IBM CEOs: Leadership ⇔ Challenges ⇔ Transformations in the IT Century
(researched and compiled by Peter de Toma Sr.)
For any clarification, further details and research please make use of the original sources.
Any feedback is welcome.
John R. Opel
1925 - 1981-1984 - 2011
John F. Akers
1934 - 1985-1993 - 2014
Virginia M. Rometty
1957 - 2012--
Thomas J. Watson Sr.:
„’If you want me to come in here and operate this business for the benefit of the business, I‘ll do it, but I will not have anything to do with the operation of it from a stock standpoint’, Watson had originally told the board, and they had agreed. But some looked upon the CTR, which was, after all, a holding company, as little more than a financial arrangement, an opportunity for quick profit through stock manipulation. They had no sympathy for Watson’s plans, which meant the sacrifice of immediate profits for the long-range benefit of the business. … Watson threatened to expose the conspiracy by taking his case directly to the press. Flint with his powerful voice supported him, and the plan abruptly subsided. Watson never forgave the men involved.” Thomas Watson Sr.1914, in “The Lengthening Shadow” published by Thomas Belden & Marva Belden, Boston 1962, Pg. 100.
Thomas J. Watson Jr. in “A Business and its Beliefs” published in 1963:
“I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can very often be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people. … This, then, is my thesis: I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And finally, I believe that if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life. In other words, the basic philosophy, spirit, and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing. All these things weigh heavily in success. But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out. … During the early period of IBM’s development – from 1914 to1915 – while its beliefs were being formed, tested, and put to work, they helped sustain the company through its struggles and raise it to a position of leadership in its industry and prominence in American business. During the second period of IBM’s development – from 1946 to the present-they have made it possible for us to take sweeping technological changes in stride and grow at a rate that has won IBM a place as one of the prime growth companies of the nation. Let’s take a look at this growth. ...Helping Men Grow. The beliefs that mold great organizations frequently grow out of the character, the experiences, and the convictions of a single person. More than most companies, IBM is the reflection of one individual-my father, T.J. Watson. ... IBM’s philosophy is largely contained in three simple beliefs. I want to begin with what I think is the most important: our respect for the individual. This is a simple concept, but in IBM it occupies a major portion of management time. We devote more effort to it than anything else. This belief was bone-deep in my father. … Whenever a manager makes a decision affecting one of his people, he knows that he may be held accountable to higher management for the fairness of that decision. … Service and Superiority. Years ago we ran an ad that said simply and in bold type, “IBM Means Service.” I have often thought it our very best ad. It stated clearly just exactly what we stand for. It also is a succinct expression of our second basic corporate belief. We want to give the best customer service of any company in the world...… The third belief is really the force that makes the other two effective. We believe that an organization should pursue all tasks with the idea that they can be accomplished in a superior fashion. IBM expects and demands superior performance from its people in whatever they do.”
Louis V. Gerstner Jr. in “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” published in 2002:
“We started with a statement of principles. Why principles? Because I believe all high-performance companies are led and managed by principles, not by processes. But what about the Basic Beliefs? you may ask. Couldn’t they have been revived and turned into the sorts of principles you’re describing? The answer is, unfortunately no. The Basic Beliefs had certainly functioned that way in Watson’s day, then for many decades after that. But they had morphed from wonderfully sound principles into something virtually unrecognizable. At best, they were now homilies. We needed something more, something prescriptive. In September 1993 I wrote out 8 principles that I thought ought to be the underpinnings of IBM’s new culture and sent them to all IBM employees worldwide in a special mailing. 1. The market is the driving force behind everything we do. 2. At our core, we are a technology company with an overriding commitment to quality. 3. Our primary measure of success are customer satisfaction and shareholder value. 4. We operate as an entrepreneurial organization with a minimum of bureaucracy and a never-ending focus on productivity. 5. We never lose sight of our strategic vision. 6. We think and act with a sense of urgency. 7. Outstanding, dedicated people make it all happen, particularly when they work together as a team. 8. We are sensitive to the needs of all employees and to the communities in which we operate. … The 8 principles were an important first step - not only in defining the priorities of the New IBM, but in attacking the whole idea of management by process. That first step would be of little value if we couldn’t find a way to instill these principles into the DNA of IBM’s people.”
Sam Palmisano, successor of Louis V. Gerstner Jr., together with tens of thousands IBM employees joining globally in a unique historic jam session supplanted in November 2003 the “Three IBM Basic Beliefs” by new corporate values: „Dedication to every client’s success; Innovation that matters – for our company and for the world; Trust and responsibility in all our relationships.” (see “Leading Change When Business is Good”, an interview with Sam Palmisano, Harvard Business Review, December 2004.) These new corporate values were complemented by two Roadmaps for 2010 and 2015 with a focus on “Earnings per Share.”
Virginia Rometty, successor of Sam Palmisano, in an article published on September 18, 2014:
“Rometty doesn’t waste much time on anything not viewed as essential to ‘transforming’ the company to which she has devoted much of her adult life. Rometty’s rules: 1. Don’t protect the past. 2. Never be defined by your product. 3. Always transform yourself.” On October 20th, 2014 Rometty abandoned the “Roadmap 2015” pledge made Palmisano in 2010, “announcing that IBM cannot hit the target after all.”