Monica Caldas: The Change-Maker

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Monica Caldas, CIO of Global Services & Digital Solutions, GE Transportation. Photo: Caleb Fox

Monica Caldas doesn’t have time or patience for complaints: only for action. After immigrating to the United States at eight years old, Caldas decided the only way to turn her interest in technology into a full-blown career was to harness the immigrant mind-set—work hard and pull herself up through the ranks. Today, Caldas is the chief information officer for global services and solutions at GE Transportation. Hispanic Executive caught up with Caldas to reflect on her year, her journey, her approach to leadership, and some of the projects she’s most excited about.

Can we start by you giving me an overview of your background and telling me how you got into tech?

MC: I was born in Portugal, and my parents immigrated to the US when I was eight. My parents didn’t have college educations—they mostly kept housekeeper and gardener-type jobs—so I wasn’t around a lot of technology growing up; I found it fascinating all on my own. I just thought, ‘Wow this is so cool, how does this work?’

I went to college to study business, but selected the information systems track. That’s where I got exposed to coding and software development. I couldn’t believe that you could essentially make anything come to life with software. So getting into technology was really through my own exploration and being excited by what I saw. My parents had no idea what I was doing really. They were just happy knowing I was in college and I was going to go get a job.

What influences your leadership style?

MC: Being an immigrant, one lesson I learned early was to be in charge of my own destiny and not to depend on others to forge a path for me. I learned that from my dad. There is also a saying  I read once that really made an impact on me. It was something to the effect of: ‘You may be on the right track, but you’ll get run over sitting down.’ My interpretation of that would be, if you want to see change, you have to be making the change.

I was looking for a company that had that type of philosophy and encouraged people to have a voice and go make change—that’s when I landed at GE. I came here first as an intern in college and haven’t stopped making change since.

As I grew with the company, I became a product of all their leadership programs—all of which I’ve benefited from. So when you combine growing up with an immigrant mentality, and being in an organization that empowers, it feels natural to step into a leadership position, while growing and grooming other people in my organization.

“Being an immigrant, one lesson I learned early was to be in charge of my own destiny and not to depend on others to forge a path for me.”

Monica Caldas

Would you say this ‘take action’ mentality describes your leadership style today?

MC: Yes. I’m a coach. I look to help grow my team, that’s one of my top priorities. In addition, I motivate my team to focus on outcomes and not be discouraged by obstacles. Noting is impossible to solve and we have creative problem solvers. How I measure success is: did I enable the promotion and the growth of my people? I love when my people get promoted. That’s when I know I’ve been successful. I’ve enabled them to grow.

What are some projects you’re excited about at GE?

MC: The first—which is business oriented—is the journey that GE is on transforming into a digital industrial. The journey that we’re on presents huge opportunities to deliver greater value to our customers. When I spoke earlier about how I got into IT, I mentioned how I love the power of what technology can do. It can transform your idea, scale it, and change how you operate. Everything we’re doing with transportation specifically—adding more sensors and enabling more onboard instructions and then utilizing those capabilities to analyze real time locomotive and train conditions, environment factors, and then in real time, optimize the operation of that train. That generates a different value for our customers that can help them run their operation faster and more efficiently. As an IT leader, I wear many hats and it’s very exciting to be a partner in developing these commercial opportunities and driving new solutions for our customers.

The second piece is around what we’re doing with the GE Girls program. Our mission is to excite and retain interest of middle school girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). It’s exciting to share GE’s technology brand and facilitate interactions between career role models and students. I’m one of the senior executive sponsors of that program. We have over 200 GE full-time employees that are volunteers to drive that mission. We run camps every summer across the country and in partnership with local community schools, GE business and universities, we have reached over 600 girls. Especially for someone like me, who did not grow up with a technical mentor, I love that GE is putting time, effort, and money into helping girls learn and be inspired. I’m excited about our mission to reach more and more girls every year.

MONICA CALDAS’S HABITS FOR SUCCESS

SET GOALS WITH A “WHY”
Whenever she sets a goal—personal or professional—Caldas makes sure she can articulate exactly why she’s setting that goal. She says creating a crisp and clear “why” gives a clarity to work, helps drive toward the outcome, and ensures coworkers are on the same page.

GO ON “SEAT RIDES”
If faced with a problem or obstacle, Caldas says she tries to first fully understand the situation before taking action. She goes on what she terms “seat rides”—akin to putting yourself in someone else’s role. “I’m looking to understand the situation, so I can solve it and not just complain about it,” she says.