IBM as a Training

By Dennis Callaghan  |  Posted 2005-03-20 Print this article Print

Ground"> Part of that cultural shift involved moving senior executives among the various business units within IBM as a way to give them experience with all the companys assets. Palmisano, as well as Swainson, Thompson, Lawrie and other prominent IBM alumni, have traveled this route. Thompson, for example, worked in sales, marketing and software development and, at the end of his IBM career, was running IBM Americas.

"Everybody has passed through various parts of the business, and all of these guys understand development and sales," Dzubeck said. "If you can be successful at a certain level at IBM, the feeling is you can be successful anywhere."

Lawrie said he took the job at Siebel because he wanted to test that theory for himself. "The reason I left IBM was I wanted the challenge of taking what I learned and [applying] that to a company that was in need of a turnaround," he said in an interview at Siebels San Mateo, Calif., headquarters.

"Siebel was a turnaround situation. I felt before I hung up the cleats, I wanted a chance to take that knowledge and go test it myself in a challenging, vigorous environment, which is certainly what Siebel and the marketplace that Siebel competes in could be characterized as.

"I found IBM to be a great training program and training for everything. Not only leadership skills [but also] technology skills, how to deal with customers. I think in the IT industry you couldnt hope for a better place to learn about the industry from every dimension than working for a company like IBM. I was global, I lived in Asia Pacific, I ran our EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Asia] operation and then I ran our worldwide operation. So from every dimension—global, financial, technology—I think IBM was a tremendous training ground."

Lawrie has modeled himself after Gerstner, under whose tutelage he worked for eight years during Gerstners own successful turnaround effort at IBM in the 1990s. Lawrie spent more than 26 years at IBM in management positions, most recently as the companys top sales executive. He has also headed IBMs Personal Software and Network Computing Software groups and managed various overseas operations.

"I learned a lot of important lessons and insights from Lou," said Lawrie. "When you work with someone that is turning around a company, I paid very close attention to what he did. How you approach strategy, how we build a new financial model, how we thought about acquisitions, how we thought about divestitures within our portfolio. So how we repositioned the portfolio of IBM."

Perhaps the most high-profile opening in the industry currently is the CEO spot at Hewlett-Packard Co., and many observers have speculated it could be filled by an IBM executive.

Swainsons former boss, Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM Software, declined to comment on offers that hes received, especially recent rumblings that he was on a shortlist of candidates to replace the ousted Carly Fiorina at HP.

Is Carly Fiorina going to run the World Bank? Click here to read more. "No comment," Mills said with a laugh when asked if hed consider the HP job. "That will be a unique challenge for somebody."

The division that Mills runs is larger than most software companies in the world. Many of IBMs businesses, including Global Services, are the largest of their kind. The opportunity to run businesses of that size is one of the main reasons many observers believe it is difficult to attract Mills or most other current IBM senior managers. There just arent many other jobs left at IBM that would be a step up.

But Mills said he did note that the biggest job openings in the tech industry frequently turn into opportunities for IBM executives.

"We have a responsible, mature management team," Mills said. "In the information technology area, if you asked where do people get a good education and a solid grounding in business operations, youd put IBM high on the list. You get great training early in your career and a customer-centric attitude."

Next page: IBM alums upward mobility.


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