This blog series features senior corporate executive from the 100 CIO/CTO Leaders in STEM publication sharing their insights on business and innovation from a technology and information perspective. Today’s Leader is Karl Gouverneur is Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Northwestern Mutual.
Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
Karl Gouverneur is vice president and chief technology officer for Northwestern Mutual, and head of the company’s enterprise technology management department. In this role, Gouverneur oversees a team that sets the company’s technology direction, manages technology innovation and governance, ensures a reliable operations infrastructure, and manages information risk to protect the company’s brand and reputation.
Gouverneur focuses on providing technology that leads to efficiency and flexibility for business processes to enrich the experience of the company’s clients, financial representatives and employees. He partners with business areas across the enterprise to integrate technology with the company’s business strategies and objectives.
In addition to his other responsibilities, Gouverneur leads an award-winning technology innovation program which evaluates technology-based ideas for rapid development and funding
Prior to joining Northwestern Mutual in 2006, Gouverneur was the vice president and chief technology officer at Seattle-based Safeco Insurance, where he built an IT architecture practice and identified over $110 million in business value. Before his role at Safeco, he was the chief architect at Chicago-based CNA Financial, where he focused on business alignment, IT strategy and IT standards, and strategic and innovative IT solutions including a claims transformation program, service-oriented architecture, voice over IP, strategic sourcing and enterprise content management. He started his career at Ernst & Young, where he progressed through the ranks to become a senior manager.
Gouverneur is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration – computer science. He is currently a member of the CTO Research Board and the ALPFA National Corporate Advisory Board. In the Milwaukee community, Gouverneur serves on Marquette University’s Global Sourcing Advisory Board and is an active member of the Discovery World Board. He is also an advisor to the Northwestern Mutual Hispanic Employee Resource Group.
About Northwestern Mutual
For nearly 160 years, Northwestern Mutual has been helping families and businesses achieve their financial goals. Through a distinctive planning process, our financial representatives help clients identify goals and develop a personalized plan using a wide range of insurance and investment solutions.
With more than $230 billion in assets, $27 billion in revenues and $1.5 trillion worth of life insurance protection in force, Northwestern Mutual delivers financial security to more than 4.3 million clients.
Northwestern Mutual is proud to be an award-winning employer for IT professionals and actively invests in STEM initiatives in southeastern Wisconsin. The company’s internship program employs exceptional college-level technology students, many of whom become employees. The company is a strong partner and sponsor of events and programs that encourage students at all levels to pursue STEM careers.
Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company-Milwaukee, WI and its subsidiaries.
Making STEM a part of kids' lives
If we’re going to address the shortage of professionals in STEM disciplines in this country, one of the keys will be to start talking to young people very early in their lives. I’ve taken this approach with my own son and daughter, who are now 16 and 18. The need for action is real. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16% of U.S. high school students are both proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.
To meet the numbers of new workers this country will demand—both in the near and more distant future—we’ll need to find new ways to get more students engaged in STEM topics. We’ll especially need to reach out to girls and young women, and other groups that are currently underrepresented.
It’s best to start promoting STEM to kids in grade school, when their minds are more open. At this stage in their development, mentors—not just parents but also teachers, counselors, and other adults—can play an important role in shaping children’s perspectives on science and math. Once a young person gets past middle school, it can be tougher to change their minds if they’ve decided they don’t like these subjects. We need to make sure that our schools are encouraging all students to embrace these subjects, not just those who have already shown an interest in or special talent for them.
We also need to find ways to make STEM part of kids’ lives from an early age. Computers, tablets, and other gear can be fun toys, but they also help build understanding of the power technology has. My own interest in technology had a lot to do with some of the first-generation home computers and other gadgets I had when I was young.
Class selection at school matters, too; electives should include challenging STEM courses. But the lessons need to go beyond the classroom. During summer vacations, there are a number of camps with STEM-related academic courses and activities, some of which are specifically targeted at building girls’ interest. Year-round reinforcement is key to keeping kids engaged in these subjects.
One of our biggest challenges is overcoming the myth that girls are just not good at math and science. My own daughter fell into this trap in her late middle school and early high school years. Even today, the myth is still out there, and we all have a responsibility to help break it down.
That takes time, but there are a lot of solutions available. Parents might consider hiring a tutor—someone who can not only help kids learn, but also encourage them to succeed. Other alternatives are activities that help children understand what they can create themselves, and put the power of scientific and technical knowledge in their own hands.
That’s why programs like Cyber Girlz and Girls Who Code are important. They can help bring classwork to life by giving students not just instruction, but also the opportunity to go hands-on and build applications and games. Activities like this can reach kids when they’re younger, and by the time they’re well into their teens, they’ve already developed a passion for these subjects. When that happens, parents don’t have to push so hard. In fact, our job then is to just get out of the way!
Another way to keep kids engaged in STEM studies is to get them involved in some sort of science competition. There are programs like the Science Olympiad, which holds local, state, and national competitions each year. They’re team-based—so kids experience not just the joy of STEM-related content, but also the teamwork, collaboration and rewards of working in a team. Those are skills that will help them in whatever field of study or career they ultimately choose. We’re used to kids being encouraged to participate in sports. I say, let’s encourage science sports too. They’re engaging and fun—and more kids can have careers in science and technology than will ever make it as professional athletes.
If we want more kids to prepare for STEM jobs, we need to show them the connection between what they’re learning now and the future opportunities it opens up for them. A lot of students don’t understand the full range of career possibilities that a solid foundation in STEM subjects makes possible. For those of us who are already enjoying these rewarding careers, it’s our job to take time and help them see what their future could hold.
As those kids grow into young adults and enter the workforce, I am a firm believer in mentoring. Typically I take it a step further with what I call “sponsorship.” Participating in a sponsorship engagement with me is more than just meeting occasionally. Together we identify activities and create action plans that will lead to self-development with the ultimate goal of not only career advancement and professional development, but also life learning and engagement.
I tend to focus on sponsoring women and minorities, as they’re currently underrepresented in our industry. In order to develop the number of technology professionals this country will need in coming years and decades, we need to reach out to these groups as well as those who have more traditionally chosen STEM careers. For me, it’s very personal. I benefitted from the support of a sponsor who took an interest in my career and development, so I like to pay it forward.