This month, we caught up with Thomas Martin, former CIO of GE Oil & Gas and VP of application transformation at GE Digital, to learn a little more about a career that began in the trenches as an engineer servicing nuclear reactors and ended as an IT leader at one of the world’s largest organizations.
Here he shares some of the wisdom he’s accrued over the years and how sales teams can more effectively sell into enterprise organizations.
Despite his prominence as as an IT leader, Thomas originally entered GE as a field service engineer. Having earned a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, his background was in ship propulsion, and he joined the company on the functional side where he was charged with working on nuclear reactors and moving uranium at various locations across the globe.
With so much hinging on proper reactor upkeep, Thomas was forced to work quickly and—most importantly—accurately.
“When you’re working with power and helping service reactors, every single day one’s down, it’s lost revenue for the customer,” he said. “You realize what it means to be in a very customer-facing role working on one of their most important assets, as well as the fact that every minute you delay, is a delay for them.”
After earning more and more responsibility in this role, a major career shift happened when GE, sensing the need to digitize, decided to pull more resources into the IT function and recruited Thomas to join the effort.
Technology on the rise
Many leaders at the time understood the need to integrate new technologies into their business at a faster rate, but far fewer understood how to do it right. For Thomas, it wasn’t enough to just embrace any and all new tech—a business had to be more selective if it wanted to truly benefit from the transformative potential that digitalization could provide.
“You always have to look through the lens of the business and how a new technology can provide value,” Thomas said. “Then you bring the best technology to the table.”
How does a new solution benefit the overall business? How does it align with the broader strategic goals? How can it augment what the company already does best or improve upon where it falls short? These are the important questions that IT leaders need to ask—and Thomas asked them. Before long, his contributions to GE’s IT initiative made him an important asset to the organization, and Thomas continued to devise new ways to bridge the gap between technology and the business as a whole.
This dedication to matching the right technology with the right business led to one of Thomas’s many achievements during his time as CIO and VP for three different global divisions at GE.
When a small, four-man team approached Thomas with their new solution, he knew it would be a challenge getting the other decision-makers on board. Despite the small size of their company, Thomas believed in the power of their technology, so to get the then-fledgling operation accepted by his 300,000+ person business, his positioning would have to be perfect.
Thomas served as their advocate to help them make their case more effectively to the business, subjecting their solution to several rounds of rigorous testing to prove to senior decision-makers that, despite their small size, the offering was more than capable of scaling up to meet GE’s demands.
“Finding an internal advocate is crucial, especially if you’re a smaller firm,” he said. “And if you’re that internal advocate, my recommendation is to find that company or technology that’s going to make a fundamental difference or solve a really challenging problem.”
The partnership was successful, the solution was brought into the business, and GE helped the vendor improve their product, ultimately leading to a positive Series A round.
Today, Thomas is the founder of BigCo. SmallCo., an organization dedicated to the very same mission that was at the core of his relationship with the former four-man team: bridging the gap between small businesses and enterprise organizations.
“Disruption today is happening by these smaller startups that don’t have the resources or weight that enterprises have,” he noted. “The chasm between the two entities is large, and BigCo. SmallCo. bridges that gap to help each side understand the challenge enterprises face when working with startups in order to bring real value to the enterprise.”
Thomas the Emissary
The same care Thomas has taken throughout his career to find the right fit between business and technology, as well as startups and enterprises, is part of what makes him such a standout Emissary.
“As an Emissary, you really do care for both sides,” he said. “You care for the business that they’re trying to bring a solution to, so you want to make sure that it’s the right product and that they’re going to bring the most value. And you care about the solution provider, and helping them prepare so that they can have the best odds when they do get that meeting.”
To help sales teams prepare, Thomas suggests doing as much prep work as possible and working with an advocate to know the right kinds of questions to ask.
“It’s smart to anticipate questions that an enterprise customer thinks about, so you can consider important aspects of the deal ahead of time, like accounting for 24/7 support, testing, and scale,” he said.
It’s a mentorship role he’s settled into nicely, doing his part to give back after being influenced so positively by a former mentor of his own.
“I had a mentor, and every time I was around him, he made me feel like I was the most important part of his day. One time, I was outside his office, and I could tell he was on a very tense call with leadership. But when he walked out, he acted as if it had never happened. He didn’t allow that meeting to impact ours, and still treated me like I was the most important part of the day.”
Showing this same care and attention for the people you work with is one of Thomas’ primary pieces of advice to both current and aspiring leaders.
“Care about people,” he said. “Put your people and your team first, and really live it. If you take care of your team, they’ll take care of you. Give people the best opportunities to shine—and your team will be stronger for it.”
Thomas Martin, former CIO and VP at GE, took the appreciation for customer service and precision he acquired working on nuclear reactors with him to IT leadership roles across one of the world’s largest organizations.
As a CIO with years of experience bringing IT solutions into enterprise companies, he knows what’s on enterprise buyers’ minds. When sales teams know that, too, it’s their best bet for closing the deal.
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