"IBM is great in terms of the flexibility that if you can do the job and its working out, you can do it in the place that works best for you.”
IBM New Zealand managing director Katrina Troughton
Katrina Troughton clearly thrives on challenge.
It is this love for a challenge that led Troughton to take on the responsibility of leading the local subsidiary of one of the world’s largest technology companies just over three years ago.
As managing director of IBM New Zealand, she is not only focussed on driving growth for the company, its partners and clients, but is also concerned with addressing the country’s skills shortage and productivity issues.
Troughton has spent her entire working life with IBM, having joined the company as a graduate in 1990.
Yet each time she felt like she needed a new challenge, she found one within IBM, while ensuring that each new opportunity fitted in with her home life.
“I think the secret is they never let me get bored. Every time I’ve got to a point where I’m starting to think maybe I need new challenge, one has popped up,” she says.
Troughton joined IBM after completing a double degree in Science and Commerce from the University of Auckland and within four years was running the local software unit.
Another four years later she became business unit executive for the data management business for IBM Asia Pacific. While this was a regional role, Troughton remained based in New Zealand. “The original intent was that I was going to be based either in Singapore or Tokyo, but it didn’t work particularly well for my husband at the time. IBM is great in terms of the flexibility that if you can do the job and its working out, you can do it in the place that works best for you.”
Her four years in this role were thrilling, says Troughton.
“Working across that kind of geography with a role that was to grow our business significantly, was really exciting.”
However, after the birth of her first child, Troughton felt she was spending too much time travelling.
“I love travelling, so it worked well for me at that time. [But] when I had the baby, I started thinking I can’t spend three weeks out of four on a plane anymore.”
A chance then came up to work closer to home as general manager of IBM’s software business across Australia and New Zealand.
“That’s a major business – it is one that’s growing significantly for IBM. It was exciting to be in that kind of business.”
With the arrival her second child, Troughton once again decided she was not spending enough time at home.
“I was based here and in Australia, but mainly on a plane.”
Taking up the local managing director role was therefore a perfect career opportunity at a perfect time, says Troughton.
“It has been fantastic – I’ve been really challenged and it fitted with what I was looking for personally. That is the key – you always feel uncomfortable if you have one and not the other.”
Troughton’s job involves steering the around 1000 New Zealand IBM employees to meet the company’s local and global growth objectives.
“We continue to grow the core parts of our business. And we continue our focus on how we align our local business to our global strategy. That obviously comes with big challenges from time to time.”
One of IBM’s goals locally is to help local businesses take advantage of its global intellectual property and knowledge through its products, specialist services or employees with international experience, says Troughton.
In addition to leading IBM locally, Troughton chairs the New Zealand Government's Digital Strategy Advisory Group, which is responsible for advising key government ministers on the overall direction of the strategy.
While Troughton believes the government has outlined a very clear strategy, she thinks executing the strategy will be the hard part.
She encourages those in the channel to make submissions to the government on the strategy.
“This should really matter to people who are involved in the local industry. We need more engagement from business on how we use the Digital Strategy to drive economic development for New Zealand. I think it can be a key enabler for economic development and one we have to continue to focus on.”
Other major issues Troughton is concerned with are the skills shortage and the lack of productivity among local businesses.
“One of the biggest challenges on growth in the industry, especially around services, is people. That is clearly having an impact and it is having an impact also for our clients.”
Low productivity meanwhile is an underlying issue for the local economy, especially when combined with the skills, says Troughton.
“On productivity we still lag behind Australia by quite a degree and sit in the quadrant we don’t want to be in. Historically we have driven productivity improvement and growth strongly through people. Now we really have to look to other places to improve our productivity.”
Technology can be a key enabler of productivity, says Troughton.
“We have to continue to work hard to show that far more clearly in business. I believe if technology can drive productivity, it can help us grow.”
Meanwhile, Troughton says the IBM Business Partner Awards, presented last week in association with Reseller News, are important as they recognise and award those partners who help clients be successful and innovative.
“Partners are fundamental in our business and they are very fundamental in our clients’ business. The awards are all about recognising the people who represent and work with us truly as an extended part of our team and who demonstrate core values, such as success of the client being fundamental and innovation being critical.”
Troughton adds however that there are some areas it can improve to make it easier for partner to do business with IBM. “There is a mix of those elements that are global and local. At an international level it is all about continuing to look at our processes and streamline what we can. In general we have seen some significant improvements in terms of our delivery, which was a big issue 18 month ago.”
The most important factor at a local level is clarity on how IBM engages with customers, says Troughton.
“This year we re-clarified. We looked at our customer base and how we cover them and changed our coverage model quite significantly. That was provided especially by putting in place a dedicated team who works almost exclusively, if not exclusively, with partners for our small to medium business.”
After 17 years in the industry and at IBM, Troughton still enjoys both.
“I enjoy feeling that we can make a difference and can help clients. Also, we are a company that believes in making a difference in the community we live. That is really rewarding.”
Troughton also gains satisfaction from seeing her team members succeed.
“We have a lot of great people in this company. It is personally rewarding to see some of those people go on and do amazing things.”
In her spare time, Troughton loves spending time with her two children, aged six and three.
“They make you take time off and relax.”
What is your favourite gadget?
I am not much of a gadget person, but my phone is pretty important for making calls and my calendar so I know where I need to be.
What is your favourite website?
When my kids were little – parenting websites, which I referred to a lot. I tend to track the news sites. My son’s favourite in cartoonnetwork.com.au, as he keeps telling me.
What is your favourite sport?
Skiing and tennis – once upon a time it might have been rugby, but not at the moment.
What is your favourite cocktail?
I like Belinnis.
If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Sir Peter Blake – he is just an intriguing mix of someone who has achieved so much and has done so many things you’re not sure you can imagine people doing. And he was such a strong believer on making a difference in the world.
What has been the most important technological advance in IT?
Open source – because I do believe it is something that can make an IT investment far more useful for our clients. I believe it is something that will continue to make a difference and revolutionise software and the way our clients work.
What book is on your bedside table?
I have just gone on a big holiday, so I am out of books at the moment, so it is the My House and Garden magazine.
If you were not in IT, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a full-time mother or potentially something in health. I do come from a family of doctors and teachers.
Who is/was your mentor?
I had a number over the years, such as Andrew Dutton, who ran our software business in Australia and our previous ANZ CEO Philip Bullock. Certainly my father and mother have been a big influence.