAND ON EARTH, (published in 2014 and available at www.amazon.com). It gives guidance to other marketing professionals, navigating digital and social media, to enable them to “embrace the change, advanced technologies, and apply it to what they’re doing.”  Susan’s inspiring and personal story offers a glimpse of what it takes to be a versatile woman in a complex and emerging field.

Susan credits her bucolic Midwestern upbringing, as one of five children, in a “country” environment (replete with trees, fields and “playing in the dirt”) for starting her interest in how things work and tech. “Technology has really been a critical part of my career, all the way along.  Science was actually something that always fascinated and inspired me, concepts of nature, patterns and how to apply those patterns to life.”

Susan’s first technology immersion was during two Michigan State University internships at General Motors (www.gm.com), in Flint, Michigan.  “I was asked to work on a program for indexing and cataloguing parts.   I realized that I really need to know this ‘technology thing.’ I remember my Dad saying that it’s really important to learn computers,” she said.  After graduation, with a marketing/advertising degree, she migrated to Syracuse, New York and was part of a small marketing agency, Eric Mower & Associates (www.mower.com) where she worked on large brands including megabrand Snapple (www.snapple.com).  She then moved back to Campbell-Ewald (www.c-e.com), a well-known Michigan-based advertising agency, where she worked for several years in their diversified accounts team, on direct response projects, developing customized consumer applications, for Planters Peanuts (www.planters.com), Johnson and Johnson (www.jnj.com), and GMAC (now Ally Financial: www.ally.com).  In all these experiences, “there was a thread of technology through how you are reaching customers directly, in personalized ways.”

Wanting to get experience on the brand side as a client, Susan then moved to Comerica Bank for two years in the direct marketing department, where she and her team were responsible for the merger of the brands of Comerica and Manufacturers Bank.  “I learned the ability to look at a large dataset, to combine and process all these customer accounts and welcome them into a newly-merged bank, and then complete the ‘re-branding’ of the new bank.”  After Comerica, Susan moved to Gale Research, (www.gale.com) the largest publisher for school and university libraries.  “It was a whole different data management process.  When you think about it, when you are managing writing, and publishing assets, you are dealing with how are we going to change our business strategy and our distribution strategy,” since Gale was moving textbooks to CD-ROM.  From there Susan jumped to being the Brand Manager for Thomas, The Tank Engine and Friends () for Handleman Company.   “That allowed me to learn retail, and brand management of a licensed brand --- working through how a brand manifests itself into all different entities; how do you contain and really represent the brand as you distribute into many different outlets.”

Susan was then recruited by IBM when they were looking for individuals who could apply direct response expertise and data management practices to build their integrated marketing communications practice. “At that time, within 18 months, they said ‘would you apply your skills to the Internet --- it’s going to be a really big thing.’  So I was afforded the opportunity to build IBM.com and launch many of the e-commerce capabilities to purchase something from the Web! I like to think of myself as a digital native, being involved in building a web presence for the world’s largest tech company.”   At IBM, Susan loved “the ability to always experiment and evolve with emerging technology,” that the company gave her.   “There were things that I trialed all the way from emerging technologies to today’s advanced applications that use machine learning.”  One of her favorite projects was building IBM’s global Web presence, “and seeing how to take that global Web presence and localize it across the globe, localizing into different languages, to be able to connect with customers and really help them to understand very complex technologies and break it down into meaningful experiences.”   Another key project that Susan worked on was building IBM’s social media listening practice and influencer marketing practice: “architecting how social listening and deep analytics could be applied to social media, and how to engage effectively to reach your customer, influence your customer, and build your own brand to be influential.”

Throughout her robust career, Susan relied on many of her personal strengths:
·      Strong curiosity
·      Embracing and not being afraid of change
·      Open-mindedness
·      The ability to collaborate, well, with multi-disciplinary and diverse teams

“Women are always in a position of having to prove their strengths, and pushing boundaries. I tried hard to mentor upcoming professionals, and always really felt it was important to be the one who was truly setting the example. Modeling the way with professionalism, with poise and gratitude, always helps you get that step ahead,” she said.  Susan acknowledges that leading change and “always be in that pioneering spirit” is challenging.  But she has enjoyed the satisfaction that “when people are really getting it, that’s the fuel that keeps you going.”

As a self-described technology pioneer, Susan believes in The Rule of The Internet: “One – Nine – Ninety.” The rule states that one percent of people will be true innovative leaders spearheading engagement, nine percent are following those leaders, and 90% are slow adopters and skeptical.   “I will always either be in the 1%, as I experiment, or in the 9%, emulating leaders I respect,” Susan said. 

Her top three leadership lessons for women and girls, including her two daughters – one at college and one in high school -  includes:

1.     No one knows your passion better than you.  “Don’t let anybody talk you out of what you want to go for. They don’t know who you are or what you have in you.”

2.     Lead by example and model the way.

3.     Leadership is not a title; it is earned through trust, respect and inspiring a team.

“You can be a leader in any position,” Susan simply said. “Don’t get discouraged by corporate cultures, or hierarchy.  We are flattening organizations. We are inspiring collaboration among teams.  That is an incredible opportunity for anyone seeking to be a professional.”

Balancing her career, her extended family, and her professional development, Susan feels blessed by her husband, Mark (“a true partner”).  Principles of always aligning her professional passions and her ethics have helped her achieve balance, supplemented by a very strong work ethic.  “I always tried to make it a point that when I was present with my daughters, they knew that I was always there for them.”

Talking about her next mission(s), “giving back in some way” is part of Susan’s immediate future.

In addition to her IBM career, and her book, Susan is an adjunct professor at West Virginia University for the Reed School of Media, where she developed a graduate course in data-oriented social media optimization and is also a guest lecturer for the Carnegie Mellon University.  She also serves on boards for many professional marketing, social media and marketing measurement associations, “trying to give back through my professional expertise.”

Susan’s core belief, succinctly, is: “Everything you need is inside of you.  You have to tap into those strengths. Find your purpose; find your passion.   Let it lead you.”

Please feel free to contact Susan through her blog at http://susanemerick.com, or at her personal email address: emericksf@gmail.com.   Her Twitter handle is @sfemerick.

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