Marilyn Johnson, vice president of market development, IBM Corporation

IBM’s vice president of market development Marilyn Johnson is one of the few black women with executive-level sales and marketing experience in the global elite of information technology firms. Moreover, Johnson is more than a casual supporter of minority and women leadership in corporate America and society. She is an avid advocate, a change agent and, like a statistician, can break down the numbers in scientific form to show how women and minority advancement changes the country and the world for the better.

“ ‘His-story’ is not always ‘her-story.’ Sometimes we have to back up and inspect what is being documented and captured. The Center for Women’s Business Research has documented that the spend for women business start-ups is growing exponentially in the way of technology adoption,” Johnson says. “We’re finding solutions that are making them more productive in the workplace and make them more responsive to their customers.”

Johnson spoke with rolling out about the advancement of women in American society, why black women are the nation’s fastest growing demographic in terms of entrepreneurs, and IBM’s devotion to attracting and retaining young African American innovators.

Women, particularly African American women, are leading the country in start-up businesses, why is that?

The center also stated that the results of the research showed that the fastest-growing customer set, potential in technology, at companies like [IBM] is women of color. Women of color are starting businesses faster than any other client set. Why is that? Probably because we’ve had 20, 30, 40 years of working for someone else and we realized that we can do consulting and inventions ourselves. Or, some have reached the plateau — in corporate America it’s called a “glass ceiling” and in my industry it’s called a “silicon ceiling” — and they say, “if I’m not going any further, why not be a lead officer executive in my own firm or a firm of talented women.”

You mentioned that the marketplace malaise caused by the Great Recession has created unexpected opportunities for women, talk about that.

As the job market becomes more competitive, women are saying “you know what? I’ll create my own space.” That I can appreciate. Now, if you put all of that together, now you really have that intrepid force of talent that’s coming through like a tsunami. And it’s going to change the face of business. Women business owners are going to change the face of business.

Share with us why IBM makes it a point to create a strong presence at the crème de la crème of African American professional conventions, particularly those that attract blacks with advanced degrees.

We want to have our brand present in the minds of future business leaders. They will either work for IBM, buy from IBM or influence decisions for companies they go to work for. Some may compete against us. But even then, we want them to appreciate the value of the IBM brand.

What are the intangibles that you and IBM find in those who have advanced degrees such as attendees of the National Black MBA Association conference?

I would have to say, within this set of members, there is such diversity — diversity of background and demographic, the contact with the Caribbean with the Motherland, Africa, with Latin America, even north of the 49th parallel. This organization attracts talent from all over the world. And that diversity inset within itself gives us an excellent view of the market of the talent that’s there and of the innovative approaches to business work. And I will say I find an energy here that is intrepid. And it’s that energy that is inspiring and it’s also an aptitude that is only propelled by the aptitude of excellence that they pursue. So with that aptitude and they are given the opportunity to reach their own desires and heights, you give them creativity — us creativity — we will deliver in ways that are truly unexpected.