How Earl Newsome’s 10 Years In The Army Prepared Him For Corporate Leadership
Earl Newsome is the Chief Information Officer at Cummins, Inc. He has over 30 years of global IT leadership experience with Fortune 500 firms.
In this interview, Earl discusses going from being raised all across the country by a single mom, to his career in the military, to now working for a global company.
Hi Earl. Let’s Talk About Your Work At Cummins.
I’ve been at Cummins for almost five months, and I’d describe my journey with Cummins in three words.
First, it’s a very courageous company. During the onboarding process, we learn about J. Irwin Miller, one of the early leaders of Cummins, who took some progressive stances on diversity. He walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the original March on Washington in the ’60s, and that’s the position the company has taken for social issues up to today. We still take social justice very seriously.
The second word is compassion. You hear the stories of our employees, our suppliers, and our customers, and you care. There’s a high sense of empathy towards the situation of others. Not only because that’s part of our value system but also because we hire caring people. It’s built into who we are.
The third word is complexity. Our engineering systems and what we offer in the marketplace is necessarily complex. We have to meet regulations, and our products must be dependable. We have a highly engineered, trusted product, which is complex by design. If we took the softer approach, our products wouldn’t have the reputation they have.
But we also have unnecessary complexity that comes in the way we make decisions. Sometimes, we can complicate the simple. I see that as an opportunity for the current leadership team to continue to look at how we continue to deliver on being courageous, compassionate, and necessarily complex whilst still having a high degree of efficiency.
So the challenge there is addressing and optimizing the unnecessary complexity. And that’s what makes me feel proud to be a part of this organization.
When You Reflect On Getting To This Point In Your Career, And Life, What Stands Out?
I’ll start at the beginning. I was born in Stamford, Connecticut. My brother was born 11 months after me, and then my youngest brother 11 months after him, so we were close in age. My mom worked for Social Security as a government service employee. They have offices in every city in America, so we moved quite a bit. I stopped counting after the 26th time we moved.
My birth father left us before I turned three, so I was raised in a single-parent home. My grandmother and grandfather were living in El Paso, Texas and they gave my mother assistance as much as they could. We spent holidays, Christmas, and the like, in and out of El Paso.
We went all across America, delivering speech services to all parts. That’s how I became a global citizen. Through that, and my grandfather being a colonel in the army.
What Lessons Did You Learn From These Experiences?
I was a nerdy kid. I used to take our moving boxes and assemble robots out of them. And that was kind of how I’d enter into the new world of wherever we moved. These robots were my initial friends until I found real ones.
Coming out of El Paso, my uncle started to nurture my computer information systems acumen, and I had a model TRS-80. We’d call it Trash-80 back in the day. But I also played football all the time. So, I was always a football player and computer geek.
With lots of travel and a military and civil service background, you get to learn to adapt to new situations all the time. You learn to make friends really easily because you’re always moving and engaging in sports which brought people together. When you bring all that together — that travelling footballer and computer geek — that’s really my foundation as I entered college and it helped set the stage for me to be where I am today.
You’ve Had Quite An Interesting Career, Going From The Military to Working in Corporate America.
I spent ten years in the military after I graduated. And then I spent another ten years in consulting. I began as a Senior Consultant at Anderson Consulting, and then ultimately left as a partner out of Deloitte & Touche.
The last 20+ years have been in corporate America, across a variety of industries, serving in leadership positions in various organizations.
How Did Your Military Experience Help You in The Corporate Setting?
When I think about those ten years in the military, I learned a lot about how to take care of people. In the military, you’ve also got to make sure they’ve got the right equipment to get the job done. And that they’re trained on how to use that equipment. Then they have to practice how to use that training effectively.
There’s a military commercial that says, “be all you can be.” That philosophy is really about pushing yourself to make sure that you’re always making a difference in the world. You want to make a difference in the communities you operate in, the employees under your charge, and the customers that you serve.
I think the opportunity to lead people is a gift. I cherish it. You should empower and guide your employees to the best of your ability.
How Do You Manage Employee Engagement At A Time Like This?
It’s an ongoing process. We’ve built some good habits during the pandemic, like meeting equity. I want to use our technology to help us continue to build that engagement, as well as use the appropriate amount of in-person interaction.
You’ve got to build a mechanism for high levels of employee engagement. That might mean virtual check-ins, virtual coffee hours. When our COVID conditions allow it, it may even mean physical offsite meetings. We need to continue to reimagine how we do engagement in this new world. We want to give our colleagues and our customers something to be excited about and providing a human connection is an important part of that.
You’re Also The Co-Chair Of The TechPACT. What Are TechPACT’s Aims?
It all started during a meeting of fellow CIO Colleagues to discuss how IT can help deal with the health crisis, through things like touchless processes. But the meeting occurred a week after the murder of George Floyd. And we got into that meeting and we couldn’t think about the COVID crisis. All we could focus on was the current social injustices happening around us.
From that meeting, we formed the TechPACT. We have a vision that says anyone with a passion for technology will have the ability to succeed. We’re looking to reduce the digital divide and increase the representation of underrepresented communities in the technology sector.
It’s a loose coalition of CIOs, partners, IT professionals, HR professionals, and anybody who’s interested in helping us execute our mission, and we want people to take our pledge. It’s about pledging to add one thing to your day that you wouldn’t otherwise do.
If you read a book, add a book from an author you wouldn’t otherwise read. Take somebody to lunch that you wouldn’t otherwise take. Or meet with a supplier you wouldn’t otherwise meet with. You can be the multiplier effect. Take the pledge, share it with your network, and just start by adding one.
Lastly, Do You Have Any Advice For Young Professionals Graduating Into This New Normal?
My biggest advice is to learn your story. Tell yourself a personal narrative that will drive you to better outcomes. Is that story helping you to progress? If not, change that personal narrative. Make it one that targets you toward unleashing your potential, rather than limiting it.
And dream big. Because what are dreams for, if they’re not big?