Bonnie Smith, '98
ALUMNA SPOTLIGHT: Bonnie Smith, ’98, Vice President & Chief Information Officer, Lear Corporation
by Laura Kempf, ’04, IBM Innovation Consultant and author of Inspiring Bold.
I first met Bonnie at a Booth Women’s Network Winter Tea event in Michigan. As she introduced herself as the Chief Information Officer at Lear Corporation, I thought, “Wow! That’s an accomplishment.” Not just the fact that she had reached that level, but also that she did it in a technology role. I remembered the world where STEM education opportunities weren’t offered to girls growing up, or encouraged in schools. I remembered not having a lot of female role models. To achieve that level, in that world, seemed daunting.
Interestingly enough, Bonnie explained that pursuing STEM had been encouraged among girls in her grade school at the time. “I remember the classes being relatively even. My dad played an early role in my development, as he was always tinkering with the latest computer and problem-solving.”
This nicely reinforced what women can achieve when given the right support and role models, but I found myself thinking, “And how did you end up as CIO?”
Bonnie continued, “I picked up a Money magazine listing the latest, hottest careers. The first two were doctor and lawyer, of which I had no interest. But computer science was next, and I thought, ‘I can do that’.”
In that same calm manner, Bonnie described, “I only decided to go for the CIO position five or so years ago.” It wasn’t a long-term dream or plan, but she had incidentally built a career developing the right skills all along the way.
She cited a management training program as her first job at E. I. Dupont De Nemours, Inc., as giving her a training ground to develop core skills. She was put into unfamiliar situations where she had to experience a challenge, develop and implement a solution, and, more importantly, stay in the role long enough so that when the solution had subsequent problems, she learned from those failures and continuously improved.
“I knew I could figure it out. I just needed to work hard,” she said.
Bonnie then further expanded her skills by attending the Booth Weekend MBA program. She especially valued that it was a “proper MBA,” or, in other words, had the same classes, same professors and same syllabus as the Full-Time MBA students. In the Weekend program, she was able to learn from others of similar work tenure.
“The program helped me to train my brain and get out of my technology box. It allowed me to learn the different perspectives I needed as a business leader,” she remarks.
Bonnie’s advice regarding career progression centers on all of her learning experiences. She had to be sure she had enough experience to recognize problems across all IT disciplines (hardware, software, governance, etc.). Spoken like a true Lean Leader, she had to be able to recognize patterns, sniff out trouble early, and know where to jump in and help her teams.