Sheer determination and a bold attitude led her to where she is today, a powerful career woman with a strong family network. Her confident voice rang throughout the auditorium as she masterfully weaved visuals from her personal stories into these insights for the recent “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” GE global leadership storytelling initiative:
“Being present…When you are there, be all the way in.”
“Speak up, make your voice heard.”
Cate (Catherine) Gutowski, Vice President of Commercial Digital Thread at GE Digital, is one of General Electric (GE)’s top female leaders with 19 years of experience under her belt.
She is currently heading GE’s digital transformation movement- Commercial Digital Thread, a connected digital ecosystem to develop a world-class commercial workforce and maximise the impact of GEs sales teams. Additionally, she is also part of the GE’s Women Network and she is currently leading the “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” initiative.
Expanding Beyond Your Comfort Zone
The New Savvy: Hi Cate, thanks for having us. Let’s start by telling us about yourself. How did you find your place in GE and specifically, in the digital space?
Cate: I started with GE right after college and join their leadership program, the GE Technical Leadership Program. This is a 2 years program where you get to learn about the different aspects of the business. When you graduated, you do a technical sales role.
The first 10 years was honing my craft, getting really deep, an expert in sales and later sales leadership, leading sales teams and that was my expertise. From there, I moved to the lighting business. So [I spent] my first 10 years then last 8 years in the lighting business. When I was in the lighting business, it was the same thing; I was leading sales teams successfully.
Our CEO came to me and said, “You could be running the GE business but you got to get uncomfortable.”
That was part of going to Budapest. I was trying different things. I was doing commercial operations and product management that were all about building. We were building light fixtures so my response was: “How do you digitally enable them?”
I started putting video cameras and sensors, I started putting everything on the prefix operating system. That is how I got into digital. I have always been one of the first people to move from the Blackberry to iPhone. So I have always kind of love technology and I am a bit of early adopter.
Embracing the Digital Era
The New Savvy: What do you think is the next big thing in the digital space?
Cate: When GE was moving into the [digital] space, I got really excited about it because it is a huge opportunity. When you think about all the earnings growth and market capitalization that came out from the consumer internet… And now what GE is doing basically running the same way for the Industrial Internet.
They are connecting people. So, if you think about the Internet connecting a billion people, the Industrial Internet is connecting 50 billion people machine and data. GE is leading this charge. We have the hardware background and now we have invested the software. Hence, we think this is the next big thing.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to be the Digital Revolution and the Industrial Internet.
The New Savvy: Do you see women as being more or less receptive towards the digital transformation?
Cate: Women, in general, tend to be more open to digital transformation and tools. I don’t know if that surprises me or not. In some ways it has. When we came up with this idea, it was actually our CIO, Jamie Miller, a woman, who came up with the term “Industrial Internet.”.
It was her idea that we should go down this path. She wasn’t a typical CIO. She was working in finance and accounting. Jeff [CEO of GE] saw something in her though she doesn’t know anything about IT. Hence, she came up with the term and the whole plan in investing. We spent a lot of time in San Ramon [California] building up this IT infrastructure with 20,000 engineers, PhDs and data scientists. Competing for talent with Google, Microsoft and all the start-ups, we are there!
The New Savvy: How do you think the next generation can excel in this upcoming digitalized era?
Cate: I recently took my daughter, Hannah, to a coding class. I have a LinkedIn post called “Coding Through My Daughter’s Eyes”. We have to expose our kids at an early age so that it will be natural to them. In the work I do, a lot of tech companies call and want me to invest in the next big technology.
I always ask, “What do you think the future will hold? And what do they want their kids to be good at?” And they, mostly CEOs, would say, ” Look, I actually want my children to study English, History or something right brain.” What I think is going to happen is that we are going to need more people who are more empathetic and creative. Those are the skills of the future.
I think to lead is your ability to learn and your ability to learn fast.
I think the thing about GE is that you can be successful as long you can learn fast. If you can do that, you can do anything. You don’t have to be doing something for years, you just need to learn fast. You become the expert and your company is depending on you.
Leading With “Why”
The New Savvy: How do you plan to create a high performing team?
Cate: Cognitive diversity is really important. I just reorganised my team and I want this team to be cognitively diverse. I am living in one right now. There are storming, norming, performing phrases in creating a team so we are in the natural storming phrase.
There is a lack of trust right now. They are all so different. One of the things that I am going to work with my HR leader when we get back is that we are going to use storytelling and everyone gets to say their own stories. When we do that, people are going to see the real people.
Everyone is flawed and none of us is perfect.
This is going to break down some barriers and enable us to operate as a high performing team.
The New Savvy: How do you choose your team members and how can you convince them to join?
Cate: One of the books I am reading right now is by Simon Sinek. It’s called “Start With Why”. It is all about what is your purpose. Why are you here, why does GE exist and why digital transformation? I don’t know the answer right now and I am working on it.
We are reinventing this company. Moving from the suburbs to cities, we are having open offices to cover the generation of millennial. We need to figure out why. Millennials are willing to come work for us for a deeper purpose. I mean you can argue businesses such as a healthcare have a deeper purpose. What about conglomerates? How do I get them to come?
I look for 2 things. I look for people who are genuinely active in transforming the field experience and will transform the client experience. And if we do that, we will be around for the next 125 years. And [I look] for people who have a passion for change and want to be part of a big transformation.
Supporting Each Other in Finances
The New Savvy: Do you plan for your household finance?
Cate: Yes, I am a planner. In my household, we have a division of labour. We would split 50-50 but not all the time. We support each other there [with the help of] a financial planner, a budget and an annual goal meeting..Just like a company. This is a business! We get together once a year to review our goals and the progress we have made. So we make big decisions together.
We get together once a year to review our goals and the progress we have made. So we make big decisions together. I have a tonne of spreadsheets for big decisions with my husband. We crunch the numbers for our big decisions such as buying a new house and we look at the family balance sheet and say “Does this make sense?” I enjoy investing. But, I am not that good with it and I hope to be better as it is important.
I think from financial wealth comes with incredible independence.
My in-laws once commented I had nothing when I first met my husband. My husband definitely didn’t marry me for money. [He] was a homeowner and all I had was some savings. My dad gave me this advice “Cate, whenever you get a commission check or bonus, you should spend a little on yourself, buy yourself whatever you want and put the rest in your bank.” I have always done that and it has always been enough. Make this a habit!
If You Can See It, You Can Be It
The New Savvy: Can you tell us more about the “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” global leadership through storytelling initiative?
Cate: Storytelling is a critical leadership tool because a good story can help influence and inspire others to take action. People follow people. People don’t follow Powerpoint slides. If you want people to follow you, you have to connect and inspire… and stories are the best way to do that.
We also know from our Vice Chair, Beth Comstock, that stories are the best way to engage customers. You can’t sell something until you’ve entered a customers heart or mind, and there is no better way to do that than through stories.
In two years we’ve had over 400 GE customers and employees across four continents participate in the “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” leadership through storytelling global initiative.
We are doing this initiative because I want to leave the world in a better place. I wish I had access to this when I first started out. I would want to know how to be a better mother, a better wife, have a better career. I had no playbook. The first 10 years I was the only woman in the room because I was selling switch gears.
It wasn’t until I come to Lighting. That’s when I have more women mentors. I was able to learn the difference between how someone mentors you and how someone sponsors you. It’s night and day. I can’t sponsor someone until I was sponsored.
Now, I can do that for others and that’s what I am doing. This initiative is about diversity, we want the most diverse teams. I think we can reach there if we can connect through storytelling. I am sure there is a future leader in the room. We won’t get to the diversity point unless they can figure out how to navigate.
Essentially, it’s about diversity. It’s about connecting and inspire.
That’s what we are trying to do- connect and inspire the next generation of female leaders all over the world.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in