Alumni Stories
Gill Zhou

The Pioneer of Digital Marketing at IBM

Gill Zhou, IBM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for Asia Pacific and General Manager of Digital Sales for Greater China, is recognized globally for her influence in the marketing industry and her impact as a woman leader. In 2012, the global media brand, Ad-Age stated that, “Gill Zhou is a model for working women in China.”

Gill Zhou is a student of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB)’s Business Scholar Program, a 5-year, doctorate program run by CKGSB in partnership with Singapore Management University (SMU). 

As China’s leading business school, it is not surprising that CKGSB has been able to produce so many business leaders playing a pivotal role in China’s economic development. More than 18,000 successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and executives of multinational corporations have chosen to study at CKGSB for the original China insights, world-class faculty and peer-to-peer learning with China’s movers-and-shakers. More than half of CKGSB’s alumni are at the CEO or Chairman level and, collectively, lead one-fourth of China’s most valuable brands. 

Gill Zhou has been at IBM for 20 years, where she has played an important role in detecting new growth markets in Asia Pacific, as well as maintaining the company’s consistent brand strategy across IBM’s markets. She also played a key role in launching IBM’s Smarter Planet Campaign in 2009, an initiative to encourage worldwide economic and sustainable growth. Furthermore, Gill Zhou has written many research articles that have been published in periodicals, such as Forbes and the Harvard Business Review.  

With an interest in English from an early age, she went on to study English at the People’s Liberation Army’s Foreign Language University, followed by a masters in English literature at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. Despite having a background in the liberal arts, as well as many job offers from Chinese companies, she chose to join IBM in the tech industry. Although unfamiliar with the technology at IBM at the time, she discussed how she “studied everything IBM was working on, from artificial intelligence and Nanochips to quantum computing.”

“As a CMO, in order to be successful, you need to have not only the logical thinking of a scientist, but also the creativity that an education in the humanities offers,” Gill said.

As an international leader in the tech industry, Gill has also shown a unique ability to lead and integrate teams from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. She has managed teams across 17 different countries, including China, India, Singapore, South Korea and Australia.

Gill has transformed the way marketing is carried out at IBM. She has been a pioneer in marketing IBM’s transitioning focus from hardware to software, and she has been at the center of key projects, such as ensuring that all marketing is data-driven, which targets clients individually rather than by industry. She has also moved the main basis of IBM’s marketing content from its website onto WeChat.

Gill told CKGSB, “The biggest transition for the marketing function of IBM is becoming completely data driven…now with a data-driven strategy, everything from online clicks and page views to offline behavior at events are recorded in the marketing data warehouse and reported to the company. Now general managers know how much the marketing team has contributed to the actual business.”

Leading the Way for Women in Business

Gill has been outspoken about the issue of increasing the representation of female leaders in business. She believes that “to achieve true gender equality in the workplace, both organizations and individuals must work hard. There is evidence that having more women in leadership roles is a competitive advantage for businesses and is more likely to bring diversity in creative thinking and innovation.”

“One thing successful women have in common, whether in the technology or in the financial world, is that they strive forward without always being affected by pressures around them. Women are too often pressured by their social and familial roles, and made to feel guilty about giving up these roles,” Gill says.

Gill also says, “I hope women can take more risks, because there are so many women in the workplace with so much talent and potential. One thing I hope will happen in the future is that the media will not feel obliged to specify the word ‘woman’ when writing articles about female leaders in the workplace.”

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