Valerie (Val) Torstenson is a veteran IT professional with more than 30 years of information systems management experience. At FSFP, Val’s responsibilities include the development and implementation of information management strategies and initiatives.
Over the course of her impressive career, Val has led systems development, methodologies and program and project management teams in highly turbulent industries. Her experience spans all enterprise information technologies and information management aspects — governance, data architecture, master data management, data quality, data movement, unstructured content and knowledge management, organizational design and business intelligence and analytics — and industries that include retail, energy, financial services, education, government and healthcare.
We hope you enjoy this profile of our one-of-a-kind team member, Val!
Follow the Path or Blaze the Trail?
After graduating high school, Val set her sights on nursing school, but her plans and path changed when she discovered the nursing program had a two-year waiting list. After coaxing from school advisors, Val enrolled in a pioneering new data processing program.
Val was one addition to the slim membership of women in a male-dominated data processing industry at that time. With just two percent of women in the field, they paved the way for countless women to come. “I didn’t care about men or women. I just wanted to get the job done. The fact that I’m a woman has never mattered to me. The choice is yours. You are the difference, whether you are a man or a woman. So, what if you’re a woman in a man’s world? Focus on doing a good job,” Val says.
Soon after, Val landed her first job as a programmer trainee. “I got my first job at that company because I knew the programming language PL/I. Back in the day, the curriculum taught PL/I because IBM said it was ‘the wave of the future.’ But if I’m honest, I think it helped I wore a short skirt for the interview,” Val says.
Val’s unique skill set and focused determination served her well in the industry. Early in her career, she met John Ladley, author of Data Governance: How to Design, Deploy, and Sustain an Effective Data Governance Program and highly respected advisor, who advocated for organizations seeking sustainable value from information and data. John became not only one of Val’s most impactful mentors but also a dear friend. Through John, Val met Kelle O’Neal, Founder and CEO of FSFP, in late 2015 when John and Kelle merged companies.
The most important thing about the work we do is to look back and say we did a good job and made a difference. – Val Torstenson
Manage Expectations to Manage Success
In the Roman poet Horace’s words, life is largely a matter of expectation. Successful client management could be the same. Val believes understanding, communicating and navigating expectations are the primary keys to success, whether you work in a corporate environment or as a consultant.
Val describes an experience where a client’s expectations were “the wrong way to do things.” She says while it’s difficult to say no, sometimes you must. Val’s humble and disarming demeanor matches her unwavering commitment to quality and integrity. To achieve long-term success, Val believes you must always ask yourself, Am I adding value? If not, be the first to say, We need to go because anything less is not good for anyone.
In every situation, Val focuses on what the client hopes to achieve, ensuring client success no matter how challenging the case may be. She always asks herself how a client’s goals can be aligned for a win-win. She says, “We can inject into their plans what we know to be the right way to operate by managing expectations well. Although it may not always be 100% aligned, the result will always be the best it can be. The most important thing about the work we do is to look back and say we did a good job and made a difference.”
Offer respect and understanding, walk in their shoes and show everyone respect personally and professionally. Treat people like you want them to care for you, and rapport just happens. – Val Torstenson
Career Preparation in an Unlikely Place
A hallmark of Val’s success is her ability to create exceptional rapport with clients and team members. Val discovered her affinity for people in an unlikely place. She attributes her knack for making others feel comfortable to growing up in her father’s Midwest nightclubs, saying, “From a very young age, I learned how to belly up to the bar and talk to all the old geezers. It was also my duty to check the IDs of people obviously older than me and take cover charges for the club’s entertainment on the weekends. As a 16-year-old, people would give me a lot of trouble. But instinctively, you learn how to deal with different behaviors and where people are coming from. It helps you align your thinking with theirs. You start to relate to them, or you give a nod to the bouncer.”
Val firmly believes that success boils down to dealing with others in the way you want to be treated, clients and team members alike. She says, “Offer respect and understanding, walk in their shoes and show everyone respect personally and professionally. Treat people like you want them to care for you, and rapport just happens.”
If I were starting fresh, I would find a reliable mentor and never be afraid to ask questions. – Val Torstenson
Never Underestimate the Power of Influence
Those who excel at anything know some standout contributors made a mark on their success. We asked Val to tell us about someone she greatly respects and admires who impacted her personally or professionally. Val enthusiastically told us about Maxine Clark, a former Executive Vice President of Marketing and Softline’s Merchandising in a large retailer, who may be best known for founding Build-A-Bear. Val says, “She was a female executive in a man’s world, and she just impressed the heck out of me. She was a terrific role model and someone to follow. Maxine is now working on a huge philanthropic effort. It’s just who she is — an incredibly successful female executive who’s also a wonderful person.”
Having gained decades of experience in her field, Val is now influencing other women starting their careers. We asked Val about lessons from her early days that would resonate with someone entering the field today. Without hesitation, Val responded, saying, “If I were starting fresh, I would find a reliable mentor and never be afraid to ask questions. And always deliver more than you’re expected to.”
By many measures, Val’s success, working in the data management industry (what many consider to still be somewhat a man’s world), is remarkable. But if you asked her, Val would tell you she’s a successful professional who also happens to be a woman. “Success results from honest hard work, integrity and experience, regardless of gender,” Val says.
Decades after Val first joined the industry, she remains one of the foremost data governance and consulting experts — and we (and our clients) are fortunate to work with and know her. And despite Val’s exceptional reputation, perhaps her most significant legacy is not how she impacts information management but how she impacts all of us.
Get to know other Women of Information management in our long-running series on this blog.