IBM celebrates 100 years: from cheese slicers to supercomputers...

IBM celebrates 100 years: from cheese slicers to supercomputers...

Summary: No other US company has made it to 100 years and remained as relevant as IBM, a truly remarkable achievement during a century of incredible changes.

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TOPICS: IBM, Browser, CXO
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Earlier today, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano kicked off the company's celebration of 100 years in business with a speech to students at his alma mater, John Hopkins University.

He spoke about how IBM started,"Making clocks, scales and cheese slicers, in addition to the punched card tabulator. After that, it’s a blur: typewriters, vacuum tube calculators, magnetic tape, the first disk drive, the memory chip, FORTRAN, fractals, ATMs, mainframes, mini-computers, personal computers, supercomputers, services, software, analytics…"

He attributed IBM's longevity to its success at being able to change. But it is important not to change core beliefs. He quoted from a 1962 speech by Tom Watson, Chairman of IBM and son of its founder:

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.

Mr Palmisano said:"Tom Watson was not talking here about ethical precepts. For him, a company’s beliefs were about its identity – what makes it distinct… what shapes its decisions and behaviors. If you could codify and sustain that core, it would ensure that the company remained unique and differentiated… decade after decade."

He described a project he initiated nearly ten years ago to discover the core values of IBM. It was important that these values be adopted by employees, but, "Employees today are super-smart, highly independent… even cynical. You can’t come down from on high and tell them, 'These are your values.'”

The solution was to host one of IBM's famous "jam" sessions - online meetings where employees from all over IBM brainstorm around specific subjects.

"It was messy, passionate and contentious. But in the end, IBMers embraced a new set of values – because they themselves had shaped them. I truly believe that none of our work since – remaking IBM’s portfolio of products and services… globally integrating our company… even launching our Smarter Planet agenda in the depths of the global recession – would have been as effective or sustainable if we had not first gone back to basics, back to our roots, back to the foundation of our culture."

He said it is hard to perpetuate a company culture when the founder is no longer present -- something that companies such as Apple will have to deal with.

He moved onto the challenges leaders face in adapting technology. Technology should not be seen "merely as a succession of gadgets, websites and 'next big things.' It's much more. It’s the way our world works."

A second challenge is what he called "global integration." This was described as an economic global re-balancing. It is this trend that has helped re-shape IBM.

"We changed from the 20th century “multinational” model – where companies created mini-versions of themselves in country after country, in order to be able to operate amid the crazy quilt of international trade and regulatory barriers. Instead, we are moving to something new… and far more systemic – what we call a globally integrated enterprise. It’s not only changing the market opportunities we pursue… but also the way we work and run the company – from sales and marketing to HR and research."

IBM started a program called "Corporate Service Corps" modeled on the Peace Corps to start training its top executives. These teams are sent to communities in emerging markets, such as Ghana, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.

"They work in communities with NGOs and local leaders to jump-start their economies… and to make their cities smarter. And when they come back, they spread what they have learned to their colleagues through social media... these targeted interventions are having a transformative impact… both on local communities and on the IBMers themselves. Most say it is one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives."

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More on IBM:

IBM100 - Welcome to IBM100


Topics: IBM, Browser, CXO

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  • RE: IBM celebrates 100 years: from cheese slicers to supercomputers...

    Great video on the history of IBM. IBM really has had an amazing 100 years and I've personally benefited greatly from their innovations. Thank you, IBM.
    krisoccer
  • RE: IBM celebrates 100 years: from cheese slicers to supercomputers...

    I lived for 20 years in Binghamton/Endicott/Johnson City when IBM was still headquartered there. I've worked on just about every IBM computer starting with the 1401, and I'm still working on them. It's been a great, and personally quite profitable, run.
    bvanwely@...
  • But not much longer

    In all fairness, there are at least two companies that "made it to 100 years and remained relevant," although they didn't last much longer than that. One is the company that IBM spun out of: NCR. That company turned 100 in 1984. At the time they were still a huge presence in the retail and financial industries and were pretty much at the top of their game. Then they got acquired by the other 'centenarian,' AT&T, which turned 100 the year after NCR did. At that time, AT&T was absolutely as relevant as IBM is; they were everywhere, and were about the only company other than IBM doing theoretical research. We owe the transistor to Bell Labs.

    NCR got spun back out and are still around, but the company is a shadow of its former self. They made it through the Great Depression and two World Wars, but AT&T was more than they could take. AT&T itself got acquired in 2005, so technically they are gone as well, although the name lives on because SBC took the AT&T name after the acquisition.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: IBM celebrates 100 years: from cheese slicers to supercomputers...

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