Leadership Insights from the Robert Schwartz Era

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Many of our followers know Robert Schwartz as our video host and the butt of many of my podcast jokes.  If you’ve watched the series long enough, you might also know him as a marketer, a father and a husband, an avid soccer fan, a student of politics, and a man who can’t quite move past his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania. It brought our team great joy to try to align Robert with guests who we thought would make him the happiest—for example, Ronalee Zarate-Bayani of his beloved Hershey Company, or Congressman Seth Moulton who allowed him to relive his campaign trail glory days, or by finding anyone who has ever watched global football. The truth is, however, that every guest we’ve had has stood out to Robert in some way and he’s visibly enjoyed every conversation he’s ever had on camera. On his final day at IBM, and his last day as our thinkLeader-in-Chief, it felt only right to pay homage to the man who has dutifully served as the face of the show for so long.

Some of us are lucky to know the Robert that exists behind the moderator’s chair. He came to IBM from Ogilvy & Mather, living up to his own advice that we are at our best when we continually fluctuate between being in-agency and being in-house. Robert began his tenure as VP, Global Digital Marketing at IBM, where he led a global community of over 600 digital marketing professionals focused on content engagement, search, social, mobile, digital experience and performance media. In addition, Robert was co-leader of the IBM Digital Services Group—our internal marketing services organization delivering solutions in digital strategy, content creation, web production and data services. Perhaps the most meaningful time he spent, however, was Robert’s time as part of our iX family. Robert’s time in iX coincides largely with the story of our brand as a whole, and we feel it appropriate to pay tribute to our fearless leader with a list of leadership lessons that we’ve learned from him along the way.

Not everything matters as much as you think it does

I doubt I’m the only one who can remember waiting for Robert’s input in an email chain, or waiting for him to show up to a meeting…and waiting…and waiting. But in hindsight, a lot of that stuff wasn’t really all that urgent, and Robert has a keen ability to discern what really matters versus chatter that he can safely ignore. The lesson here is twofold. First, before scheduling that meeting or looping everyone into a lengthy discussion, ask yourself: Could this be resolved in a more efficient manner that doesn’t require so many eyes and ears to devote time to it? Secondly, think twice before sending your leadership team a question. Do you really need their input, or is it something you can take off their plate by handling yourself?


Smarts can take you far at a tech company, but emotional intelligence is not negotiable for leadership. Robert leads by example on this front, with plenty of self-awareness to recognize when to fight for his cause, when to trust his subordinates, or when to admit when he is wrong. This also comes in handy when dealing with clients and customers, whether that’s in a conference room, or when developing marketing materials that will touch thousands.

Delegate, empower your employees—just treat them like adults!

Robert is one of the more hands-off managers I’ve ever had, and I feel that as a result, I’ve done some of my best work under his leadership. Never feeling micromanaged, our team members always felt empowered to manage their time and work hard for the inherent pleasure of pursuing excellence.

When all else fails, go out for a beer

When we were pulling our hair out at the office over one problem or another, Robert was known to gather us for a pint—or just a moment of fresh air. The team might decamp to the nearest pub, talk about stuff other than work, and learn about each other’s lives. Simply put, when team members genuinely care about one another, they work better together. It was always great to have a moment of refreshment, but it was also remarkable how often one of us would come up with an idea to solve our problem. All it took was a little out-of-office time.

Stories matter

As marketers, we know that storytelling matters. But for Robert, stories were also the way he communicated to those around him and got to know them better. People will tell stories about their lives when prompted and Robert was always finding ingenious ways to encourage people to share their experience and their wisdom. As a team, we would play trivia games around the table as a conversation prompt, plumbing the depths of our obscure knowledge and unearthing tales from the past. This was an opportunity to learn about and learn from each other, but also to laugh at ourselves, be vulnerable, invite our full selves to the relationships we formed together.

Look ahead by looking back

There’s constant rhetoric in the tech industry about being “forward-thinking,” and of course Robert is no exception. You have to be constantly thinking about what’s around the corner in this business. However, his motivation for pushing boundaries is motivated by an intense appreciation for the heritage of the brand, the industry, and the people who’ve come before us, who got us to where we are now. It’s easy to lose sight of the mission when you don’t understand the context of why the work was important in the first place. A healthy appreciation for the past is a great tool to use when trying to create a better future.

Find the “magic”

It’s easy to get bogged down in this business, with deliverables, deadlines, budgetary negotiations and so on. It’s important to stop and reflect now and then about what’s special about a given team or campaign. Where’s the magic? It’s what brings people together in the first place, the desire to create work with people you respect and enjoy being with—work that moves the soul and inspires the spirit. This might sound like lofty talk for the marketing business, but Robert always inspires us to think in those terms. It’s not always logical, but it’s what enables your work to transcend beyond being “just another campaign.”

Robert—you have left your mark on our team and this little program. You will be sorely missed, but your voice and your lessons will live on in all those inspired by you. We will keep fighting for excellence; we will seek our own creative voice; and we will identify the magic in everything. No matter where you go in life, know that you always have a home with your extended thinkLeaders family. Your leadership will be sorely missed. Cheers, friend; here’s to the High Life.

Leader, Digital Marketing Services, IBM iX || Editor-in-Chief, thinkLeaders

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