Newsmaker: Angela Buonocore, ITT Corporation

Thirty years' experience is proving handy as ITT Corporation's CCO prepares for its impending spinoff into three entities - and the PR challenges that come with that.

Angela Buonocore has been orchestrating communications for ITT Corporation's 40,000-plus employees globally since joining in 2007 from PepsiCo. As part of the leadership team, she is maneuvering through a transforming event for the company, which reported 2010 revenue of $11 billion and income of $654 million.

At the start of the year, the 90-year-old corporation announced plans to create three independent publicly traded companies defined around its existing business units of defense technology and information; the transport, treatment, and testing of water; and supplying highly engineered solutions in the aerospace and energy markets, among others. The impetus was to unlock shareholder value - ITT shareholders will own shares in all three companies once the deal is completed.

The January press release announcing the spinoff was followed by a letter from Steve Loranger, chairman, president, and CEO of ITT, plus messages with more specific details from department heads. An email box was created where staff could post questions, and an electronic newsletter, entitled 1to3, has come out once a month to keep employees updated on new information, including how the new companies will be branded.

"We worked very hard on clear messaging that was easily understood," says Buonocore. "When you try to create user-friendly messages, or even messages for sophisticated constituencies, you must think through how to depict somewhat complicated situations, not just verbally or in writing, but visually."

Calls to regional leadership were made the night before major announcements to explain goings-on and provide required information.

"People are always going to have questions and they are best answered locally," she adds. "The anxiety is always about the unknown and even the best communicators cannot communicate all the unknowns at the outset because they are being worked through. That is something you struggle with through change."

Today, ITT operates in more than 60 countries with 75 people working in communications around the world. Buonocore and her team handle PR, employee engagement, IR communications, corporate philanthropy, and speechwriting.

"Here, corporate executives are communications generalists," she explains. "We wear a lot of hats in order to move the business forward. That's what keeps our day interesting. That allows you to exercise your strategic communications muscles differently."

ITT Corp., SVP and CCO. Previously was VP and corporate relations director (2007/08)

PepsiCo, various roles. Employee comms director, Pepsi-Cola Co. (1994-1998); Pepsi Bottling Group, corporate comms dir. (1998-2001), VP of corporate comms (2001-2007)

Various roles at IBM Corporation

General Electric, ad and marcomms specialist

Preparing for the divide
As the company divides, communications for the defense business will be led by David Albritton, who now works under Buonocore as head of communications for defense. Communications at the ITT Corp. unit will be run by Jenny Schiavone, who works for Buonocore as PR director. Buonocore will head up communications for the water business.

"You must think beyond the corner office to your frontline people around the globe," she notes. "What messages are they getting? How will we address their concerns? How will we keep everyone focused on the future?"

Right now, Buonocore's team is conducting employee surveys about the future branding of the three companies. The name of the defense business will include ITT, but the water business' name will not. There will be new logos and taglines for both businesses that combine the legacy of ITT with future aspirational goals. The leadership is also looking at the whole brand positioning and value proposition for ITT Corp.

For the most part, not just in communications, "people who are in their roles remain in their roles, they will just be in the company where their business sits," says Buonocore.

She adds ITT is moving along well in terms of completing the spinoffs by year's end.

In her 30-year career, Buonocore has worked for companies including GE, IBM, and PepsiCo that rank high both in terms of longevity and financial performance.

"I love big brands," she says. "I love businesses that do not just stand the test of time, but are resilient, flexible, and make changes as the marketplace changes. The really great ones not only listen and customize things, but anticipate future needs and sometimes even get out ahead of that and can show people directionally where to go."

Jon Iwata, SVP of marketing, communications and citizenship at IBM, witnessed firsthand Buonocore's belief that reputation, brand, culture, and behavior are indivisible and authenticity is crucial.

"She instills confidence in those who know her, not only because of her deep experience, but her deep-seated values," he says. "In just a five-minute conversation, she will offer a thoughtful perspective on the latest economic development or global crisis and then never fails to inquire about one's ailing mother. She is incapable of superficial small talk."

Buonocore firmly believes the CCO must have a direct line to the CEO's office, such as at ITT, where she reports directly to Loranger.

"Angela knows how to connect a vision with reality," he says. "She has a unique ability to translate ambitious corporate goals and social values to employees in a compelling, inspiring way.  One of a CEO's greatest challenges is to get the entire workforce aligned and energized with the company direction. With Angela, I am assured this will happen."

Buonocore maintains solid communications with local "value center" presidents who are located around the globe and responsible for directly communicating with staff. She holds focus groups and town halls as she travels throughout the ITT network of offices.

"We work to customize solutions by analyzing the business opportunities and creating performance-focused stories to help align the 'say' and the 'do,'" she explains. "We've made significant improvements in issues such as on-time delivery, reducing excessive scrap and rework, reducing cycle times, and improving safety - all through communications that help employees develop a line of sight to how what they do impacts overall performance goals."

Watermark's impression

Angela Buonocore is especially passionate about the ITT Watermark program, which began in 2008. It started with a three-year, $4 million commitment to provide safe water, sanitation, and hygiene education to schools in China, India, Honduras, and Guatemala, as well as provide safe water during emergencies.

Since its inception, ITT and its associates have partnered with NGOs including Mercy Corps, Water for People, and China Women's Development Foundation to help more than a half million people in 13 countries. Last year, ITT pledged an additional $10.5 million and committed to serve more than 1 million people by 2013.

"One of my proudest achievements is leading the creation, launch, and expansion of ITT Watermark," says Buonocore. "It has a direct and strategic tie to our global water-business strategy. This program provides an avenue to engage employees through volunteer and philanthropic efforts and has united our global workforce around a common cause."

Connecting with employees
Creating the dotted line for employees that connects their actions with business goals is a priority for the CCO.

"The most gratifying thing for me is when you see employee engagement in action," says Buonocore. "To me communications is all about improving business performance, building employee morale, and boosting the business' reputation. I tell my team to spend the lion's share of their time doing work that moves the needle in those three categories."

As the year progresses, Buonocore and her team will continue to work through the communications intricacies of the spinoff while laying the foundation and messaging for the three companies that will carry the ITT legacy forward.

"I like to think of myself as a very versatile communications person," she notes. "In order to be effective, it's important to both assimilate into the culture and to have your values align with those of any corporation you go to.

"While you use your past experience, you try to not always refer to it," adds Buonocore. "Bring the best of what you've learned, but try to customize things for the new culture you're in and for the new audience you serve."

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