IBM’s Chief Marketer on Disruption and Leadership

Michelle Peluso, CMO of IBM, spoke in November at the IMPACT 2016 Capital Conference in Philadelphia. Peluso talked about how she has always been surrounded by disruption throughout her career at companies like Site59, Travelocity, Citi and Gilt.com.

“There’s no path to success that isn’t built like a roller coaster,” Peluso explained to the crowd full of private equity, venture capital and entrepreneurial professionals.

Like most industries, marketing has experienced a huge amount of disruption. Disruptors like Uber, Amazon and even the Internet of Things are opening up new possibilities for marketers across many industries, but, what makes a good disruptor?

Throughout Peluso’s career, she has been a disruptor and has been disrupted by other companies. Here is her list of what makes a great disruptor:

  • Disruptors are focused, obsessed and maniacal. They start with a brilliant idea that solves one problem and they broaden that idea only with a lot of thought.
  • Disruptors are passionate, customer-centric, unsatisfied and always transparent with others.
  • They create space for freedom and serendipity within the workplace and team.
  • Disruptors are able to slay misfits, failures and bureaucracy quickly. Once they start to believe their own hype, things can go south. Disruptors are able to go back to their core as startups.
  • For as big as a disruptor can dream and as many risks as they take, be sure to keep resilience and grace with you on the journey. Peluso explained that she tells her two children to have big dreams, and the confidence and audacity to achieve them. Disruptors are going to make mistakes and let themselves and others down, but they can pick themselves up and learn from the mistake.

Peluso has held executive roles at many companies. She explained that some people would consider her leadership style more nurturing, but good leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing.

“Don’t let anyone else define what great leadership means,” Peluso said.

Peluso says her leadership style includes

  • Being authentic
  • Not getting trapped in what others consider to be a good leader
  • Knowing the learning style of team members just as a teacher knows the learning style of students

IBM’s chief marketer suggests that you start building up leadership skills as early as possible in your career and continue to build after you are in a leadership role.


Taylor Knight is an associate content editor for Target Marketing and Total Retail. She enjoys writing and creating video content to interact with an audience.
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