IBM’s Martina Koederitz believes diversity will power the new data economy

By | 3 minute read | December 10, 2018

This story is part of Big Thinkers, a series of profiles on business leaders transforming industries with bold ideas.

Upon entering the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, visitors encounter a taxidermied horse. Printed beneath is a 1905 quotation from German Kaiser Wilhelm II: “I do believe in the horse. The automobile is no more than a transitory phenomenon.”

IBM’s Martina Koederitz grew up in Stuttgart, and when she thinks about some of the transformative technologies she works with every day her thoughts often turn to Wilhelm II’s remark. A hundred years ago, she said, cars were expensive, loud, and difficult to operate. Not everyone could grasp how they’d inevitably make a lasting impact on the world. The same, she argued, can be said of some of today’s biggest innovations.

“We are shaping the world in a new way,” she said. “AI is a new technology. IoT is a new technology. We’re at the beginning of a new data economy.”

Koederitz began working at IBM as a college student in Stuttgart in 1984. At the time, she told Industrious, it was something of an unusual move. While her friends and classmates in Germany were seeking work at banks and automakers in the region, she decided to follow the example of her father—an IBMer—and pursue a career at an international company with strong progressive values, where women received equal pay for equal work and had the opportunity to advance to the highest leadership ranks.

“I didn’t know at this time what would happen in IT. I didn’t know how the world would change,” she said. “But I was convinced that a company with an open culture, a diverse culture, and an innovation culture would give me the chance to contribute for many years in the best possible way.”

Enter Industry 4.0

Over the course of more than 30 years at IBM, Koederitz has had a chance to contribute in a number of ways. She’s been a sales manager for the financial services sector. She’s led IBM’s mainframe business in Europe. She’s been a client advocacy executive. She’s overseen IBM’s business in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

In the process, she’s seen technological breakthroughs—the personal computer, for example, and the internet—change how business is done at IBM, and, at the same time, change the world. Today, with a global digital network linking billions of individuals and machines, Koederitz believes the world is at another inflection point.

As IBM’s Global Industry Managing Director for Automotive, Aerospace, Defense & Industrial Products, she is helping businesses harness a new generation of powerful and accessible systems, platforms, and technologies to fundamentally change how they operate and how they impact peoples’ lives. These kinds of transformations, she said, involve leaders at every level of an organization—from CFOs to CEOs to plant managers.

“Back when I first started, IBM was very much seen as a strategic partner for the IT department,” she said. “But today we’re really talking about industry-relevant solutions for business. Now it’s about how we use our portfolio, our technology, and our solutions to enable new business ideas, new innovations, and new ecosystems.”

To maximize the opportunities of these new technologies, Koederitz said, companies across industries need to make a commitment to data security, privacy and protection. As a board member of Charter of Trust—a group of industry partners that has developed principles to determine cybersecurity requirements and standards—Koederitz is working to ensure it.

“Every new technology has the opportunity to make things better, but every new technology also always has the risk of being dangerous,” she said. “We have to take responsibility as humans for how we apply this technology.”

For the best results, Koederitz said, that responsibility must be shared by a workforce as diverse as the populations that will be impacted by these new technologies—which is to say, as diverse as the whole world.

“If we want to change the world, we need to really have diversity and inclusion. Whenever things are so new and we are shaping the world in a new way, we need everybody to contribute,” she said.