“You have to be a constant learner if you want to be a growth leader,” said Tina Donikowski, general manager of Propulsion and Specialty Services for General Electric’s transportation division. “In 30 years I have never been bored and I have never stopped learning. ”
On Oct. 8, the Kellogg General Management Club invited Donikowski to the Donald P. Jacobs Center to address students on designing and executing a growth strategy. Donikowsky’s dynamic personality engaged and entertained the large audience, and she balanced her many business insights with a sense of humor.
Indisputably, Donikowski has a plethora of knowledge to share. She has grown the GE Transportation revenues organically from nothing to $1 billion in just 10 years. She also holds direct responsibility for sales, product management and service-related activities within five distinct business units. In her role, she focuses on expanding locomotive technology into contiguous markets such as mining, marine, oil and gas and wind energy.
“Lead for the long-term,” she told students. “Know that whatever you do today, you will be there to reap the benefits or to deal with the consequences tomorrow.” Illustrating her point, Donikowski described challenges her team faced amidst the down cycle of the mining business. Though difficult, she and her colleagues continued to go against the grain and find ways to invest. “I knew that the market would be back, and when it came back in a big way we were ready with a full line of products,” she said. Anybody can achieve fiscal quarter targets by cutting costs, she added, but real growth leaders keep the long-term in mind and have a “belly for risk.”
Donikowski also noted the importance of strong recruiting. “Hiring people that are smarter and better than you will be the hardest lesson because it won’t be about you anymore,” she warned students. “But if you’ve hired correctly, feel confident in letting them run. Letting go is bringing people towards you.” A leader’s role is to coach and push in the right direction and to make sure people stay motivated, she said.
Speaking about the work-life balance, Donikowki stating that the scales are never really even. Instead, one must continuously cross-prioritize.
“Some days GE is winning and some days you better be home because that little boy is graduating from kindergarten and he’s only got one mother,” she said, pointing to a picture of her son on a PowerPoint slide. “Don’t confuse the stuff you’re going to work for with the stuff that is an absolute gift, like family.”
Student leaders were as pleased as the audience with Donikowki’s presentation. “We hope to get students excited about the role of a general manager,” said Anand Lal ’08, GMC co-chair. “We also want to shed light on some of the typical challenges encountered in such a career. We felt our aims would be best achieved if students heard directly from a manager like Ms. Donikowski, who is thriving at GE, a company widely known for producing some of the best general managers in the world.”