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pte-nov18mf-8488-mitchell-patriciaPatricia ‘PJ’ Mitchell

Retired vice president IBM

There’s an old story saying work hard and someday someone will tap you on the shoulder, pull you out of the chorus line and make you a star.

Patricia “PJ” Mitchell notes that is not necessarily true. Yes, you need to work hard and put in the effort, but you also have to be strategic about making sure your contributions are visible.

“Sometimes people wait for somebody else to empower them, and you really should take empowerment,” she said. “You should be self-empowered to go for what you are looking for. Set your goals and stretch your reach. Don’t wait for somebody to say you are empowered. Just go for it.”

Mitchell retired as IBM’s global sales vice president eight years ago but has remained as busy as ever. She’s chair of the board for the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, president of the board at The Center Club, a board member for the University of Maryland School of Medicine and on the board of directors for KCI Technologies.

“I was involved in many of these organizations before I retired from IBM and I enjoy it,” she said. “A lot of it just was a natural progression and continuation of what I was doing before I retired. … It’s energizing. It’s rewarding.”

There are many keys to her successful career.

“I was lucky enough that my parents and early role models helped me have a vision of the possible,” she said. “I don’t think that I had self-imposed limitations on what I might be able to do, and I think that is a key issue for women to shake off any self-imposed limits on their vision. I had great role models in terms of setting goals, working hard and developing people skills.”

She also understood and learned early on that adversity is a good thing.

“You learn the most from the toughest situations,” Mitchell said. “If I had one piece of advice to give to women as they are developing their career — it’s ask for the tough assignments. You don’t necessarily get chosen for the tough assignments all the time, so you have to raise your hand and say ‘I’ll take that on.’ That’s where I learned the most.”

Another great tool is having a good sense of humor. “It takes you a long way in managing your stress, motivating people and it just makes life a little more pleasant no matter what you are doing,” she said.

Mitchell also never viewed obstacles as challenges. “I viewed them as opportunities to take risk, excel and I always learned the most from challenging situations or assignments,” she said.

When discussing her legacy, Mitchell hopes people will note she brought skill and expertise to nonprofits and groups and gave a positive contribution.

“Positive really is a good word here,” she said. “It’s easy to be a critic in a volunteer situation as opposed to being supportive and a positive influence for the organization as a whole.”

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.