Welcome to the Princeton Club of Washington - PCW Member Spotlight: Harriet Pearson '85


PCW Member Spotlight: Harriet Pearson '85

Working publicly for (data) privacy


My most vivid early memory is first day of kindergarten in Queens, NY.  I
spoke only Greek, my immigrant parents’ language, but managed to pick up
English quickly from teachers and TV.  I flashed back to that memory during
my first days at Princeton, grateful to be there but wondering how I was going
to learn how to speak “Princeton.”   Thank goodness, it didn’t take long before
I felt at home on campus.  I didn’t have any sense of Princeton’s history when
I applied -- I chose it because my parents liked the relative safety and beauty
of that campus when compared to the other schools I was considering!  Not
exactly the criteria I’d recommend others use, but it worked for me!

I loved the variety of experiences Princeton offered, and I tried to take
advantage of it. Challenging academics (E-Quad). Close relationships with
professors (Geology Dept). Entrepreneurism (Travel 101 CEO).  Close-knit
friendships (Treasurer and senior-year resident of Cloister Inn).  Sports even
for non-athletes (club volleyball).  Even, though not planned, finding my
lifetime companion (husband Steve ‘84).

Post-Princeton highlights include a year with Shell Oil in New Orleans,
spent mostly on drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  The experience taught
me a lot about my interests and strengths….and led to my going to law
school, which I loved.  I joined IBM a few years after law school.  In 15
years with Big Blue I’ve had a number of different jobs--taking advantage
of the variety of opportunities that this global company offers.  I’ve had
leadership roles in public policy, communications, human resources
and legal--working on a range of challenges including health care, HR
strategy, globalization and information policy issues such as privacy
in our increasingly-networked world.  Former IBM Chairman & CEO
Lou Gerstner appointed me IBM’s first “chief privacy officer” in 2000. 

A highlight of my experience as a “CPO” was to help form an association
for the emerging and critical discipline of information privacy professional
--a group that grew from around 20 to almost 5,000 in just 6 years, and
which recognized me with their 2007 Vanguard Award. 

Protecting my family’s privacy is important to me so I won’t say
anything about them other than to say that they are wonderful!

Professionally, these days I’m focused on working with business,
government and other constituencies to build policy and management
frameworks for data security and more efficient personal data flows
among international business.  I’m teaching a graduate seminar at
Georgetown on these subjects as well; given the number of security
breaches we read about every day, and the privacy issues raised by
social networking efforts (e.g., Facebook), students are enthusiastic.

As a senior member of the IBM global legal function, I also get
involved in various facets of law department management. 

Besides family, during personal time I enjoy singing with the
all-woman Potomac Harmony Chorus, an a capella barbershop
group that draws women from all areas of DC. 

The world is indeed getting flatter and it’s critical for us--and our
children--to have a global mindset in my opinion.  But thinking
globally doesn’t replace the importance of one’s home.  The DC
area is a terrific place to live and work. We have it all--a great
mix of policy, business, academics, advocacy and the arts.
One suggestion I’d offer is to use the Princeton network to
explore what’s out there.  I’m particularly drawn to networking
events and would love to see more cultural or book talks,
maybe smaller get-togethers with alums with similar interests.

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