Martha Poulter, whose realm is technology and all that goes with it for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., is precise, honest, and has a sense of humor.
Going back to childhood, and looking at the path that led to her current broad and highly complex responsibilities, what did she want to be when she grew up?
“I wanted to be a princess,” she says, affirming that she really did, “like most young girls do,” before explaining that the seeds of her career were planted sometime later.
“I lead technology,” says RCL’s senior vice president and chief information officer, “which means I have responsibility on shore and on ship for, in its most simplistic terms, any computing thing that plugs into a wall.
“I guess the first attraction to this profession really came in high school.”
That came well after, at age two, she moved with her parents from their native Colombia to Pennsylvania. There, her civil engineer Dad had accepted what was supposed to be a temporary gig. Instead, they settled into the U.S. and became citizens.
“For a long time after I got over the princess thing, I thought I would be a teacher” like her mother, Poulter says. Then in high school, she took a basic computer class out of curiosity, “and, I don’t know, it just hooked me.”
Everyday computing was in its early stages and the class was taught on the Radio Shack TRS-80, a machine that was about the size of a large paperback and came to be nicknamed the Trash-80 for its limitations. It was, she notes, a long way from the current state of the art.
Going on to graduate from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering, and then from the University of New Haven with an MBA, Poulter held key positions at several large companies, gaining experience in telecommunications, IT, cyber security and other areas that prepared her for her duties at RCL.
“What am I facing that’s new? I think the pace of demand is new,” Poulter explains. “And we now have more data than ever. Data now comes in so many different forms that the ability for us to get into very rich and predictive analytics, this whole idea of artificial intelligence – which was my minor in college – is now applicable, can be put to use.”
And there is the rapidly evolving area of cyber security, which Poulter likens to laundry – “It’s never done.”
With all the defenses that can be and are put in place and all the cyber security experts that are brought in to strengthen the IT ramparts against attack, Poulter says, “all of us as employees are the weakest link.
“The bad guy has to get it right once. We have to get it right 100 percent of the time. So we have to educate employees about what they should do and not do in order to make sure we’re creating a closed-loop system.”
That and much more is her job. It’s far more challenging than, say, being a princess.