A Career Path from Storyteller to Marketer to Sales Leader

During Women’s History Month, Gill Zhou, GM of Digital Sales and Commercial and Chief Marketing Officer with IBM’s Greater China Group, shares her experiences on a career path that has taken her through many different roles. Says Zhou, "My call to action is to encourage our female colleagues to be accountable for your own career.”

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

To me, diversity and inclusion means valuing the differences of people and making inclusion a reality. It goes beyond gender-equality in the workplace. For over a century, IBMers—men and women, of different cultures, religions, educational backgrounds—have been considered the most valuable assets to the company. Now it is up to us in this new era to collectively sustain this culture and drive positive change for ourselves, our company and society.  

Many people have asked me how a woman with an arts and literature major can survive in the tech industry for 25 years. The answer is simple. I am probably one of the best illustrations of diversity and inclusion at IBM. IBM appreciates my difference and empowers me to leverage that to the fullest, so I can continuously grow and contribute my unique values to the company.

What was a career turning point that contributed to your leadership values?

The year 2012 marked a turning point in my career. I was appointed as Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Greater China Group. Prior to that, I was a brand strategist and storyteller with little marketing experience. But I knew I was chosen for a reason. The company needed a strong storyteller and a brand evangelist to win the hearts and minds of our clients. So I embarked on the journey of becoming a marketer, with no fear, regret or hesitation.

One year later, I was elected into the IBM Integration & Value Team, which offered me a great learning opportunity of working with IBM's most brilliant leaders around the world. In 2016, I decided to study at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. One great benefit of that program was it gave me a better lens into the role of CEOs—their priorities, perspectives and worries—because my classmates were CEOs or chairmen of their companies. Bringing that learning and insight back to my day job, I became a better partner to my CEO, with even stronger empathy and accountability.

In January of this year, I was appointed General Manager of Digital Sales and Commercial, in addition to my CMO role for GCG. After so many years, I was finally pushed into the field to become a sales leader. This is another turning point in my career. Again, I know I was chosen for a reason, a good reason. Most importantly, I know deep in my heart, there is a voice that keeps telling me: "Gill, take it, because you can do it.”

What advice can you give allies who want to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

As a good ally who wants to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace, you should select the right person first, no matter male or female. Then you should support the female candidate for her advancement, especially in senior leadership roles. IBM has been championing women leadership in senior positions for years.

I have come across many male allies who have supported my career advancement. Allies mean confidence, coaching, mentoring, and discovering and developing your talent to the fullest.

What is your personal motto or mantra?

"You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated." - Maya Angelou

How do you keep motivated in the uphill battles of your career?

I firmly believe I was chosen for a good reason. I only have to be focused on delivering my best each day. Be fearless, and don’t hesitate.