Jane Harper

Main Event: “How to Create in Internet Time”

One member of the four-person panel on leadership, change, and speed in the new economy, Jane Harper told the RealTime audience to never entertain the thought that something can’t be done. She illustrated this point by telling the story of IBM at Internet World six years ago, when was just a glimmer in Harper’s eye and management was shrugging off predictions concerning the Internet revolution. Without a team, a strategy, or a piece of technology to point to, Harper simply bought out all the space she could afford for the next Internet World conference six months down the road, and told her superiors that IBM had a new deadline to heed. Six months later, was introducing itself to the world.


An expert at flying under the radar of a major international corporation, Harper also relayed her experience with Extreme Blue, an internship program that began without any official approval and now attracts some of IBM’s smartest new recruits. Before her panel appearance, the director of Internet technology and operations spoke with Fast Company about kick-butt people and kick-butt ideas:

What message do you hope to convey to the RealTime audience?

The big message I’m here to talk about is speed. I was in the latest Fast Company magazine, which was all about speed. The really fast companies today compete on three things: speed, ideas, and talent. In my experience with IBM over the last year, I’ve been concentrating on speed, so I will be talking about how speed relates to large companies. I will also talk about talent because I’m really excited about an IBM program called Extreme Blue, which is all about this war for talent that we are dealing with today.

Where do great ideas come from?

Great ideas come from great people, and that is why one of my passions is bringing in the best people. I don’t have a lot of great ideas myself, but I hire some fantastic people who have great ideas everyday. My role is to help them bring those ideas into reality. It’s all about kick-butt people who come from different places and experiences, and bring their background to the table to figure out: How do you make it all come together?

Where do you stand on the Built to Last/Built to Flip issue?


I think every small company wants to be a big company. People can criticize IBM for being slow and bureaucratic, but small companies always want to get to our side. There is a mentality today that says, Blow up your business big enough to be bought out. I am not interested in that because I want to be part of something that has lasting value. I consider myself a catalyst for change, but I also think we need to have roots in something real and sustainable over time.

Why are here at RealTime Orlando?

I am a huge Fast Company fan. Every time I do a talk, I mention Fast Company because it is the one publication that talks about the human side of our industry. It talks about leadership, talent, and all the things that I care about, including the Internet thing. Bill Taylor spoke at an IBM event a few years ago, and I got so inspired by him that I became a follower. I’m just excited to be here at a RealTime event to experience the people and the place.

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