Advancing in tech world requires business acumen

JEANNE R. LIEB, FM Global’s senior vice president, following a talk held by the Tech Collective at the Gilbane building in Providence. /
JEANNE R. LIEB, FM Global’s senior vice president, following a talk held by the Tech Collective at the Gilbane building in Providence. /

Jeanne R. Lieb has advice for all the young computer programmers and other technology professionals out there seeking to build successful careers: Your job isn’t ultimately about technology. It’s about business.
She should know. As senior vice president of information services for FM Global, Lieb oversees a staff of 300 IT professionals that the Johnston-based, business-property insurance company employs around the world.
FM Global is one of the world’s largest commercial insurers. It builds and maintains its own IT platform, which it uses to manage its vast business from its Rhode Island headquarters.
“You’ve got to be able to deliver,” Lieb said. “We’re building from the ground up all of our underwriting business applications, engineering applications, claims-services applications, and really our focus is making sure those business systems work on a worldwide basis.”
Lieb, who was picked to head FM Global’s information services unit in 2003, worked her way into the top realm of FM Global’s management team over the course of a 19-year career at the company. She originally came to FM Global as an employee of Digital Equipment Corp., where she worked for four years after graduating with a liberal arts degree from Brandeis University.
As a consultant with Digital Equipment, Lieb worked to oversee installation of a new application platform at FM Global. But in a development that Lieb described as familiar to many professional women, she jumped to an internal job with FM Global in order to balance her career goals with her plans to get married.
“I had a situation where I was engaged to be married, looking to settle down, and the next assignment I was going to have with Digital Equipment was up in New Hampshire,” she explained in a recent interview.
Lieb started her career at FM Global as a computer programmer, but quickly found her niche finding ways that technology could help the company solve specific business problems, she said. She moved up the management ranks as she proved her understanding of the company’s overall business and consistently delivered results.
“When you can combine the ability to understand the needs of the company and the ability to execute, what you’re really doing is building your credentials,” said Lieb. She was a featured speaker at a Women in Technology series event, sponsored by the Tech Collective and hosted on Dec. 4 by Gilbane Building Co. Lieb shared the dais with Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Denise Clark, senior vice president and chief information officer at Hasbro.
“What stood out to us as a group when we were looking to consider speakers is the fact that [Lieb] has been in this company for a number of years and she kind of grew up in the organization,” explained Kathie Shields, the Tech Collective’s executive director. “That was very impressive, and the way that she tells the story is very down to earth. … We felt that would be a very good fit for our storytelling.”
Lieb said programmers, computer engineers and other technology professionals should resist the urge to become too enamored of the technology in which they are experts. Rather, they should seek to understand the business needs of their employers and always develop solutions that meet the needs of the colleagues they are working for, she said.
“You need to be able to execute, to understand the key business drivers behind why we’re taking on a big initiative,” she said.
Because technology has become so pervasive in the operation of any business, IT staffers are almost always in a good position to become expert in the internal workings of their companies and the industries they operate in, she said.
And Lieb recommends that young technology professionals seek out mentors and role models who are not necessarily traditional mentors but who possess qualities worth emulating.
Throughout her career, Lieb said she has sought to adopt particular approaches and styles of colleagues who have impressed her.
“Think of what it is you admire, and then emulate that quality,” she said. “It’s not about being a clone of any individual. Learn from them, see what works and then make that your own.” •

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