Community//

IBM’s Stephanie Trunzo: “Some people are only compatible with an expired version of you”

An interview with Fotis Georgiadis

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

I do not know who to credit for this, but the idea that “some people are only compatible with an expired version of you” has been extremely meaningful to me. Who we are is not a static thing, as we are constantly evolving. And the people in our lives are also evolving. Where we may have been in synch before doesn’t mean we still evolving at the same pace, nor in the same direction. And it is OKAY. This idea that people, personally and professionally, come in and out of our lives has comforted me when I’ve gone through major changes. When I sold my company, and took it through a strategic acquisition, for example, it was very hard to let go, even knowing that letting go was a necessary part of moving on — for me and for the other awesome people who shared that history. We anchor our ideas about people on something we knew about them from our experiences years ago, which can be outdated perceptions. Don’t let someone’s old expectations of you define your next steps.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Trunzo, Global Head of IBM Garage. Throughout her 20 years in the IT industry, Stephanie Trunzo has cultivated her passion for building high-performing teams, creating compelling storytelling platforms, and balancing the scales of cost and risk for clients looking to take legacy architectures and mission-critical applications into a secure and trusted future using IBM Cloud. Stephanie is the Global Head of the IBM Garage, a network of physical, worldwide innovation hubs that foster strategic collaboration. By teaming diverse technical and design experts with clients, the Garage melds industry practices, startup culture, and IBM’s expertise to create inventive solutions to real-world challenges. Stephanie’s experience includes time as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Digital Officer for role of start-up company PointSource through an acquisition by Globant. Under leadership, the startup’s revenue doubled year over year for four years running, was awarded ranking in the INC 5000 for three consecutive years, and received multiple Best Places to Work awards.
 In addition to being recognized by The Cube and Best in Biz, Stephanie sits on the TechGirlz Advisory Board and the IBM Global Business Partner Council. She is a seasoned speaker who has presented at events such as Forrester, InfoWeek, and UN Women, just to name a few.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I believe strongly in the saying, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” To me, this means you can’t map out a course for your life too tightly, but you can be intentional about your preparation and awareness. It means being ready, investing in your skills and experience, and being curious, listening for seeds of opportunity. I did not think when I was majoring in English Literature and Psychology that I was going to end up in the technology industry, but combining an interest in communication and cognition ended up being the perfect blend of interests for an emerging focus on user and design thinking.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Classic mistake — forgetting to clear your search history when you are sharing your screen! When I was a new mother, I had googled about my baby’s constipation (a common new parent search!). When I later shared my screen in a work meeting… yup, it said constipation. While this could have been super embarrassing, instead it was a relatable moment because I addressed it out loud. I had another parent message me separately with some great tips. The lesson I learned is that while you should be always careful about what is on your screen, more importantly, owning even an embarrassing moment can be a powerful way to connect with people and demonstrate your own authenticity. 
 ​​​​​​​
 What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
 Laugh and also produce outcomes. Given the conversation around telling women to smile more, I want to be very clear — laughing and smiling is good for ALL HUMANS; patronizingly telling women to smile more to look pretty is demeaning (see the difference?). A leader who bring levity and fun to their team will create a healthy and connected sense of community. The ability to make space to be light-hearted, and still also address serious business challenges, will be the difference between a team who gets burnt out and a team who thrives and enjoys overcoming those challenges together. If you can demonstrate that it is both okay to laugh and no one is above rolling up their sleeves, your team will get the message it is safe to take risks, that martyr syndrome isn’t required, and that everyone needs to put in effort to see results.
 
 What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I manage a global team at IBM, and one of the things I believe is most rewarding as a leader is showing someone a version of themselves they didn’t even know was there. I love to examine people to find the shining lights inside of them. There is a scene in the movie Hook when one of the Lost Boys smooshes grown-up Robin Williams’ face around, searching for the boy leader he knows, and with a joyful tone of recognition and relief finally says, “There you are, Peter!” This is what it is like when you help someone find the authentic version of themselves and show them how to bring that version to their team and to their work. 
 
 Further, be a real person, not the persona of a leader. Let people know you and take the time to know them. Building rapport and trust is earned over time, not dictated by an org chart or a slide deck. Especially with large teams, leaders can feel like this very remote cardboard cutout of a person, and it is your job to become a real human. Small acts, small touches, and a few grounding words here and there can bring your leadership to life. Even with whirlwind days of meetings, there is always 5 minutes to share a joke, enjoy the sunshine, chat about your pets or hobbies. If someone on your team collects drink koozies, bring them a koozie when you visit. 
 
 None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was growing my company, PointSource, there were a few people who stand out in my mind who helped shaped for me what success looks like. I had a close team who demonstrated what loyalty looked like, bringing out the best in me and one another, even in the face of challenges and adversity during acquisition and integration. We all acted in the interest of the team as a priority over the interest of ourselves as individuals; while it felt very natural at the time, I look back inspired by what we were able to accomplish. 
 
 To flip the script, we don’t often enough spend thoughtful time sharing the lessons we learn from people who help us recognize as anti-pattern as well. I have had two people I’ve encountered in my career who taught me critical lessons on how to use my voice to stand up for myself and for others who needed me. Unfortunately, I have been situations where someone used their position of power in sexist and humiliating ways. It took me longer than I wish it had to realize the extent of the harm, and that it was happening not only to me, and stop it. It was a powerful lesson, and I will never allow that to happen again. Another pivotal person in my career showed me what inauthentic non-transparent leadership looked like, and what a trail of chaos it can leave in its wake. By being suspicious, and choosing to manipulate situations, this leader lost the team’s faith and trust, compromising bigger opportunities and high performing potential. I credit both of these people for fortifying my belief system as a leader. 
 
 How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Yoga! I have brought yoga into the workplace across multiple roles and companies, and I love watching people who have maybe never tried yoga bring a practice of breathing and movement into their regular lives. In corporate roles, and in technology industry, we spend so much time in front of screens, isolated. Yoga breaks down those walls, physically and mentally. Bringing goodness to the world to me is about infusing the everyday with a little more fun, a little more curiosity, a little more boldness to take a risk, ask why in a hard meeting. I like to tell my team if someone isn’t looking at them strange at least once a day, they aren’t trying hard enough. 
 
 Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I do not know who to credit for this, but the idea that “some people are only compatible with an expired version of you” has been extremely meaningful to me. Who we are is not a static thing, as we are constantly evolving. And the people in our lives are also evolving. Where we may have been in synch before doesn’t mean we still evolving at the same pace, nor in the same direction. And it is OKAY. This idea that people, personally and professionally, come in and out of our lives has comforted me when I’ve gone through major changes. When I sold my company, and took it through a strategic acquisition, for example, it was very hard to let go, even knowing that letting go was a necessary part of moving on — for me and for the other awesome people who shared that history. We anchor our ideas about people on something we knew about them from our experiences years ago, which can be outdated perceptions. Don’t let someone’s old expectations of you define your next steps.

Thank you for joining us!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Editorial use only
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap/REX/Shutterstock (390866dw)
FILM STILLS OF 'BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 - TV' WITH 1991, LUKE PERRY IN 1991
VARIOUS
Community//

What Luke Perry Can Teach Us About Navigating Our Own Careers

by Julie Harnik
Community//

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT

by Melissa Kiss
Community//

On Mental Health in Australia

by Alex Creece

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.