IBM Alums Upward Mobility

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

Even well-placed IBM executives with no designs on a corner office elsewhere see the upward mobility of IBM alumni as an endorsement. "It shows the strength of IBM as a company that develops people," said Janet Perna, general manager of IBMs information management business. "It shows the talent of IBMers and the experience and level of maturity of the people. Its a tribute to IBM.

"Theres a certain set of values that IBMers share," Perna said. "A lot has been written about IBM values. About our commitment to our clients, our respect for each other and for people we do business with. About our culture of innovation that matters to the world. Longtime IBMers cant be here very long and not espouse these values."

Perna wouldnt comment on the calls shes received trying to woo her from her job in Armonk. "I love being here," she said. "Everyone is motivated by different things. I couldnt think of a better place to be doing what Im doing. Im here, and I stay because my personal values map to IBMs values."

But does the strong IBM culture follow those who leave the fold?

"One person does not a culture make," Perna said. "I dont know the effect. Culture comes from within the body of the company, so its not clear how much influence any one person can have."

Still, it is impossible not to see the influence IBMs culture and business model have had on some of the companys more famous and successful alumni. A prime example is CEO John W. Thompson of Symantec, which recently merged with storage and backup leader Veritas Software Corp.

Click here to read more about the Symantec-Veritas merger. Since his arrival at Symantec in 1999, Thompson has been reshaping the Cupertino, Calif., vendor into a pure-play, vertically integrated security company. When Thompson took the reins, Symantec was known as a consumer-focused company with a widely scattered product portfolio that included anti-virus offerings, utilities, scanners and sundry other products, none of which was considered a leader.

By selling or killing underperforming or noncore assets and adding other pieces he saw as key to building an enterprise security leader—including managed services and consulting—Thompson has turned Symantec into not just the leader in the security market but also one of the top five software companies in the world.

Symantecs resemblance to IBM is no mistake. In fact, Thompson has imported so many aspects of the IBM way—efficient, no-nonsense leadership; broad product lines with leading offerings in a number of categories; and a trained army of consultants to help customers use it all—that many industry observers call Symantec "Big Yellow."

Even so, Thompson said he is not necessarily interested in following the IBM game plan to the letter. "There are plenty of businesses theyre in that were not. Even with the similarities in managed services, Im not interested in the disaster recovery and backup business like IBM Global Services," Thompson said. "Thats not a business we want to be in."

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