Jessica Poliner

Jessica Poliner is a global executive and board director with a strong track record of growth leading publicly listed and privately-held industrial businesses. She’s passionate about tech and commited to  people first in business, advocating kindness with authenticity.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role?

To date, I’ve had an exciting career spanning tech, manufacturing, and law.  I started my career as a corporate and M&A lawyer – and transitioned to the business side.

Consequently, I spent 15+ years working for some of the world’s greatest industrial companies – Caterpillar, Ingersoll Rand, and Barnes Group, leading large global businesses in heavy equipment manufacturing, transport refrigeration and the injection molding industries. I have been fortunate to live and work in the USA, Argentina, Panama, India, Belgium and Germany.  In all my positions, I have always tried to simplify our customer and employee experience with technology.

In February 2022, I dove headfirst into tech: I accepted the role of President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Relayr and serve on the board of directors for relayr, IoT Financial Services, and Munich Re’s IoT Advisory Council. As a people-first leader, I am committed to building talented, capable, and engaged teams with a customer-focused approach that delivers exceptional performance- with technology at the forefront.

Furthermore, I am passionate about gender diversity, inclusion and unpacking unconscious bias. I have a home in Miami, Florida, and I am at home in Freiburg, Germany. Whenever I can, I spend a lot of time traveling, love reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?        

Since I was young, I always wanted to be a lawyer – my father was a lawyer. I worked for a private law firm for a short period of time before a client asked me to join their company. I said yes.  As that company was acquired, the acquiror, asked me to work with them in Jacksonville, Florida. I said yes again. However, I didn’t love Jacksonville – and changed paths to work for another company that was acquired as well. The acquiror asked me to come work for them in a business role – not as a lawyer. I said no many times, and then I finally said yes. From that point on, I have trusted my gut and said yes often – especially in the first decade plus of my career. I’ve had global experiences and extraordinary on the job experiences that would not have happened if I had not just tried it – and said yes.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I have felt like an imposter many times in my career – whether it was switching from being a lawyer to a business leader or from manufacturing to tech. I’ve been conscious of my age and gender – being the youngest and one of few women was not always easy.  But I learned not to take myself so seriously, to laugh, to choose to work with colleagues that I enjoy, and to keep on keeping on.  What motivates me the most: making an impact for others and loving what I do.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am proud of the growth that I have driven with our customers in the businesses that I have led, and the value created for shareholders. I am also proud of the impact that I have had on people that I work with and around. I’m humbled that they chose to work together multiple times.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success? 

I think that I achieve success when I make the time to reflect and strategize. I am a good operator yet need to carve out the time to think too.  There is no question that I have been most successful when I’ve built a strong leadership team around me.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be open to learning. Tech changes so quickly.  Tech is cool – and amazing with the new developments (generative AI!).  Yet, it can’t be tech for purely tech’s sake. We need technology to solve a critical problem for us – not just because it is cool technology. Ensure that what tech we are building does just that – solves a mission critical problem in the market and for customers.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think there are barriers for women working in tech – just like women working in manufacturing that are systemic.  Because there are fewer women in tech and manufacturing, it is naturally harder to show up as your authentic self when others can’t easily relate to you.  I believe that only when we have a more gender-even workforce will these barriers be overcome.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think companies can and should hire more women. Beyond that, I think leaders should be taught about unconscious bias and ensure that we are not managing our women talent under the guise of what a traditional male leader says or does. About seven years ago, a former colleague and I wrote a published book (still on Amazon) called “UnSkirting the Guides: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned Man,” to help men better understand how women experience the workplace.  As a woman executive, in addition to trying to help men put themselves in our heels, I feel as though I owe it to the next generation to show up as my authentic self – and pave the way for them to do so as well.

If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would brainwash the existing tech population of employers to remove the unconscious bias that I think keeps women from embracing STEM and tech as much as they should.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g., podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc.?

I devour books. Andy Grove’s “High Output Management” is essential. I just read another insightful book that I would recommend as well “When Women Lead” by Julia Boorstin. And I am getting more into podcasts – including “The Acquired,” “From Start up to Grown Up,” “Digital Threads,” and “Pivot.”