IBM CEO Ginni Rometty explains why her mum is her hero

Ginni Rometty commencementAP/Hans Pennink/Feature Photo Service for IBMIBM CEO Ginni Rometty received an honorary Doctorate of Engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

IBM chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty is a sucessful role model to many people — especially when they learn that her childhood was somewhat difficult.

Rometty openly talks about growing up and says her mother is her “hero.” Her parents divorced when she was 15. She doesn’t talk about her father much.

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Rometty was asked about her parents. She zeroed in on her mother, a homemaker who initially didn’t have a college education. But she figured out how to provide for her family anyhow.

“She did raise my brothers and sisters and myself,” Rometty told Rose. “And she found herself one day with nothing. She didn’t have a college degree. She didn’t have a job. She had been raising us. Her job was in the home. She hadn’t worked outside. And we never saw my mum blink, we never saw her cry. She did everything she had to do.”

Rometty (who’s maiden name is Virginia Nicosia) is the oldest of four and grew up in “a very middle class, average background” in Chicago, she explained in an earlier interview this year.

After her parents split up, her mum worked multiple jobs to support her family and went to night school to get a college degree. Rometty babysat her younger siblings at night.

“She got an education. She got a great job. She was determined that we would succeed,” Rometty says of her mum. “What I always learned from my mum was never let anything or someone define who are you.”

We may hear more about her personal journey when she addresses the 2015 class from her alma mater, Northwestern, in June. Rometty told Rose her speech would focus on these key lessons learned from her mum.

Her mum’s work ethic clearly filtered to Rometty. She attended Northwestern on a scholarship from GE, getting a degree in computer science and electrical engineering.

After a short two-year stint working for GE (long enough to meet her husband), she landed at IBM in an entry-level, systems engineer role and spent the next 31 years working her way to the top.

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