What makes you a good leader in driving an innovative business?

02/22/2013

Vice president for GE Transportation Tina M. Donikowski talks about innovative leadership.


What are the essentials for driving innovation in business? Tina M. Donikowski, vice president for propulsion systems and chief marketing officer for GE Transportation, discussed building a career in a global technology company and creating businesses that move the world in her Jan. 25, 2013 presentation at Sage Hall, “Innovative Leadership.” An innovative marketing leader at GE Transportation, Donikowski has direct responsibility for product management, sales, and service-related activities totaling over $500M, and was a driving force behind GE’s entry into advanced battery technology for energy storage.

In her talk, Donikowski recalled that when she first became general manager for GE Transportation’s Propulsion and Specialty Services (P&SS) in 1999, the future of the business didn’t look very bright. She saw an urgent need for change and innovation, and started to look at her products in new ways. She and her team examined the technologies in locomotives and later leveraged those technologies in adjacent markets such as mining, marine, and wind turbines. Holistically, the investments were very successful despite a few failures. “Don’t innovate if you can’t take failure, because it’s going to happen,” she said.” By 2012, Donikowski helped P&SS grow from a two million to a one billion dollar enterprise.

In 2007, GE’s Global Research Center called Donikowski and told her about a new battery technology for energy storage. However, the technology for the cell component of the battery belonged to Beta R&D. At that time, three different companies were trying to acquire Beta R&D. Immediately grasping the situation, Donikowski flew to the UK, explained her strategic plan for using the new battery technology to Beta R&D, and successfully secured the technology. In the end, GE bought it. “Innovation won’t wait for you, it’s happening,” she said.

When asked what makes a woman leader successful during the Q&A session following her presentation, Donikowski responded by offering two pieces advice: “Don’t be someone you are not,” and “Don’t look for shortcuts.” Everything will turn out well if you do the job, she said. When answering a subsequent question, Donikowski added that a good leader should be empathetic and caring toward the team, and know how to motivate the team. Also, “Make friends with tech people,” she advised, because they usually see the trends in innovation first.

Donikowski was lively and jocular throughout her entire presentation.

In closing, she said, “There are going to be many changes in your life and your work. You need to get used to [this fact], and have the confidence and the courage to manage those changes. That’s really the secret to success.”

— Yuezhou Huo '15
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