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Updated 2:00 PM February 11, 2005
 

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IT innovator cut a different path in life

As a child, Linda Dillman's dream was to become a beautician. Instead, she became one of the world's most influential businesswomen, leading the information technology efforts of a $250-billion corporation.

Dillman, executive vice president and chief information officer of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., recently was at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business to receive the school's Women in Leadership Award and to kick off the 2005 FuturTech Conference, "Competing & Living in a World Transformed by Technology."
(Photo by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.)

Dillman's impact on the information technology (IT) world has won her kudos from Fortune magazine, the Wall Street Journal and leading industry publications as one of the top women in business. Her influence on the implementation of radio frequency identification (RFID), the latest product identification and tracking technology, has the retail world buzzing.

If not for the vision of others, however, Dillman said she might not have discovered her true potential. In her keynote address, Dillman said that while growing up in Indiana, her role model was a cousin who made her living at the local beauty shop.

"She was the most successful woman in the family and I grew up wanting to cut everyone's hair," Dillman said. "But it wasn't long before I was encouraged by my teachers to do more."

Taking a cue from another female family member, Dillman set her sights on pursuing a career as an executive assistant. Upon entering Indiana Central College, she again was encouraged to strive for loftier goals.

"I would have limited my view of what I was capable of had I not been encouraged to do more. I want to convey the message that the only limitations placed on you are those you place on yourself," said Dillman, who also stressed that a budding career shouldn't take a narrow path. "If I had followed my own career path, I'd be a beautician today."

Instead, Dillman's list of accomplishments includes helping Wal-Mart develop what is considered to be one of the most sophisticated information services networks in the world. Before joining Wal-Mart 13 years ago, Dillman was with Hewlett-Packard for five years. She credits her move to Bentonville, Ark., with allowing her to grow and develop her management skills, while keeping her interested and motivated along the way.

"You must learn as much as you can about all aspects of your business. Learn across the silos in order to advance," said Dillman, who also encouraged students to prove their value by working hard and taking risks. "I found that if I spent all my energy doing the best I could on my own job, I was often asked to move up before I even thought I was ready."

Dillman said that taking control and making changes when necessary are keys to job satisfaction and success.

"Remember that you own your career," she said. "If you don't like it, change it. I mean, who drove you to work today?"

Dillman also said that developing strong relationships with co-workers and finding a mentor—someone you can naturally connect with, not the product of a mentoring service—are vital to a successful career.

"Build relationships, not with the political 'players' but honest-to-goodness, two-way, sharing relationships with the people in your organization," she said.

During a question-and-answer session following her address, Dillman told the FuturTech crowd that supply chain inventory control and predictive technologies are the new blips on her radar screen.

She also outlined Wal-Mart's philosophies for success, including three things that make the company different—a focus on people, logistics and technology systems. Her next big challenge, she said, is to continue to implement RFID throughout Wal-Mart's 4,000 stores worldwide.

When asked about recent controversies involving Wal-Mart business practices and whether they conflict with her personal value system, she said, "On a corporate level, I have never been placed in a situation where I feel my values have been compromised. I don't know how you work with people you don't believe in. I will leave the day that I am asked to do something that is illegal, unethical or immoral."

Finally, Dillman shared a bit of advice for those prone to sacrificing home life for career.

"Don't take your laptop power cord home with you," she said. "That way when it's off, it's off."

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