Q&A: Joyce Pingel

Joyce Pingel is vice president of information technology at Kum & Go, a company whose very headquarters under construction in downtown Des Moines will stand as a monument to innovation, not to mention the eye-popping architecture of Renzo Piano. Pingel has been heavily involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) efforts in Iowa.

We asked Pingel about her views on encouraging innovation.

How do you personally define innovation?
I believe innovation is the magic that occurs when creative thought inspires outcomes that change the world.

As I see it, the innovation recipe has five ingredients:
Unquenchable curiosity to explore and learn.
Self-permission to trust and accept the inputs.
A sixth sense of identifying opportunities.
Innate ability to pull it all together.
Courage, faith and tenacity to execute.

What did you learn about innovating from your parents/mentors?
I grew up in rural Iowa. My parents were each pulled out of school by their parents at early ages to work on the farm. My parents never had a chance to graduate from high school. As a result, I was blessed to grow up with two parents and seven siblings who used creativity and resourcefulness to make the best of their lives, giving back and lifting up others while on the journey. I carry that lesson with me as an adult. You don’t need money to be innovative. You just need ideas, opportunities and a willingness to fight for what you believe in. If done with passion and integrity, the resources will appear as others begin seeing the vision.

What was your first significant innovation, invention or process?
It is never one person’s invention or innovation. In my 25-plus years in IT, there are multiple, game-changing innovative technology solutions that still stand out in my mind that I was proud to lead. Those being: An award-winning PeopleSoft implementation in the late ’90s that moved Principal’s 16,000 associates to an HR self-service model. Also at Principal in the early 2000s, our implementation of a print-to-mail facility in West Des Moines that streamlined the bar-coding, tracking, printing and mailing of millions of documents per year. Most memorable at Aviva (now Athene) was our design and implementation of the ATOM system for derivatives’ hedging of insurance products, which is still used today. At Kum & Go, I am most proud of our nationally recognized &Rewards Loyalty mobile app, which has attracted over 700,000 active customers in less than two years, providing them discounts and daily value when they shop at Kum & Go.

What are some of the ways that your company cultivates a culture of innovation?
Innovation and entrepreneurialism are the DNA of Kum & Go. In 1959, Tony Gentle bought a gas station in Hampton, Iowa, and began a partnership with his son-in-law, Bill Krause, to launch what became known as Kum & Go. (The K and G letters in the company name represent Krause & Gentle.) Tony and Bill’s entrepreneurial spirit helped shape the direction for the retail convenience stores industry — from introducing bread and milk in a “gas station” to introducing environmentally friendly, ethanol-blended fuels over 20 years ago. Innovation is at the heart of what we do. It is not something we think about; it is just who we are.

What is Iowa’s biggest challenge when it comes to innovation?
I believe Iowa’s biggest challenge to growing innovation is about raising awareness of the talent and gifts that already exist within our beautiful state. Iowa has been an ag innovator for years, from Norman Borlaug to the research labs at ISU, Kemin and DuPont Pioneer. Iowa is a medical innovator, from the birth of chiropractic medicine at Palmer in Davenport to the medical breakthroughs each day at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The list could go on for hours. By raising innovation awareness, we will continue to grow and attract economic development to our state. We are off to a great start through the work of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, Des Moines Community Partnership and Technology Association of Iowa.

What are two or three of the most exciting areas of innovation that you are working in?Innovation can take many forms, from an inspiring piece of art, to a farm invention designed in your machine shed, to a disruptive technology solution. At Kum & Go, my most innovative project in 2018 is the technology buildout of our amazing new headquarters, Krause Gateway Center, which opens in the fall 2018. Innovation is at the heart of Kum & Go’s culture and is at the heart of the Krause Gateway Center’s design. Renzo Piano’s brilliance comes alive in this architectural and artistic masterpiece. I can’t wait to work in it each day. This innovative building is located directly across from the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines. Its unique design and location will foster unplanned “collisions” that I am confident will lead to increased innovation and collaboration for our community as a whole.

What technology advances will make it easier for software companies to innovate new products?
I believe mobile and digital apps, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will
be true disruptors for the industry.

What areas of education or expertise are in the shortest supply for your company and others like it?
We are blessed with a hardworking, talented IT workforce in Iowa. However, tech talent as a whole is in high demand. The greatest shortage seems to be in IT security, IT developers, data professionals and candidates who bring diversity to our workforce (i.e., females, people of color and different cultures).

What do you see as the most pressing global innovation challenge?Global poverty, food insecurities, and social and economic exclusion are huge issues in the world today. To solve these systemic issues, it will take innovation and collaborative partnerships across multiple sectors with a long-term vision to better the world.

What is your top goal in the innovation world this year?
Technology can be a powerful force helping innovate and address challenges facing our businesses and our communities. My top goal is to continue making a difference each and every day. To stay curious, to continue dreaming, exploring, observing and activating change for the good of all.