Martha Poulter, vice president and chief information officer for GE Capital, says she’s realized a lot about herself later in life, including the fact that she chose the perfect career to suit her personality.
“At the time, I thought it was so interesting that I could tell my machine what to do, and it just does it — it was so glamorous,” says Poulter about getting her undergrad degree in computer science and engineering. “It was so interesting that you can speak to machines through programming. I think I’m a little bossy, so I like that — I like a machine to do what I tell it.”
She started her first job as a programmer straight out of college and progressed into some analysis and people leadership roles, until eventually she landed her first CIO role with GE Capital in 2004 — in the profit and loss business unit — where she increased the size and scope of the business, and added global positions. Today, she oversees 3,800 employees worldwide from her headquarters in Norwalk, Conn.
“I lead information technology for GE Capital — so I have the responsibility to oversee all of our computing assets worldwide,” says Poulter, naming the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia as primary markets. “My day is not typical to each other at all. It varies from budget reviews to problem sessions — from outages to vendor negotiations to investment negotiations…”
The Colombian-born executive says the favorite part of her job is the variety of challenges she tackles everyday.
“I think that variety is very engaging — also the fact that what I do is so tied to our business strategy…how we’re delivering strategy, how we operate…that’s energizing because you’re at the heart of the challenges and opportunities that the business is facing,” says Poulter.
She says she knew early on that was the kind of career she wanted to follow.
“I was already working and got my MBA at night,” says Poulter. “I was working in a very technical domain, and I thought education would be a nice opportunity to broaden and get a good perspective of business. Technology fits into the business world. I thought it would have a benefit for me.”
She says education is invaluable, no matter what you study, because it teaches you different points of view. She also thinks having mentors serves a similar purpose.
“One of my mentors said to me early on, ‘Don’t be afraid to rely on a network of people to help you,’” and that is one piece of advice she says she’s carried with her on her way up the career ladder. “It could be help getting an introduction to somebody, to prepare for a meeting…it gets more meaning the more you go through your career, because you recognize how true it is.”
She says often times we are too singularly focused, causing us to miss out on opportunities.
“What he was trying to tell me is you don’t have to figure it all out yourself,” says Poulter. “You need a network around you to help you fill different needs, and it’s almost more true the more you progress.”
She says she first received that advice, when she was around 25, from a peer that was very senior to her in age.
“We were doing similar roles, but he had a lot more work experience and took me under his wing,” says the now 45-year-old. “It really stuck with me, and we’re still in touch…we still meet for lunch.”
She also says the work ethic her family gave her couldn’t help but play an influence in her success.
“My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was a toddler,” says Poulter. “Courage and risk-taking are things that come to mind. I think those are huge values, and when you see it through your life, to me that’s huge.”
Courage was something that seems to have been ingrained in her. In most of her college classes and career, she was oftentimes one of the few, or the only, woman.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,” she says. “The field was challenging, so it was more about surviving.”
For the past three years, one of her primary goals as the national co-leader for the GE Hispanic Forum has been helping employees within her company not only survive, but excel.
“The GE Hispanic Forum helps the company attract Hispanic talent across the world and helps employees professionally develop and develop a network,” says Poulter. “We’re incredibly proud to deliver those benefits to 3,500 members…We have people recruiting talent, and we do professional development events on an annual basis, including a biannual customer meeting, and a biannual symposium bringing together 600 to 700 Hispanic leaders for professional development and networking. The focus is on developing the employees within the company.”
Other causes she says she’s devoted to is the GE Women’s Network, the Southern Connecticut Child Guidance Center and the Hispanic Federation.
“What I think I’ve learned is that there’s not one single approach for everyone,” says the mother of two. “I outsource the things that are not important to me — like dust bunnies are not important to me, my kids are the most important thing to me, but those choices are different to everyone. What is the same for all of us is prioritizing, being disciplined with time, and finding a support network.”