With 26 years of experience in consulting and information systems, alumna Sue Miller-Sylvia is a game changer in the high-tech sector, forging a remarkable career over two decades at IBM. Recognized among IBM’s “most exceptional,” she earned the role of IBM Fellow, the company’s highest technical honor, based on sustained and distinguished achievements in engineering, programming and technology.
Miller-Sylvia has developed and implemented IT solutions for clients in a wide range of sectors including education, government, finance, media and entertainment, aerospace, insurance, retail and travel and transportation industries.
She earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and went on to earn her UC Davis MBA in 1998.
Her career has drawn on her diverse skill set in technology and as a strong business leader. She was appointed an IBM Distinguished Engineer in 2004, an impressive designation reserved for a fraction of a percentage of employees. The following year she was elected to the IBM Academy of Technology. She was named an IBM Fellow in 2008.
In 2013 the Graduate School of Management’s Alumni Association honored her work with the Distinguished Achievement Award.
We asked Miller-Sylvia our seven key game-changer questions:
What drives you in your work?
I have two roles. I’m a vice president for a services practice in IBM’s Global Business Services, and I’m also an IBM Fellow. The first is a very business/operationally focused role, whereas the latter is one of the top technical appointments at IBM. I love being in this practice leader role: it offers me a balance that blends business and technology. On the business and operational side, I’m responsible for the development of mobile solutions within the IBM/Apple partnership. On the technical side, our group is responsible for leading-edge app development targeting transformation in our client’s enterprise.
IBM Fellows Program: 50th Anniversary
In this job, my passion is around our people. I’m motivated by understanding what our practitioners are working on, what they need to perform their job more effectively, how they can achieve work/life balance while moving forward in their careers—and ultimately keeping them happy and motivated to work at IBM.
Where is your career headed?
I like to immerse myself into the here and now. I focus on the job at hand and try to perform to the best of my ability. I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking or worrying about what is next.
That said, if I had to look ahead, I would see myself continuing to run larger organizations. I try to balance that desire with also staying close to the practitioners in the organization. Luckily, at IBM there are many opportunities and areas for movement across the business, so potentially a movement to another organization within IBM is in my future. My goals are fairly simple: I want to be effective and I want to enjoy my job.
How are you a game changer?
In my new role in the partnership between IBM and Apple, our goal is to transform enterprises and enable them to simplify systems for their employees, driving a more efficient and cost-effective environment. Many of the apps we develop will enable our clients to offer new, more valuable services to their customers that might not have been previously available.
How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?
I was a part-time student in the Sacramento MBA program. My undergraduate major was in mechanical engineering, and most of my career up until I entered b-school had a large technical focus. As I started to assume more business types of roles at IBM, I felt it was important to round out my education to balance my technical background. My studies at the GSM allowed me to assume a wider range of roles running organizations with financial and business responsibility.
What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?
Without a doubt, being appointed an IBM Fellow. This is IBM’s highest technical honor, and Fellows are appointed based on their sustained and distinguished technical achievements in engineering, programming and technology. IBM Fellows have generated thousands of patents, government and professional citations, and have a massive store of published research in scientific journals.
There are only 87 active Fellows in our company of more than 400,000 employees, and just eight are women. I’m extremely proud to be a part of this community of amazing technical talent!
Your favorite Graduate School of Management memory?
Honestly, I have many great memories. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and developing new relationships with fellow students and study partners, as well as with my professors. In fact, I would go back to school again if I could avoid homework and tests! It was a challenge to work and go to school at the same time—and traveling, as I did most weeks for work—but I don’t regret one moment. The hard work was definitely worth it: I am where I am today due to the value I gained from the UC Davis MBA program.
How do you support and participate in the Graduate School of Management today?
I visit campus to speak with current students about my career and about life at IBM, and to answer any questions they have. I have also worked as a mentor—and have mentored a student who now works at IBM.
And, of course, I make a gift each year to the GSM’s Annual Giving campaign.
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