Danielle Brown Leverages Grit – and Tech – to Reshape at Whirlpool Corporation

Danielle (“Dani”) Brown says her grandfather – a wise man with a sixth-grade education – was her most influential mentor. While she shares his traits of determination and a strong work ethic, Dani has nurtured a career over the last 20+ years working in IT for major manufacturers, through grit that is all her own. As the only Black woman in many a c-suite over the years, she is now Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Whirlpool Corporation, a role that fits her natural curiosity, appreciation for innovation, and knack for building winning, diverse teams.

Current Role: Leveraging Data and Tech to Create Value

Most people are familiar with Whirlpool because they’ve had a Whirlpool product in their homes at least once in their lives. Please describe the mission and vision of Whirlpool.

Creating value is what drives everything else. Whirlpool’s vision is the constant improvement of life at home through our products. We have four global strategic imperatives: deliver product innovation, win the digital consumer journey (offline and online), and redefine what a product is (for example, we have our core products, but we also build new digital services or products in addition to existing products), and reinvent the value chain (getting visibility and agility into the supply chain so that it leads to world class manufacturing).

In very simple terms, what is the primary mission of your role as CIO?

Tech and data play an important role in unlocking value. For example, during the end-to-end consumer journey, we engage with a customer online, and technology and data enable a personalized, frictionless experience. Tech also gives us visibility into the supply chain, and my team develops mobile apps that connect consumer products. In a nutshell, my role is to leverage technology and data to accelerate value creation.

In a nutshell, my role is to leverage technology and data to accelerate value creation.


What are examples of some of your daily activities?

This week I have discussions with different stakeholders to keep a pulse on the business environment. For example, I talk to different leaders about shipments, meeting our targets, and the status of key customer orders. I hold strategic sessions – which we call “board meetings” – with my leadership team to discuss progress on our strategy and any barriers. On the Talent side, I mentor people at all levels, and I am always in recruiting mode. I debrief with the head of security about potential cyber threats, and I might do some late-night reading to continue developing myself.

What characteristics does someone need to be successful in a role like yours?

Natural curiosity – it is impossible to be an expert in all the areas IT deals with, so part of my job is to ask the right questions. You have to be able to create a vision for the direction of the organization. One of my favorite leadership books, John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, says that it is easy for anyone to steer the ship, but it’s harder to chart the course. Finally – you need to be a storyteller, translate the opportunities you see, and explain how the tech and data can help to unlock additional value that will grow the business.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

Hands down my favorite part of this job is seeing people grow and become successful leaders.  Two people called me recently from a former organization to tell me they had been promoted. It gives me joy to know that I played even a small part in their success because that type of impact is lasting.

What is most challenging?

Motivating teams to move in concert toward a common goal is one of the most challenging parts of a leader’s job. We also have to make time to understand everyone as individuals, what motivates them, and their specific career journey and challenges. You must be able to tap into people’s hearts, and not just their heads.

Career Path: Innovation, Resilience, and a Strong Point-of-View  

You joined Whirlpool in 2020 after four years at Brunswick and 16 years at DuPont. What prompted you to take the role at Whirlpool?

I grew up in IT at DuPont, and I had great mentors and sponsors who saw potential in me and wanted to see me grow. They threw me into deep waters many times for accelerated growth, and I also raised my hand for those tough jobs that no one wanted. All of these were all great experiences. I had different roles there, both regional and enterprise-level, I made mistakes sometimes, and I continued to grow as a leader.

I left DuPont for Brunswick because it was an opportunity to lead as an enterprise CIO and report to the CEO. When I interviewed there, they said they were always looking around the corner to what would disrupt their business, and they wanted to leverage technology as a competitive advantage to grow the company. We successfully transformed the marine industry, and it became more automated than it used to be.

When Whirlpool came along, the strategies here were not very different than at Brunswick, but the industry and scale were.  Whirlpool has allowed me to do what I love, but at a much larger scale than my previous role, and its products are very relatable – they are in my own home.

In the last 20 years, you have consistently worked in the manufacturing industry. What is it that attracted you to the industry?

All three are manufacturing companies, but additionally, all are more than 100 years old and focus on product development and innovation. Innovation interests me most, and it’s what attracted me to Whirlpool because older companies have had to innovate to remain around. Whirlpool’s first product was a motor-driven electric washer. It was innovative at the time, but fast forward to what washers look like today with built-in sensors and mobile app connectivity, for example.  Our business models have evolved, too. For example, Sears was once our largest customer, and it’s now bankrupt, so innovation has to be part of our DNA.

Innovation interests me most, and it’s what attracted me to Whirlpool because older companies have had to innovate to remain around

In a competitive world, what has made you stand out and advance in your profession?

I think there are two things. 1. Throughout my career, even in junior roles, I have not been afraid to take calculated risks. I’ve taken on roles that others do not want or have failed at, not because I think I am smarter or can do it better, but because I know I can learn something that not everyone will because they aren’t willing to take on the role. 2. I have a passion for building winning teams, which has been key to my success. I hire diverse teams because they create the best solutions. Do not be afraid to hire better than yourself – you want people on your team with different skills and abilities.

You lived in Singapore for three years while working for DuPont. What did you gain from that experience?

I was not a global traveler before I went to Singapore, and while I was there, I was accountable for IT applications throughout the Asia region. We had team members in Hong Kong, Japan, China, and Indonesia. In each country, customers have different needs, and business gets done differently. No matter how much experience I brought with me, you can’t assume you know everything, and listening before speaking humbles you in a good way.

Personally, it challenged me more than ever before. I was stripped of everything that was familiar to me – I didn’t know how to mail a letter, shop for my family, or even where to buy my secret addiction…Twizzlers. That experience helped me know that I can make it through any challenge. You can gain the confidence and resilience to succeed in any environment.

No matter how much experience I brought with me, you can’t assume you know everything, and listening before speaking humbles you in a good way.

Is there anything you would do differently on your career journey?

I would’ve found my voice earlier. I’ve always had a point-of-view, but early in my career, I worried how comments would be received. Through encouragement, I gained confidence and an understanding of what I brought to the table, and I became less concerned about whether someone agreed with me. My point-of-view is based on my unique experiences and my vantage point, and I have gotten very comfortable sharing it.

Early Influences: A Grandfather’s Gift of Determination

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA. My great-great-grandparents had settled there from the South. It was the kind of place where everyone knew each other.

Did anyone in your upbringing have an influence on your path – professional or personal – that was particularly impactful?

My grandfather had the biggest influence on my life. He was a very wise man, despite having only a sixth-grade education. He persevered through a lot of hardship, but his determination, curiosity, work ethic, and faith were instilled in me and in his 16 other grandchildren.

Did you ever dream about a career other than IT?

It’s interesting how I am now laser focused, but I wasn’t coming out of high school. I knew I’d go to college, but I didn’t know where, or how I’d pay for it, or what I’d study. In my first year of college, I considered medicine, but that would require many additional years of education. Next on the plate was computer science. Back then, no one knew what the “computer thing” would turn out to be, but many jobs were predicted in the field. That decision has served me well.

What was your very first job (where you had a W2)? What did you learn from it?

McDonalds. Early on, I realized, “I’ll either manage the place or find a different job.” I’ve had difficult jobs, but I wouldn’t change anything. I cleaned offices when I was a young mother, but it gave me grit to persevere. Challenges would not stop me because I was always determined to pass through them.

Women in Business: You Earned the Right to Be There

What is about Forté’s mission that makes you want to support our efforts?

All the elements of Forté’s mission are important to my career. Others were willing to help me learn the business, and when I think of Forté’s community of successful women, I am reminded that you can get help from all levels of an organization. Mentorship doesn’t have to be directly tied to help they can offer, but it can also be someone who has been down a similar road. Women continue to be crucial to my growth as a leader.

when I think of Forté’s community of successful women, I am reminded that you can get help from all levels of an organization.

You have an undergraduate degree in computer science, a masters in MIS, and an MBA. How have the three degrees collectively benefitted your career?

A mentor once told me that with an MIS, “You will always wear a ‘tech hat,’ but in order to make the greatest impact, you have to understand business as well. If you only know technology, you cannot create value.” Curiosity led me to the MBA, which I got while working full-time. It helped me understand at a deeper level what we were talking about during business leadership meetings and how things fit together.

What advice do you have for a young woman just starting out in her career in business?

1. Build your network. Everyone needs support, and I have lots of networks that have helped me professionally and personally. I am in groups with Black “C-suite executives, women CIOs, Fortune 500 CIOs, etc. 2. Don’t be afraid of being an “only” – I have been the only Black and/or woman many times. In times of doubt, I had to change my mindset: “Wait a minute. I earned the right to be there as much as anyone.” I have to get out of my own way and not focus on being the “only.”

For Fun: Be Like Serena

Is there anything on your “bucket list” you’d be willing to share?

To learn another language. I tried Mandarin and failed. I’d love to learn Spanish.

How do you spend your time when you are not working?

I have two sons; one is grown and the other is in high school. When I do have time off, it is about the family.

What was the last great book, movie, or TV show you read/watched?

I watched the US Open recently and saw Serena Williams ending her tennis career. I love her sheer will, grit, and desire to win. I have that as well. Every day I show up, and I’m like Serena Williams, even if it’s only in my mind.

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