Najuma Atkinson started her career in finance after obtaining a degree in political science from Fisk University. She worked for SunTrust bank first as an analyst. She then joined Dell Technologies Inc. in 1991 as a tech support manager and has since risen through the ranks to be the Senior Vice President (SVP) of HR shared services at the multinational firm.
With a career spanning 20 years at Dell, she is the only Black woman serving as SVP at the company. Atkinson got a promotion from vice president of human resources to SVP of chief customer office after “cold pitching” the firm’s CEO Michael Dell at a corporate event in 2019, according to CNBC.
She approached Dell about the idea, including telling him about her strength, interest and why she wanted to serve in the chief customer office division.
“I’ve built my career focused on the customer and providing opportunities where we can really enhance that experience. I really like the ability to use data to inform our decisions,” Atkinson told Dell when pitching her idea. “And so I’d like to be given that opportunity, if it ever comes, to move into the chief customer office.”
Prior to the engagement, the two had not engaged each other one-on-one but Atkinson was bold enough to pitch the CEO as she was convinced the move could further her career and give her a comprehensive understanding of the operations of the company.
“We had not really engaged with one another prior to that time so it was almost like a cold call,” she told CNBC “Little did I know that [Dell] was actually paying attention and we were doing some talent reviews,” she said. “I took that opportunity to be bold and to ask for what I wanted, and he reciprocated.”
In 2019, she was promoted twice: first as SVP of chief customer office in August and then to her current role of SVP of HR shared services in September. Atkinson said her ability to solve problems and using data to make informed decisions helped her transition into her current role.
Having successfully pitched her way to the top and becoming the only Black woman SVP at Dell, Atkinson has shared some tips on how others can follow her path. According to her, one has to be articulate with their objectives and what they want to do taking into account the overall objectives of an organization.
Also, pitching ideas require patience. Thus, if one fails, they should not “think of it as a negative” but learn from it, she says. “If you do those kinds of things, those are the individuals that find all the good opportunities and are ultimately successful.”
Finally, one must work out of their comfort zone and be a risk-taker, she adds. “I think that individuals that are successful are those that are risk-takers,” Atkinson says. “They understand what it means to take an informed risk.”