IBM appoints first female CEO

Global sales head Virginia Rometty to replace Sam Palmisano in January; analyst says her ascension reaffirms Big Blue's strategies and value proposition.

IBM's global sales chief Virginia Rometty will succeed Sam Palmisano as CEO in January next year, making her the first female CEO in Big Blue's history. 

For decades, IBM had a reputation of being a "strait-laced, plodding, male-dominated business empire", Reuters reported, and with Rometty taking over the reins, Big Blue is set to become the largest U.S. corporation by value to be headed by a woman.

Rometty's ascension will set up a rivalry with Hewlett-Packard's CEO Meg Whitman, appointed last month, for the mantle of most powerful woman in technology, which parallels the long-time rivalry between both companies. Rometty also joins a small group of top female CEOs including Whitman, who was previously at eBay, Pepsico's Indra Nooyi, Xerox's Ursula Burns, Kraft Foods' Irene Rosenfeld and DuPont's Ellene Kullman.

The selection was well-received because 60-year-old Palmisano, who transformed the computer hardware company into a global services and software behemoth, is staying on as chairman.

"Given Ginni's experience running the largest portion of the business by revenue, she was a logical choice," Brad Zelnick, analyst at Macquarie Securities, said in the report.

Rometty most recently served as senior vice president of global sales and grabbed attention with her role in the smooth 2002 integration of PriceWaterhouseCooper's consulting arm, a "landmark move" that brought IBM into the upper echelons of the technology consulting business.

Krista Macomber, research analyst of computing and storage practice at Technology Business Research said in an e-mail statement that the appointment was a "reaffirmation of core IBM strategies" in expansion of growing geographies, spearheading a solutions approach with Smarter Planet and other initiatives that blend analytics and services, and continued targeting of strategic acquisitions especially in the software arena.

The analyst also believed that Rometty will apply her decade of experience leading key IBM business units from its global services to building out Big Blue's growth market initiatives, to navigate the company through continued economic uncertainties and shifts in IT trends.

"We expect Rometty to remain committed to IBM's traditional "trusted advisor" value proposition, leaning on solution initiatives that leverage specific capabilities from across IBM's hardware, software and services capabilities, to sustain top and bottom line expansion amidst an evolving IT landscape that must address a broad range of needs from supporting mobile computing to supplying infrastructure for cloud-based services," Macomber said. "Additionally, Rometty's experience as IBM's lead sales executive will help ensure the company drives its messaging around these markets home to customers."

According to the Reuters report, Rometty's colleagues report that she was often dressed in elegant pastel-colored suits, cutting a striking figure in IBM's hallways and impressed co-workers with her cool-headedness and enthusiasm.

"She exudes energy," Nelson Fraiman, professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Business, said. The professor, who had known Rometty from studying with her at Northwestern University, said she was a good strategist and an early advocate for IBM's expansion into business analytics, tools and services that help companies analyze trends quickly.

A former IBM executive said Rometty worked long hours and demanded that her subordinates did the same. "People who work with her just don't sleep," the source told Reuters. "She has a style that is very different from anybody else's, but is all her own."