Ed Shugrue spent 32 years with IBM, in many HR leadership roles across different Business Units in the US and Europe. He started his career as an intern with IBM while getting his Master’s degree at NYU and then was hired into a full-time position within IBM’s HR Global Research division. In that role, he managed the implementation of the full set of IBM HR programs for the 5,000+ PhD scientists located in laboratories around the world. During his tenure at IBM, Ed led the Compensation and Benefits programs for Europe, Middle East and Africa, supported the US Sales division, developed IBM’s health benefits programs for all active and retired employees and then, as VP of HR, developed and administered IBM’s compensation plans . He is currently an Executive Partner to the Graduate Career Services Center at William and Mary where he works to prepare students for intern and full-time positions. He also established the Executive Partner Program at W&M which recruits local residents with executive level business experience to help the college’s business school students maximize their graduate school experience and begin successful careers.
Ed, how did you get started in your career?
When I was in HS, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I worked in a Hospital ER and morgue to see if I liked it. My SAT scores were not good enough for a pre-med track, so I started at Fairfield University in Liberal Arts. During the summer I took courses to get me into pre-med, but I flamed out when it got to organic chemistry. I shifted to Psychology, Sociology and Research Methods and really liked them.
When I completed my bachelor’s degree, I decided to go right on for my Masters’ before looking for a job. During this time, I met someone working for IBM who asked if I had any interest in applying for a job. I told him I knew nothing about computers! He set me up for a meeting with the HR Director who managed the staff of PHD’s who conducted IBM’s opinion survey research. They analyzed the annual surveys to understand employee attitudes so they could develop courses designed to help managers be most effective. He offered me a special intern assignment while I went to NYU. I just had to give IBM 20 hours a week around my class schedule.
That’s how my career at IBM began, as well as my career path into HR.
What have been some career highlights and why?
I was actually hired into IBM by the manager I worked for while I was going for my Master’s at NYU. He was responsible for conducting the annual employee opinion surveys and reviewing the results with the Division President. He included me in the reviews with the President, which was an incredible opportunity for a new, young employee. I found out I was very good at presenting the survey results and making recommendations about how we could use the data to help managers understand how employees’ attitudes changed based on age and time in the company. I was then given the opportunity to present the results to manager classes on a regular basis.
My big opportunity came when that division President took me to his meeting with IBM’s CEO.
The meeting was at IBM’s Corporate HQ in Armonk, NY about thirty minutes from our offices. When we headed to Armonk in his car, he didn’t tell me where we were going or who he was meeting with. He just told me to do my presentation the same way I did it to his staff VPs. I was shocked when we went into the office of IBM’s then-CEO, Frank Cary. At 27, it was unbelievable!
Around this time, I got my Master’s Degree and had completed my course work for my PHD.
The next step was to take time off from IBM to write my PHD thesis which forced me to make the most significant decision in my career: Do I take the time off to do my thesis and stay in the HR Research group with other PHD’s, or do I consider a management career path. I chose management and never wrote my PHD thesis – ABD (all but dissertation)!
In 1985, I was asked to move to IBM’s Asia Pacific HQ in Tokyo but decided to turn it down because my wife and I thought that was the wrong time to take my two HS daughters out of the US. Two years later I had another chance to move internationally, this time to IBM’s Europe Middle East Africa HQ in Paris, France – and this time we said “yes”! It was also perfect timing because my daughters were off to college. It became clear to me that having ‘international work experience’ was key to future advancement in IBM which served me well.
In all, I had 17 different positions in IBM over my 32-year career, each in a different Business Unit. I loved the opportunity to do different things that added to my experience. In 1993, Lou Gerstner became IBM’s first CEO from outside the company and he had a major impact on the Company’s future.
Two years later, I became IBM’s VP for Global Compensation reporting into the CHRO, and Lou Gerstner became my 2nd line manager. I spent the last 5 years of my career meeting with Lou and his SRVPs on a regular basis which was a key career highlight for me.
What’s something you learned from Lou as a leader?
He was a great listener and had a very down to earth style and energy that brought out the best in people. He was very visual. He had a large white board in his conference room which he used to draw on and elaborate ideas during our meetings. Everyone who had a meeting with him had to send in any documents in advance as meetings were for discussion and brainstorming leading to much better outcomes. No charts!!!!
Long tenures today are rarer. You were with IBM for over 30 years – what made you stay for that length of time?
I’ve been asked often why I stayed with IBM for 32 years and for me it was straightforward. The people I worked with across the globe were excellent. I loved the jobs and responsibilities I was given and was provided the opportunity to take jobs in different Business Units about every 3 years. I loved being a manager and then an executive because it gave me the opportunity to help the members of my team grow and develop in their professional careers, which was the most rewarding and satisfying experience I ever had.
What’s an important career pivot that you have made?
During the last 10 years of my IBM career, I recruited HR professionals at top colleges and was frequently asked to talk to MBA students about IBM and careers they might consider. One of the professors said the students really liked our discussions and he encouraged me to consider moving near a college when I retired so I could volunteer to help students. This became my number one personal goal when I started to plan for retirement.
While NY had been my home base for my 32-year career, we chose to retire in Williamsburg VA. We loved its’ historic background, it helped us avoid the cold winters, and it was home to William & Mary.
When we moved to Williamsburg in 1998, I met a famous W&M alum and asked how I could get involved in the Business School. That was the beginning of 22 years of volunteering. In 2002 I became the first Executive Director of the Executive Partner Program which has about 100 volunteers like myself supporting students, staff, and faculty in the Raymond A Mason School of Business. It’s been a highlight during my retirement and such a smart pivot. The opportunity to share my experience with different members of the W&M community has been incredible.
What do you think is most important today for a college graduate as they enter the workforce?
Today’s graduates need to realize that companies need their employees to be:
- Self-educated to be ready for changes in the business – as there are always changes!
Those who can do these three will not only have an advantage as they look to enter the workforce but will be able to have more impact helping them to advance.
I’ve seen students who panic when things change and I’ve seen when they successfully ask themselves, Ok, what can I do now? They prove to themselves that all will be OK and many times the change is for the better. We all must be prepared for the unknowns and change and constantly be thinking about what’s ahead and how to pivot if needed.
This is great advice for all of us – how can someone work on and develop in those key areas?
I advise everyone to reach out and try to find as many mentors and supporters as you can. They can be essential to helping you grow and reach your career aspirations. They can coach you in times of change and push you in areas that need to be strengthened and they don’t need to sugarcoat it.
What’s another piece of career advice that has helped you navigate well that you’d like to share?
I would never have accomplished what I’ve done without the support of my wife. I traveled a lot and it was a partnership. Managing dual careers today can be very hard. It’s more challenging to make the tradeoffs and achieve work and life balance. The key is great communication. I encourage very open communication with family and with your company on what you need to be successful. First, you need to get in touch with how you feel, then get comfortable expressing that to someone else. That is truly a key to success.