Industry Academy Eminence Profile: Paolo Sironi

Paolo Sironi is a FinTech thought leader for Watson Financial Services from the Industry Platforms business unit.

Before coming to IBM in 2012, he founded and was the managing director of an investment analytics startup. He is a recognized author on books about portfolio management and FinTech innovation, maintains a comprehensive personal website (link resides outside of ibm.com), and speaks regularly to the media and industry leaders. He is also very active on social media including LinkedIn (link resides outside of ibm.com) and Twitter (link resides outside of ibm.com).

Paolo, in your own words, what does eminence mean?

To me, it means trust. People trust that you have a certain level of understanding of how an industry works. Once business decision makers feel that you understand their industry, their opportunities, and their pain points–without bias–they begin to trust you. You’re then able to create the right incentives to motivate industry leaders to embrace change and improve their business models.

How do you believe eminence has helped your own career?

I talk a lot about FinTech, which has three pillars: 1) innovation in finance, 2) innovation in technology, and 3) innovation in business models. Because I worked in investment banking before coming to IBM, I have a solid understanding of financial services industry challenges. I started a FinTech company focused on business model innovations before joining IBM. Now, working for IBM, a technology company, I’m able to synthesize my knowledge of all three pillars into my career, and talk about them to industry leaders.

When I joined IBM, I determined that it was important to systematize the language and the knowledge around the three pillars, so I’ve written three books. One was about innovation in investment management methodology, the second (very successful book) was about innovation in financial technology, and the third, which will be released in a couple of months, is about business model innovation within a regulatory framework. These books have been beneficial to me because they give me credibility and help substantiate my conversations much more.

To be eminent, you need to create content that is deep, yet simple to understand by your counterparts. Because IBM is a global company, I’ve had the opportunity to work in every region. People say that the U.S. is very advanced technologically, Europe owns regulation, and Asia owns the business model. By sourcing knowledge I’ve gained across IBM and talking to clients worldwide, I’ve been able to validate my views about all of the topics combined.

Let’s talk about your digital footprint—specifically your website and social media presence. How does this activity contribute to your eminence?

Blogging can be labor-intensive, but it makes sense to be where people are talking. On my personal website, I collect important pieces of information, and I can always refer people back to it for more. But most of my conversations are on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter and Facebook. I feel that more decision makers are on LinkedIn; it allows you to convey more of your message, and it’s more clearly linked with your professional identity.

My books articulate my knowledge, but social media allows me to reach out to the communities where people already are. People like to talk to people. Social media gives life to content. It makes knowledge breathe. Books take a year to write, a year to publish, and last maybe two to three years. During this time, people want to learn more about your thinking. When you talk to people, your authorship, your work, your position, and your eminence build trust, and as a result, you’re able to help them understand the value of IBM. You’re invited to speak at conferences and to clients about why the industry is changing, how it’s changing, and how they can make sure they generate a good return on their investment.

You appear in the media frequently. How do you form relationships with the media so that they want to interview you?

The key is to be accessible on social media. Always respond when anyone reaches out to you. When the media sees you talking to industry leaders, they will talk to you. If you just publish a book, it’s not enough. They need to understand that there’s a message behind it. Once they understand the message, they’ll take a look at the book for reinforcement. The media will see that you’re not just making a marketing statement, because you’re providing examples, reasoning, and theory. They’ll be happy to talk to you.

What do you recommend others do to increase their industry eminence?

First, learn as much as possible from clients. Comparing one client to others reveals key elements of industry and understanding pain points. Next, work on your social media. Be active. Don’t be afraid to share your views, talk to people, and ask questions. You’ll learn, but you’ll also be viewed as a person who is communicating knowledge. Social media shouldn’t just be amplifying; social media means you are sharing and communicating. Try to come up with your own content. Write short posts and see how it works. Don’t just use buzzwords; you need to move past that to provide value.

Tell us a bit more about your path to industry eminence.

When I joined IBM, I thought it was an amazing opportunity to work for an established institution that was facing a big shift: moving from a world that was making money on transactions to one making money from adding value. This was visible in banking. In the past, banks were focused on being more efficient, and the business model was detached from technology. Now, technology shifts force banks to modify their business models as well. My colleagues are great at discussing the “what” of technology. With my industry background, I can be complementary and help business people understand “why” transformation is happening and “how” they can make it happen by changing their business models to make ROI. That’s my niche. I communicate my POV on why their work can be better tomorrow.

I’d like to touch on trust again. Trust is key for eminence; it’s what helps businesses move forward. A crucial element is to be personal. Social media tears down barriers between people and helps you to be trusted. Don’t be afraid to share ideas, thoughtfully. When you are personal, you are trusted more. Social media provides a platform for two-way communication. You want people to read your content and ask you questions so it’s not just one direction.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes. I think eminence is also the attribute of wild ducks' thought leadership. As I joined IBM Industry Academy, I promoted the Academy on my LinkedIn and front pages of conference keynotes. Many clients reached out asking about the Industry Academy, and praised IBM for investing in conversational thought leadership that they can access without being intimidated. Why is this so? Because in this time of digital change, people hear many buzz words and look at wild ducks for direction, but they also want to feel that they can trust organizations. IBM Industry Academy links social media eminence, wild duck thought leadership, and institutional engagements.

Ginni Rometty said in a recent interview on Harvard Business Review that "IBM treasures wild ducks" (link resides outside of ibm.com). Eminence is a critical attribute of wild ducks, and the Industry Academy is recognizing and further propelling IBM’s top industry experts to transform their deep industry knowledge into a recognized value-add for our clients worldwide.