Nancy Kramer embraces change as chief evangelist at IBM iX


When Resource/Ammirati was sold to IBM two years ago, it became part of IBM iX. The design and consulting division works with clients as a digital agency through 38 global studios, including the one in Columbus, and employs 15,000 people. Instead of chairwoman at the company she built from the ground up, Nancy Kramer was now chief evangelist at IBM iX.

“It’s a little hard to go from being the CEO, the leader of an organization, to not being the leader anymore,” she says. “So, letting go of that can be a challenging thing. But it can also be a rewarding thing. You’re learning a new way to work and learning, perhaps, a different way to perceive yourself.”

Kramer believes she’s learned more over the past two years than in the previous 10 — whether it was a new process or technology, or something about herself, her clients and the world. She compares it to learning a new language.

It also goes back to this notion — like it says in Max DePree’s “Leadership Is an Art” — that leaders lead themselves, she says.

She tries to clear her mind and remember that after 35 years she’s not the leader any longer. Instead, she’s part of a bigger entity, which requires a different perspective. She’ll ask herself: How do I lead myself and how do I lead the folks who are a part of this journey with me?

Luckily, Kramer says one of her more natural leadership skills is empathy and emotional intelligence.

“I’ve always been a naturally curious person and an empathetic person, and I think that has served me well because I find all the different people that I’m meeting, I’m very curious about them. I love to learn about their stories. I love to learn about their skills, which are inevitably very different than mine. And so, again, it’s just opened up a whole new world for all of us,” Kramer says.

She’s traveling more, too — spending time in New York City, where IBM iX is headquartered — but still has her desk in Columbus.

“I would say that on one hand, it’s very different and my perspective and my aperture has widened tremendously. And then on the other hand, there’s a level of familiarity to it,” Kramer says.

Reflecting the same culture

Many people don’t realize that the majority of IBM’s business today is services. It’s not the hardware monolith it was. Kramer has also found people are surprised when she tells them IBM, which collectively employs 400,000 people, is a highly entrepreneurial organization.

IBM is a collection of leaders, she says, so it’s incumbent upon them to lead themselves.

“You really need to figure out where your swim lane is and just dive in the pool. I’ve yet to have anybody say no — within reason, of course,” Kramer says.

That entrepreneurial culture and other values of IBM are a mirror reflection of Resource and Kramer, and that’s really what drove her decision to sell. That, plus increased opportunities for Resource’s clients and the Columbus community.