Managing Director Prepares to Retire from the IEEE SA

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Judy Gorman Hits the High Notes
In 1984 IEEE hired a young New York City woman with a master’s degree in music theory. Her task was to publish a sizable backlog of approved standards. Within eight months she surpassed the goal that was set for her, raising the bar on what one could expect from Judy Gorman.

Judy Gorman
“I encourage employees to be change agents,” says Judy Gorman, who retires 2 April. “Look at change hard in the face, and don’t be afraid of it.”

Sure enough, Judy went on to lead in the late 1990s the creation of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) in its current structure, and over the past 14 years she has cultivated a world-class standards organization. As an integral partner of industry, government and the global standards community, IEEE SA today ensures the smooth transition of technology to the marketplace through the use of standards.

Judy retires 2 April as managing director of IEEE SA. Before grand pianos, long hikes and cultural engagements take over, she shared some memories, insight and advice.

After 28 years, what has been the biggest change for you personally?
You have to understand I was trained to analyze musical scores. I could take a Beethoven string quartet, for example, and explain how it was constructed and how it flowed by breaking it down into its essential elements: harmony, melody, form and timbre. So the fact that I ended up as managing director of the IEEE Standards Association is an inexplicable miracle.

I had no background in technology, electro-technology or standards for that matter. I didn’t even know they existed. So I had to make sense of something abstract at the outset – like when you first look at a piece of music. Luckily, you can transfer that ability to almost anything. I had to learn how the world of standards ticked from an economic, political and, to some degree, technological perspective. It took a while and I needed teachers. I couldn’t rely on just intuition.

Who taught you?
Andy Salem, my predecessor, was a very good teacher. If you thought of something innovative but got stuck because it was challenging to implement, he’d say it doesn’t matter. He’d tell you to plant the seed and watch it grow. Pretty soon, people across the street will talk about the seed as if it’s theirs — and that doesn’t matter either, as long as the seed is growing. So if you have an idea, don’t start worrying about how much it’s going to cost. Let the idea come out. Examine it. Play with it. Then you can start to be concerned about the costs and benefits.

What does it take to lead the Standards Association?
The standards business is all about building consensus. Technical experts in a particular field get together as part of a standards working group to agree on how something is going to work. How they arrive at that agreement is the process of building consensus, which requires negotiation and sacrifice. These experts may end up with a standard that is not in the best interest of their company or does not represent their own personal belief about the best outcome. Yet, ultimately, they are willing to live with the result because it went through the proper process.

We at IEEE SA define what IEEE consensus is because it can mean 15 different things to 15 different people. Then we help set up some rules and monitor them rigorously to ensure that people are following them. To do this, you have to be very good at human relationships — winning trust and making friends with industry partners and corporations so they’re willing to work with you and your organization over someone else’s. Standards is a very competitive space, and IEEE is just one set of initials. What draws people to ours? It’s the persona of the organization.

You played a major role in the reorganization of Standards in the 90s. How has it changed the landscape and IEEE?
In 1997 a group of volunteers, my supervisor at the time, and I met in a restaurant and sketched out on a napkin a new construct called the IEEE Standards Association, complete with a voting constituency and a board of governors. We also created corporate membership.

Given that we were known historically as an individual-based technical and scientific organization for the engineer, it was very unique to suddenly bring in this corporate profile. But it was becoming increasingly apparent that industry played a big role in standards, which is about getting products to market. In other words, standards were never an academic pursuit.

We followed up in 2004 by creating IEEE SA Corporate Advisory Group and Corporate Program. That was a turning point for IEEE standards strategy and development. The co-mingling of corporate participants and individual technical experts enables us to have not only dynamic industry engagement, but also a comprehensive and authentic view of standards challenges, both current and future.

Since early on, IEEE SA has led the way for all IEEE in terms of global outreach and recognition. Because of the IEEE SA Corporate Advisory Group, we had our first major workshop in Munich, and another in Beijing, and it went on and on. Today, Jim Prendergast says Standards is the tip of the sword when IEEE tries to penetrate a market or area. I would say that the Corporate Advisory Group has been the tip of that tip, and the Board of Governors and Standards Board are now in lockstep. Along that path, IEEE SA President Steve Mills has been my second major mentor, continuing to this very day.

Any advice you want to pass along to IEEE employees?
Don’t be afraid to reinvent the organization. The world is constantly reinventing itself; change is the name of the game. IEEE is a high-potential, high-delivery organization that should prevail in the long term. To ensure that happens, IEEE has to be willing to change when the time is right.

Take Standards, for example. It has migrated from being reactive to proactive — going after businesses, pursuing new standards work that is looking for a place to land, and seeing what would benefit IEEE as well. Once we changed our mindset and took the steering wheel, it made a very big difference.

So I encourage employees to be change agents. Pick the right volunteers who will help you champion what has to be done. Look at change hard in the face, and don’t be afraid of it.

© Copyright 2012, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from IEEE Internal Communications and Eye on the Institute.