Chat with... Sara Sindelar, Forbes 30 Under 30 award recipient
NEW CANAAN — Sara Sindelar knew she wanted to go into a field that would be exciting and ever-changing. She found that in marketing and advertising when she interned for IBM in the summer of 2008.
Originally from Baltimore, Sindelar moved to New Canaan with her family when she was almost 5 years old. She went through the New Canaan public school system, studied marketing and finance at Syracuse University and obtained a master’s degree in business administration from the New York University Stern School of Business last year. In January, she was selected as a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient in the marketing and advertising field.
The 29-year-old talked about her trajectory at IBM and her advice for future postgrads.
Q: How did growing up in New Canaan help you on your trajectory?
A: I went to West Elementary School, Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School. New Canaan itself offers such great opportunities in terms of the community and it’s very family oriented. Everything is so close.
I grew up in a Catholic family, and so we were always volunteering and giving back to the community through that. It was something we always thought was important. It made me realize how important that was to me once I left New Canaan.
Q: Do you miss
A: It’s always nice to be back to the suburbs being in New York City and see some greenery. I come back once a quarter or so.
Q: What was your reaction to being a Forbes 30 Under 30?
A: It was extremely humbling, it caught me off guard. I know a couple of people in our office who have been on the list, so it was an honor not only as an individual to be recognized but also have IBM on there. It was like having impostor syndrome and thinking I didn’t deserve it because it’s a whole team, network, mentors ad partners. It was an award to me that represented a lot of people.
Q: How did you become interested in IBM?
A: I had two summer internships with IBM starting in 2008 and then I went full time after my college graduation in the summer of 2010.
Networking played a huge piece in that, and New Canaan is a good place to have to network. IBM is a great company to work for, and one of my goals was to have an internship at a larger company. I knew it would get me a good stepping stone to have a broad background and the ability to engage in various kinds of learning while still being in the same company.
Q: How did you become a ‘Next Gen Intrapreneur?’ What is that?
A: A couple of people were tasked with increasing employee engagement, especially with the younger generation at IBM. They were tasked to do so with a group called Millennial Corps and that was a couple of years ago, and that was to build a community of people around the world together and having a diverse focus group.
It sort of organically grew from there and now has 5,400 people around the world, and it was a place where our executive leadership could really tap in to get a next-generation perspective to see where the industry was going and what the new ways are to push media out.
Q: How long have you been co-chair of that?
A: I have passed my baton over.
What we’ve purposely done with the next intrapreneurial role, we’ve made it an 18-month role — and the role itself is coupled up to be with the Millennial Corps and we’ve been doing it as much as we can, and a couple of us could make it full time.
Doing so would be to put our brand in the hands of a younger generation to make the brand relevant and increasing brand awareness. We were given permission to start a brand new team, and that’s where the new intrapreneur piece came from where we were able to foster a startup culture within the company. Part of that role was to continue being a co-founder of Millennial Corps and wanted to make sure that the role was ever-changing, and there were fresh perspectives to it, and that a rotational program would bring someone new and off the team.
The team is completely brand new at this point. A bunch of us who have been the legacy members and co-founders are on what we call a brilliance board of directors kind of mentality, where we advise the current leaders as they are a bit newer to IBM. We mentor them and that makes an impact.
Q: What is your position now?
A: I am an event manager for our worldwide events and I help create immersive experiences.
Q: You’ve talked before about ‘failing fast.’ What does that mean?
A: That’s definitely something I try to live by. Our CEO always says that growth in comfort doesn’t exist. With more risks, there’s always going to be some failures and the world is moving at a fast pace. There’s always a chance to learn from that and that’s what I really try to do is to have a quick return from any type of failure, and to take the learning from that to move forward in any type of activity.
Q: You’re nearing your 10th year at IBM. What’s next for you?
A: I’m not really sure. I’m still figuring that out. I graduated from NYU Stern a year ago and have been transitioning into a new role at IBM and just starting to see what that next big step is. For now, I’ve been kind of taking a step back to evaluate what’s going to be next and what role and project to take on.
Q: What was the Watson Cognitive Dress at the MET Gala in 2016?
A: Me and one of the other girls co-led that project, it definitely took a big team. We wanted to figure out a way to show a concept — you never really think of IBM in fashion at the MET Gala, so it was a unique opportunity to show how the company can engage in the tech industry through fashion and show the ability of our brand in a different area.
We felt really proud of our work and the traction it gained was something we never really thought was possible.
Q: What advice would you give to college students hoping to go down a similar career path?
A: I’m always telling my mentees to find the niche in the gap and that’s what we did. Focus on what’s up and coming, really tackle that and don’t be afraid to take risks. If you believe in something, keep pushing to get someone to hear you — always that way with startups but it holds true. It’s really about taking risks early on in career when you’re able to do so.