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Insight: Scottie Emery-Ginn

By Justine Parkinson | Photo by Jessica McCafferty

Hometown: Richmond, VA Education: Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering & MBA, University of Virginia Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, MIT Occupation: Vice President of Electrical Engineering, IBM Community Involvement: New England Federal Credit Union – Board Member St. John’s Episcopal Church, Essex, NY – Warden

Scottie Ginn is the proud daughter of Major General Louis H. Ginn III (US Army Retired) and Kathleen Button Ginn. Sharing names over the generations was customary in her family and so Kathleen Scott Ginn became Scottie to distinguish her from her mother.

When Scottie was six years old, LH left the active military and the family returned to their native Virginia where he joined the state’s Army Reserves.. Scottie was enrolled in an Episcopal day school in Richmond. During her high school career, it became clear Scottie had exceptional promise. Chosen as an Echols Scholar, she entered the University of Virginia (UVA) to participate in its unique program designed to cultivate academic, social and cultural development that would form the cornerstone of her lifetime of learning and leadership.

By the end of her second year of college, Scottie had evolved. She had become a feminist and admits to being rebellious. She had come out as a lesbian and moved to California. Her parents were worried they would lose her to the West Coast, but a year later she returned home and resumed her education. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a MBA at UVA and then went on to earn a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at MIT. When her job search produced offers from a number of companies, she accepted an offer from IBM. In 2011 Scottie retired from the tech giant after 20 years as a Vice President of Engineering.

Since much of her time at IBM was spent at the company’s Essex Junction facility, Scottie developed a love for Lake Champlain. As retirement approached, she began a search for an affordable location. The Crater Club, a private, not-for-profit social and recreational club on the west shore of the lake in Essex proved to be the perfect spot.

Retirement has allowed Scottie to devote time to volunteer work as an activist and advocate for the community, as chair of the UVM Medical Center Board and then chair of the University of Vermont Health Network combined boards, area church vestries, and her local credit union. When she isn’t volunteering, she enjoys traveling, golf and biking. She and her wife, the Rev. Margie Emery-Ginn, had plans to travel when they both retired, but sadly, Margie died last fall.

I met with Scottie earlier this month. We talked about perspective, resolve, electrical engineering, and the merits of direct communication. Following are excerpts from our interview.

SB: What inspired you to choose a career in engineering? SG: When I moved to California, I ended up in Silicon Valley. At first, I worked as a waitress, but then went to work at an electronics company that subsequently became part of AMD. I became interested in chips and decided to go back to get my engineering degree. When I talked to Berkeley and Stanford, they said, “You haven’t had any science classes since high school. Go back and take a year of science and then we’ll talk to you.” I went back to UVA to earn my engineering degree and my grades went from a B average to an A. I never got anything but an A in engineering. Not that it wasn’t hard. I just loved it and I was motivated. Oh, by the way, when I went to graduate school, both Berkeley and Stanford offered me fellowships. I end up going to MIT, but I felt vindicated that they probably should have let me in the first time.

SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career? SG: I learned that you need to be successful. By that I mean, the project you’re working on needs to be completed. Early in my career, I thought that effort was what mattered. But it really doesn’t. It is results that matter. You need to collaborate with people and, when necessary, you need to fight with people. SB: Who was your most influential mentor?

SG: Dr. Bob Mattauch, who was a professor at UVA. He went on to become the Dean of the Electrical Engineering Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. I got a job in his laboratory and worked for him the whole time I was in UVA. He was just great. He taught me how to solder and all the other things I hadn’t learned growing up. He took me under his wing and was a great mentor. He still is.

SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently? SG: I would have stayed out of management a little longer and stayed on as an engineer. I’d have gotten more patents. I might even have gotten my PhD rather than stop at my Master’s degree. The early years were the fun part of my career, but it was something that I ran through because I was trying to get to be an executive. I think I would have gotten to the same place, but I might have had more fun if I stayed as an engineer longer. My advice to my mentees was always to decide what your priorities are and act accordingly. If your priority is career, then spend your time there. If family is your priority, then spend your time there. We all have to balance our priorities. It is essential to decide what is really important to you and to own that decision and what happens as a result.

SB: What advice would you offer to a young woman interested in engineering as a career? SG: In the beginning of my studies at UVA there were more females than males in the electrical engineering program, but by the time we graduated there were only six of us left and we were all in the top 10% of our class. My theory is that women did not feel comfortable being average in engineering. If they were average, they dropped out, whereas the guys were okay with being average.

SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success? SG: I’m retired now, but when I was working, I kept lists. They helped me to stay ahead of things. Apart from that, it is work hard and be prepared.

SB: Tell me about your greatest failure or missed opportunity in your career? SG: That’s an interesting question. One of my clients was Apple Inc. They made their computers using our microchips and our microprocessors. Having them go to Intel instead of staying with us was devastating for me, but in the long run it was probably not meant to be. We had a very small budget to develop the microprocessors compared to Intel. From IBM’s perspective, it was probably the right decision. I was likely more emotionally involved in that relationship than I should have been.

SB: If you could have dinner and spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why? SG: I just finished reading a book about Mary Magdalene. I would like to spend time with her and know her story. There have always been rumors about Mary and Jesus getting married and having children. There is that whole side of things I find fascinating.

SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life? SG: It’s the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is what has guided me.

SB: How would you like to be remembered? SG: I’ll answer that question in two ways. When I was working, I was very identified with my work and it meant a lot to me that I was an executive at IBM. It was part of my identity. I’ve been retired for 12 years now and I have softened over that time. Now I would like to be remembered as a kind and decent person, somebody who was good to people and helped people.

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