Oral Histories

Angela Buonocore

Interview Segments on Topic: Marketing/Advertising/Branding

Angela Buonocore Biography

Angela Buonocore is senior vice president and chief communications officer for Xylem, a spinoff business from ITT Corporation. She is responsible for global brand and reputation management, public relations, employee communications, corporate advertising, community relations and corporate philanthropy.


INTERVIEWER: It’s March 21, 2012 and we’re talking with Angela Buonocore, senior vice president and Chief Communications Officer for Xylem. We’re here at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York and this is for the Page Center Oral History project. Angela, could you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory, from your experience at the University of Florida to where you are at Xylem. What happened? How did you get where you are?

BUONOCORE: Sure. Well, it’s been a 30+ year career so it would take a long time to take you through the whole story, but I’ll take you through the abbreviated version. Let me take you through a little history of my career starting with—I completed my Bachelor of Science degree out of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida with a concentration in advertising. I was always very interested in storytelling and originally had planned to major in English or Literature and gravitated more toward the commercial side, thinking that I would either go into journalism or advertising. And as it happened, when I completed my bachelor’s degree, I was lucky enough to have interviewed with General Electric Company and to be offered a position with GE in upstate New York. I’m originally from New York, the idea of moving back—at least in the vicinity of New York City was appealing. But what was even more appealing I think, as a college graduate was to be able to join a company with a very, very powerful brand that was known worldwide. And if you will look at my resume, that has been my history. I am a person who loves big brands and I love building brands. And so my career has been all about corporate communications, the brands, the reputations of the companies and looking at communications from the aspect of what we can do to help the entire enterprise reflect the image and the personality of its brands. The corporate brand… and oftentimes it’s the product brands as well. I spent almost five years with GE in a couple of different assignments. I learned a tremendous amount there; I always tell people it was tantamount to going to graduate school. GE at the time had its own internal advertising and PR training that was given to the cadre of folks that were brought in. And so, in addition to having a day job, I was able to take courses that were taught by GE experts in communications and it really was a career-shaping experience and a wonderful place to start my career. I moved from there to IBM, another huge brand, and I would say that was one of the most joyful experiences of my career. I loved IBM, everything about it, I still own quite a bit of IBM stock, and GE stock too. And IBM for me was a wonderful experience in not only being able to impact and influence a lot of the communications and business work, but in working with some of the best communicators I ever worked with, and learning from each other. Obviously, the communications organization is very large both in GE and IBM, so the opportunity to be part of that fraternity of communicators that was global and to learn from each other was really a wonderful career experience. I was very lucky because when I joined IBM I started in the personal computer division back in 1983 and this was when PCs were very new on the scene and being at IBM, over the course of the time that I worked in the PC division, I got to work on a number of different projects, including the fact that I got to meet both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs way back when. And I look upon some of those moments as some of the fondest memories I have of my career. Not only from the learning experience, but also from the experience to have an impact on a business that was just really very dynamic and growing. I spent four years in the PC division down in Florida and then moved back up to New York in 1987 and did a lot of work on ad campaigns, going back to my roots of the study I had done in advertising, I had done some advertising at GE as well, and at IBM I worked on the Charlie Chaplin campaign, which is studied these days as a classic in corporate communications and then into the launch of the whole new Personal System/2 campaign. And I had a number of assignments at IBM because I was there for 11 years. Ended up managing media relations for all of IBM United States, ended up being the assistant to the head of all communications for IBM United States and that was kind of a shadow job to really learn what it takes to be the top executive in communications and then I became the director of communications programs doing all of the leadership meetings, the Golden Circle and all the recognition meetings, etc. And then one day I got a call for a job at Pepsi. And, I told you I love big brands and I had always, always wanted to work on a consumer brand. And so I thought, even as much as I loved working at IBM, this was kind of an opportunity that was really hard to say no to and so I joined Pepsi -- Pepsi-Cola North America and I ran employee communications for Pepsi-Cola North America for a number of years. And then I got a very exciting chance to work on the initial public offering when PepsiCo spun off their largest bottler, which ended up being The Pepsi Bottling Group. And then I got the top communications job there, reporting to the CEO. And I was there for a number of years, 12 years, all in, at PepsiCo and then one day I got a call from a search firm looking for a head communications person for ITT and I thought, this is an interesting assignment, another large manufacturing company, another big brand, a brand with a lot of history and past to it. I went over and met the chairman, Steve Loranger, and after I got done meeting with Steve, I knew that I wanted that job because Steve was a CEO that really, really understood the partnership between communications and the executive role—his role—and really understood that the chief communications officer of the company is not the CCO. It’s the CEO. And that’s something I’ve always understood, and so for me, to have a CEO that really gets that and to work in partnership with him to get the right messaging and to really start doing some work to change the culture, some of what he wanted to do, was really an opportunity of a lifetime for me. And so I joined ITT in 2007 and then as time moved on, last year we announced that we were going to spin off our water business and our defense business and create three companies and I got the opportunity to go with the water business. All three of these companies I think are wonderful, terrific companies but I was very, very excited about joining the water business and really creating a brand from the ground up. So I led, in my role as the head of communications for ITT, all the work associated with my team obviously, of creating two new brands. Xylem was the brand we chose for the water business and ITT Exelis for our defense business and then a whole new kind of design around ITT Corporation and kind of refreshing of their brand. So my team did a phenomenal job with that and plus, all the other work required to really separate an $11 billion company into three separate entities and we completed it on a very aggressive schedule. We announced it in January and completed the spinoffs on October 31st.

INTERVIEWER: Speaking in general terms, what do you see as the greatest challenges facing public relations executives today and how can those be met?

BUONOCORE: I think the greatest challenges facing people in PR today are really that we no longer control the messaging. And we’re all a little bit of control freaks. We love to write messages, work on strategies and worktops down. And what PR people and communicators and frankly, it’s not just communicators but everyone in business, is coming to realize very quickly, is that that sort of communications, the sort of messaging, while it certainly has a place and you still do work on creating messaging, your customers and in the case of consumer companies -- consumers, are also creating their own messaging about your product, about your brands, about your reputation. And so you’re trying to work on multiple fronts to maybe manage messaging but in a way that hopefully if you’re getting your messages out and you’re doing the right things that other people—including your own employees but, customers and other constituencies and in some cases consumers—will also be blending their voices in… and, hopefully, that messaging will be consistent and positive around your company. But I do think that’s the biggest change that’s facing communicators today. There’s a lot of other changes as well, just with the proliferation of new technology and new ways to get messaging out and the fact that you know, the individual person that you’re trying to get your message to is the recipient of so many different messages, it’s always about breaking through the clutter as well and really getting with a very targeted message to the person that you’re trying to communicate something to and hopefully it’s not just communicate, but get that recipient of the message to take some action.