Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

A Global Campus: The Road of Expanding Possibilities

Keith Dierkx (Global Executive MBA ’99) is on an innovative track as head of IBM’s Global Rail Innovation Center in Beijing.

Keith Dierkx (Global Executive MBA '99)
Keith Dierkx
June 22, 2010

By Tim Candon — This article was originally published in the alumni magazine Team Fuqua.

AT&T’s latest campaign advises us to “rethink possible.” Adidas, for years, has reminded us that “impossible is nothing.”

Set aside the fact that those taglines are intended to sell communications services and athletic apparel respectively, and consider their actual meaning—that’s where Keith Dierkx (Global Executive MBA ’99) operates, in the realm of expanding possibility. And he’s doing it in a market with seemingly limitless potential.

Dierkx is Director of IBM’s Global Rail Innovation Center (GRIC) in Beijing. Since moving to China in January 2009, the most striking thing he’s discovered about the country is that, “everything seems possible here.” And that suits him perfectly.

The GRIC is part of IBM’s Travel and Transportation Industry group and aims to expand what is currently possible in the rail industry by bringing together rail companies, universities, government leaders, and a wide range of rail experts to determine how to bring the best rail systems to every country in the world, with China as a prime example. Dierkx
says China is at the epicenter of revolutionizing rail infrastructure and operations at an unprecedented pace by introducing new high speed trains and an expanded rail network.

The chance to run the GRIC in China was precisely the type of opportunity Dierkx had longed for. Not only was he versed in the rail industry, but he was searching for a global assignment in a growing market, and he wanted to develop a global experience for his IBM teams and his rail clients.

“I came into this with an open mind so it has all been new and exciting,” says Dierkx. “I knew that there would be periods of adjustment, especially for an executive coming to China with a very specific mission of developing a world class rail innovation center. I’d like to think we are succeeding and getting better every day.”

Dierkx has faced an array of societal, business, and political challenges to get where he is now. He is charged with bringing together a variety of groups—IBM China, the Chinese Ministry of Rail, local Chinese media—and he coordinates partners’ involvement, ensuring that the project comes together. Daunting as that might seem, these activities are even more challenging when he has to do it in a foreign country whose language he does not speak.

Dierkx says he has responded to the challenges by adjusting his processes and procedures to those used in country, and by trusting his local team.

“My main client is the Chinese Ministry of Rail—they are doing amazing things with high speed rail and are committed to a global leadership role of providing safe, secure, and reliable service—and they mostly speak only Chinese,” he says. “I have come to rely on a great IBM team of native Chinese. I am more impressed day by day with the commitment and quality of the people I work with.”

Dierkx adds that he’s continually excited by the cutting-edge endeavor, which has further confirmed how interdependent business is in the world.

“There are very few truly, non-global companies today. From the smallest start-ups to multi-national global corporations, borders are now seamless. Being globally aware and trained is as necessary as breathing,” he says.