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I GREW up outside London and attended a private French school, the Lycée Français de Londres. My parents owned a printing company in London and would drop off my younger brother and me in the morning and pick us up after work. I attended that school from age 4 until I enrolled in the University of Oxford to study chemistry.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I stayed on at Oxford for a doctor of philosophy in chemistry, graduating in 1981. When I interviewed with companies recruiting on campus, I.B.M. offered me the most money, so I accepted its job offer as a systems engineer. In school, I had been working on quantum pharmacology, modeling electronic structures of drug molecules, and I assumed I.B.M. would give me a job in research. Instead, I was assigned a small territory in south London with retail and manufacturing clients.
Next, I moved into sales and then sales management. In 1996, I was running the Unix global sales division when my boss asked me to cut short my Colorado ski vacation and meet with Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the I.B.M. chief executive at the time. I didn’t know it, but I was to become one of two executive assistants to Mr. Gerstner. These were high-level positions. I attended senior team meetings and saw how strategy was formed.
From there, I returned to England and held senior positions in the telecommunications, utilities and media business, along with the mainframe business, for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. One of my favorite positions was starting the global wireless business for I.B.M. in 2000. Wireless technology was just emerging in Europe, and the big telecommunications companies were dreaming of transmitting football games and the like across mobile devices. I wanted to be part of that.
Over a glass of wine, I suggested to my bosses that we become involved in mobile technology. They gave me a budget and told me to keep my day job but work on the project on nights and weekends. They wanted to know how profitable the idea could be. When I told them, they asked me to run the business globally. It was like leading a start-up within I.B.M.
The software we developed allowed companies to offer data access on mobile devices. One of the first applications, for maintenance engineers, took off quickly.
After a year, I.B.M. asked me to lead its entire Unix business, and after that I became vice president for corporate strategy. I told my bosses that our services should be based on software, so they gave me a new job overseeing a business that included computer security services. I decided to purchase some companies rather than develop certain services, and one of my first acquisitions was Internet Security Systems. When its C.E.O. moved on, I.B.M. asked me to run this division. I loved the work, but I realized I’d rather run it as a stand-alone company, so in 2009 I left I.B.M. to pursue this type of challenge.
That same year, a headhunter contacted me about the top job at Damballa, and I accepted. The company, which was founded in 2006 by a group at the Georgia Institute of Technology, focuses on protecting organizations from criminals who can take charge of a PC or mobile device and steal data. Damballa refers to a voodoo god that protects against zombies, a term that refers not only to the walking dead but to computer threats also called bots.
I started flying planes about 18 years ago. On one United States assignment, I joined a group on Long Island and started competitive acrobatic flying. I’m also a member of the British Aerobatic Association, which competes in European and world championships. Before I joined, Nick Onn, one of the members, invited me to fly in a two-seater plane with him. We’re now married.
As told to Patricia R. Olsen.