By Carrie Sheffield

In her recent book, Good Power: Leading Positive Change in Our Lives, Work, and World, Ginni Rometty, former President and CEO of tech giant IBM, gives readers of Smart Women, Smart Money an inspiring example of reclaiming your financial power after trauma and loss. 

She learns early on that harnessing your personal power is a choice we can all make–even those of us without wealth, connections, or fancy titles. For her, power starts with building resiliency—and that doesn’t cost a penny.

Rometty recovered from early childhood trauma when her father abandoned their family of her mother and four children when Rometty was 16 years old. Even before her father walked out, the family constantly teetered on the edge of poverty. As the oldest of four siblings, Rometty spent most of her childhood playing the role of mother while the family struggled financially—part of why she says she never chose motherhood as an adult.

“My dad’s leaving put our family at a crossroads,” wrote Rometty, who described her proud mother who successfully fought to eventually get her family off welfare. “The path my mother chose—to take community college classes so she could get a job to support our family—showed me that no matter how desperate a situation gets, we each have within us the power to create opportunity for ourselves as well as others. It’s a lesson I’ve tried to apply in my own life and work.” 

And boy, did Rometty apply those lessons! Under Rometty’s leadership, the tech giant’s team made tough choices to divest faltering business lines (like computer chip manufacturing), reinventing 50 percent of its portfolio in the process. A visionary businesswoman, Rometty led the helm as IBM created a $25 billion hybrid cloud business and blazed new trails in AI and quantum computing. 

Listed as Fortune’s #1 Most Powerful Woman three years in a row, this courageous woman, an electrical engineering and computer science graduate of Northwestern University, shares her secrets of managing power—both financial and personal. 

With Good Power, Rometty recasts power as a tool for driving meaningful change in positive ways in our personal lives, organizations, and for all society, not just the few—a concept she names “good power.”

Rometty’s book provides five principles guiding her approach to “good power”: be in service of others; build belief; know what must change and what must endure; steward good tech; be resilient—reveal tools that anyone can apply to achieve real change at any stage of their life and work.

“Power, I observed, can be good when wielded with respect,” Rometty writes. “When it unites people for a shared purpose and motivates them to be the best versions of themselves. Power can be good when it seeks to maximize beneficial impacts and avert rather than ignore harmful consequences. Power can be good when it’s inclusive, shared, and distributed.”

In practice, that meant Rometty cultivated a high school program to reorient young people for the modern workforce in more than 28 countries. Pioneering a program called SkillsFirst, Rometty has pushed to remove the societal bias of employers requiring a college degree. As many college graduates (and dropouts) today falter under massive student loan burdens, SkillsFirst offers a lifeline. 

This college-or-bust bias most frequently harms low-income and minority families, exacerbating growing skills gaps. Rometty saw this bias against her mother when she was thrown into the workforce without any formal higher education.

“Sometimes we have to look back to look forward, and I see now that championing SkillsFirst today is a natural culmination of my life experiences and learnings, stemming all the way back from my childhood,” she writes. “…these were the years I discovered ‘the power of me’ to create positive change in my life.”

Rometty also shows her “good power” by serving on multiple boarding, including at her undergraduate alma mater. She’s also the co-chair of OneTen, a non-profit with the goal of upskilling, hiring, and promoting one million African-Americans by 2030 into careers that create generational wealth. 

“I learned that by focusing on the needs of others first, we can fulfill our own needs as a result. Being in service of others also can be an incredibly fulfilling way to spend our days,” she writes. 

Smart Women Smart Money embraces the motto that “it’s never too early, it’s never too late” to embrace financial literacy and own your financial future. In many ways, Rometty and her mother illustrate both. Her mother embraced this later in life, while Rometty learned these lessons early on. Both women offer encouraging role models of possibilities in America today.

Rometty’s passion, humility, and incredible self-discipline shine through Good Power, giving an inspiring roadmap for creating impactful change in our lives. It’s never too early, and it’s never too late to cultivate your own “good power” now.