IBM's Unsung Heroes And Heroines

IBMers publicly proclaim that CEO Lou Gerstner is the mastermind behind IBM's resurgence. But those in the know privately point to some of the lesser-known names at the company for doing as much, if not more, to make IBM a competitor with which to be reckoned.

IBMers publicly proclaim that CEO Lou Gerstner is the mastermind behind IBM's resurgence. But those in the know privately point to some of the lesser-known names at the company for doing as much, if not more, to make IBM a competitor with which to be reckoned.

Sm@rt Reseller wanted to immortalize these unsung heroes and heroines in an appropriate way--perhaps an "IBM Easy Riders" Christmas calendar? Despite some of the subjects' willingness to pose on their bikes, we decided on a more subtle handful of profiles, instead. Below are our picks for some of IBM's behind-the-scenes stars.

Wolpert: Running An $80 Million Startup
Harper: Staying A 'WebAhead'
Huhn: Services Surgeon With A Smile
Gibney: IBM's Biggest Windows Advocate
Cowlishaw: A Standard Fellow
Prial: More Than An IBMer In A Penguin Suit


Wolpert: Running An $80 Million Startup

John Wolpert was hired to infuse some new blood into IBM. In fact, he and three of his classmates arrived straight out of business school and were told to get IBM to "act like a startup."

Wolpert became the manager of IBM's alphaWorks Web site. And he believes he's making progress. But he has to think of IBM as a country rather than a company in order to do his job.

"In a networked world, large firms have an advantage because of network effects, but how do you change a company the size of Portugal?" he asks.

alphaWorks was started in 1996 to funnel hot technology from IBM's research labs to the public. Wolpert's first big challenge came in 1997, when IBM declared alphaWorks successful and moved to shut it down.

"I stood up in a room full of people that included the chairman and said, 'Give me a year and I'll make you money,'" Wolpert says. "Gerstner shrugged and said, 'OK.' And a year later it was the same audience and suddenly it was alphaWorks time-there was a complete turnaround."

IBM moved alphaWorks from the reclusive Almaden Research Center in San Jose to Cupertino in the heart of Silicon Valley and changed how the site is valued. Rather than being accountable for increasing Web hits, Wolpert is now required to move 20 technologies per year off the site and into licensing deals or products.

He tries to strike a balance between communicating with the vast labyrinth that is the rest of IBM and building a presence in the outside world. Wolpert runs boot camps for budding entrepreneurs, hiring students to roam IBM's labs worldwide and make friends with the researchers so they will submit their technologies to alphaWorks.

alphaWorks contributes ideas to IBM's Corporate Technology Council on Emerging Technologies, and to the IBM Academy. "If you're in a small firm and find a disruptive technology you can run into the hallways and say 'Eureka,' but if you're down in Almaden you're only convincing a certain type of person," Wolpert says.

And Wolpert has big plans-moving IBM technologies into open source, marrying IBM technologies with venture capitalists and the bootcamp entrepreneurs to create startups. He's also co-writing a book on alphaWorks: How to Run an $80 Billion Startup.

Wolpert goes to Silicon Valley conferences where startups gather and tries to convince them that since IBM is big enough to change their businesses-even accidentally-it is best to work with IBM. alphaWorks has poured resources into Java, XML and Linux and is now turning its attention to security and privacy, developing technologies to "change the way people purchase by eliminating the space between impulse and decision," Wolpert says.

-Deborah Gage


Harper: Staying A 'WebAhead'

For an IBM executive, Jane Harper comes from humble origins-she was hired at IBM 19 years ago to work the third shift as a computer tape librarian. Trained as a physical education teacher, she missed the hiring season in the local school district and decided to give IBM a try.

Today Harper is second in command of IBM's Next Generation Internet team, helping to direct IBM's Internet strategy and working as a self-described "change agent" inside the Big Blue Behemoth.

"As a PE teacher and coach, my job was to create teams and lead teams, and the business world was not that different," Harper says. "There are always a million reasons not to do something."

Harper "immediately" enrolled as an MBA candidate and got her first management job at IBM after five years. It was she and John Patrick-IBM's VP of Internet Technology-who declared IBM an Internet company, signing up IBM for a gigantic booth at the second Internet World tradeshow in 1994 and figuring they'd think of something to say when the time came.

"We had no people and no budget, but we figured we had time-six months-to pull something together," Harper says. "All across the businesses-servers, global services, software, research-we got together to do the show, and it was a good unifying force. There was a lot of good stuff inside IBM we could use to think about the Internet."

Harper talks quickly and breathlessly about her many projects, as if she can barely keep up with herself.

The WebAhead team has helped IBM create better eBusiness tools-a Blue Pages directory of employee data that includes telephony and instant messaging, a way to hold e-meetings. Harper is part of a SWAT team that finds good ideas for WebAhead to develop. "We wanted to break the mold of IBM not releasing stuff until it's 100 percent baked," she says.

The Next Generation Internet team represents IBM on the Internet2 project-"this time we're not going to miss the Internet"-focusing on applications like video and distributed storage.

The Extreme Blue project recruits top notch undergraduates to spend summers with IBM working on cool technology. The goal is to expose IBM to new ideas and turn the students into IBM employees. "They'll be ambassadors on campus," Harper says. "They'll hire their friends." She notes that 80 percent of the people she and Patrick supervise have been with IBM less than three years.

Harper believes nothing should stand in the way of a good idea, and like a teacher cajoling parents for classroom supplies, she wheedles senior IBM executives for "just a little bit of money" to advance good projects. "They put their pants on in the morning the same way that we do," she says. "As leaders we can make more leaders. We get out into the various divisions inside IBM, and we infect that division with our thinking."

-Deborah Gage


Huhn: Services Surgeon With A Smile

So much of a professional services relationship never gets written into a contract. The art of the deal often lies in the nuances of a negotiation--the little things a vendor says and does to build trust with an anxious client.

When outsourcing first emerged as an option a decade ago, there was precious little of that trust to go around. Customers were scared silly about handing their computing and telecommunications infrastructures over to third-parties, and the rigid, militaristic cultures of some large vendors did not inspire their confidence. IBM, in particular, had to perform cultural surgery on itself to compete in a new industry.

According to observers, Steve Huhn, VP of global business development for IBM Global Services, was one of Big Blue's top surgeons.

"Steve was the guy who gave IBM traction in the outsourcing marketplace," says clients' attorney John Halvey, who sat opposite Huhn on a number of major contract negotiations. "He was the friendly face of IBM. As a negotiator, Steve knows when to step back and present a softer side."

Huhn, who is not often quoted in the press, says back then it was a matter of convincing customers that IBM just wanted to handle their "mundane" chores, and not seize control of their architectures and IT strategies. Secondly, says Huhn, IBM, as a product vendor, had to learn to market itself as a multi-vendor solutions provider.

"The only way to do that was to demonstrate we could listen to our clients' needs and deliver the best solutions efficiently," he says.

Huhn sees parallels between those pioneering days and today's focus on fast-changing e-biz services. While customers don't doubt IBM's expertise in Web-enabled commerce, some question whether the services unit is nimble enough to satisfy client demands for flexible contract terms. True to form, Huhn is confident that IBM can perform another 180-degree turn.

"We have to change our behaviors and perspectives, so we're not wedded to any one technological or business approach," he concludes. "We've done that before."

-Mark Mehler


Gibney: IBM's Biggest Windows Advocate

It took a lot of guts for Patrick Gibney, IBM's director of competitive projects and Windows 2000 systems, to send an email message to Microsoft senior VP Jim Allchin.

But Gibney did it, anyway, in early 1998. The note went something like this: "Want to know what IBM's NT systems manager does?" Allchin took the bait and ended up visiting Gibney in his San Francisco hotel room, bringing with him a group of interested Microsoft colleagues.

There, Gibney took Allchin through "my typical Windows 2000 presentation," he says, and showed the man in charge of Windows 2000 for Microsoft various parts of IBM's internal Windows 2000 Web site. "I said to Microsoft, 'I represent the part of IBM that's making a living on NT. If it's good for you, it's good for me,"" says Gibney.

Allchin was impressed wi