11_Tamar Elkeles

Resist Stagnation

“I’m not a person who holds on to legacies. I take things, shake things, and change things. The minute you get good at something, you get comfortable. And that leads to stagnation. People on my team have learned to embrace change. I live my life in fast-forward.”


Tamar Elkeles
Vice president of learning, QualComm Inc.
San Diego, California


What needed an overhaul?
A major driver of my existence is to work outside the boundaries set forth, and to continually forge my own path to achieving results. Hence, I was compelled to push the boundaries of Fast Company’s Fast 50 nomination by changing my approach to your nomination. I am the Vice President of Learning for QUALCOMM. I began my career at QUALCOMM in 1992 as a graduate student intern making $9 an hour. Today my department of nearly 30 is responsible for all learning activities and initiatives in the company. To me, being a change agent is not about changing “something,” it’s about having a continuous change mindset. My entire worklife is about doing the impossible and doing what hasn’t been done before. The only “no” in my vocabulary is “no problem.”

What was the single biggest obstacle?
As a change agent, being first is critical- first to think of an idea, first to adapt, first to execute. There was no training at QUALCOMM before I arrived, over the past 10 years we grew from an organization of 700 employees to over 7500. Every year I adapt my organization to fit the highly dynamic business changes. I believe that comfort in the past is a result of having a fear of the future (or of change), so I never let my organization become stagnant-we’re always unlearning our current state. This commitment to continually reinventing myself, my job, my department, as well as my products and services, permeates all elements of my work.

How did you overcome it?
I have a dedication and passion for enabling people to think differently, as well as helping them realize their potential through radical career change. To be the best in our industry, the profession and the marketplace we need to compete on ideas, we need to compete on speed and we need to compete on talent. I have transformed a catering director into a world-class web developer. I have developed a soldering trainer into an internal organizational consultant. Pushing people to their limits is one of my key philosophies for managing the talent in my organization. Making employees a bit uncomfortable and uncertain about what lies ahead generates extreme performance from my staff.

How have you seen results?
My goal is to achieve unrealistic expectations and continually challenge traditional ways of doing things. I am not an excuse repository, I’m a driver who continually adapts a process or product, independent of the challenges associated with change. A change agent always takes that risk to better a process or product for the customer. Exceeding expectations is a part of my job. Every day it’s about contributing more than I cost the company. To me, the only way to exceed expectations is to create a new level of performance, and new ways of working. I focus on outthinking the competition yesterday, implementing today and revising tomorrow. My commitment to my organization is to think of new ideas before our customers, and offer services and products that they haven’t even thought of yet. The biggest challenge for me is dealing with people who live their life in “pause,”