Isaiah: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, Marc. Can you give me a quick personal and professional background on yourself?
The IBM Champions program recognizes excellence and expertise in innovative thought leaders in the technical community and rewards these contributors by amplifying their voice and increasing their sphere of influence. An IBM Champion is an IT professional, business leader, executive, developer, or educator who influences and mentors others to help them innovate and transform digitally with IBM products, offerings, communities, and services. The 2021 class of IBM Champions was recently announced, and accordingly, I sat down for a spotlight interview with 11-year IBM Champion Marc Hebert.
Marc: I’m the COO of Estuate, a 15-year-old IT services firm based in Silicon Valley. I have managed our IBM relationship and practice for 13 years—one of the most satisfying periods of my career. I’ve been amazed that a small firm like ours can build a strategic relationship with IBM, and sustain it over a long period of time. I have been in Information Technology my whole career, spanning roles at Arthur Andersen (which became Accenture), Oracle, Sierra Atlantic, and Virtusa. I had a great 11-year run at Oracle, where I created a number of new business functions: Internal Audit, Vertical Applications Products, the CIO function, and Design & Migration Services within Alliances. I have also been involved in non-profit arts management throughout my career, including my current role as Board Chair of Leonardo, the International Society for Art, Science and Technology—a fifty-year-old organization dedicated to the intersection of art and science.
I: What does it mean to you to be an IBM Champion?
M: I’ve had the honor of being an IBM Champion since 2010 when I was nominated by an IBM sponsor. Being an IBM Champion has given me cachet and credibility with IBM employees and Business Partners, and especially with IBM prospects and customers. While many people don’t know what the title means, it’s easy to convey being an effective evangelist for IBM products that we market, sell and implement. I shamelessly use the title in my email signature and proudly display the logo on my shirts and laptop—and many people I interact with comment on it. I also appreciate the camaraderie of the IBM Champion Community, especially at IBM events like Think. Most of all, being an IBM Champion is a really effective marketing tool for my business.
I: What are you looking forward to most as an IBM Champion this coming year?
M: Estuate continues to be a strategic partner to IBM for Data & AI products, most notably the IBM InfoSphere Optim family. We play a vital role in the IBM field in providing complete technical presale support for the products in support of Optim sales, and we are particularly pleased that partners are playing a bigger role in selling IBM software products this year. The IBM Champion designation reinforces our image in this role and gives me instant credibility with new sales teams and prospects.
I: What's something new you've learned from a fellow IBM Champion?
M: Another IBM Champion in my firm is an excellent technologist, and keeps his ear to the ground regarding new IBM technology. In particular, he is helping realize that IBM software technologies are gradually interweaving with each other as part of IBM’s hybrid cloud strategy, especially regarding Cloud Pak for Data, and involving microservices. Pulling on one thread leads to another...in a broad tapestry. It’s quite exciting.
I: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an IBM Champion?
M: Being an IBM Champion requires technical competence and dedication to one’s craft—that’s a table stake for becoming one. More than that, though, is the need to be an evangelist for some sector of IBM products, and to demonstrate leadership of some sort within the IBM community—whether through writing, speaking, or acting. Leadership can come in many forms—even for those of us who are quieter than others.
I: What tech trends are you most excited about?
M: We live in a simply exhilarating time in the history of our civilization, as several major technologies begin to converge: information technology, deep learning, genomics, robotics, neuroscience. It’s remarkable that a few scientists toiled in anonymity for a long time to create the Messenger RNA technology that has led to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in just the nick of time, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. And, that same technology and others like it promise to revolutionize cures and treatments for a host of other diseases and illnesses in the not-to-distant future.
I: What kind of things are you working on?
M: In addition to my daily routine of selling IBM Optim products and services globally and managing trusted customer relationships, I run the Optim Virtual User Group and Optim Online Community. This is a User Group that I started with Optim Offering Management three years, and am very pleased that it has grown to 100 unique customers and 500 individual members over that time. Recently, an IBM marketing exec commented to me that the Optim User Group has become a model within IBM for other product groups to emulate, which is very satisfying. I also maintain a healthy list of IBM Optim customer references—the place that reps come to for help with references on deals.
I: What's the coolest thing you learned this week?
M: Not sure it’s cool, but I am very relieved to learn that a few courageous people can steer a society away from self-destruction. We came scarily close to jeopardizing our democratic institutions, but I’m hopeful that we will emerge stronger and more resilient as a society, democracy, and economy.
I: As a leader of a user group that's very active and has hosted a lot of meetings during the pandemic, what advice would you give to people trying to organize and meet online during these strange times?
M: Actually, a year of isolation at home has opened my eyes to the rich interaction and business relationships that can be achieved remotely. Video conferencing is a reasonable substitute for in-person contact in many cases. And, it is indeed possible to create and sustain communities virtually. As chair of the Optim Virtual User Group, I’ve come to appreciate that a virtual user group has distinct advantages over what used to be a set of small regional user groups who met occasionally in person. Through a combination of quarterly conference calls and a vibrant online community, it is possible to weave together a global community to share resources and best practices that are much richer and productive—and much less time-consuming.
I: Are you reading a great book currently or what's the last great book your read?
M: The most influential book in my life is Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” It helped me realize that the path I would choose in life was not my most crucial decision—rather, it’s the energy and commitment I would put into whatever choice I made. That freed me from agonizing indecision and helped me pursue and enjoy the meandering path that followed. More recently, Ray Kurzweil’s “The Age of Spiritual Machines” introduced me to the miracle of exponential progress and the infinite potential of human evolution as we integrate mind with technology and achieve immortality of sorts...unless we destroy ourselves.