At a recent IBM event on leadership, company CEO Sam Palmisano showed why he is in charge and gave some indication of what to look for in his successor.
YORK-At a summit on leadership, IBM's
Sam Palmisano demonstrated why he is in charge of one of the most powerful
technology companies, if not companies overall, in the world.
opened a two-day conference known as the THINK Forum
, or "A Forum on
the Future of Leadership," by delivering a President Obama-like speech on what it takes
to lead in the brave, new, highly instrumented, interconnected and intelligent
world of devices and sensors in everything from roadways to buildings to
bridges and a lot more.
the United Nations General Assembly in town and both President Obama and First
Lady Michele Obama roaming around Manhattan on separate missions, further
snarling an already taxed and rain-soaked traffic grid with their security
caravans, Palmisano enlisted attendees to sit down and prepare for a good show.
Palmisano showed that he is part pitchman, part salesman, part diplomat and
quite obviously a leader.
literally had the crowd eating out of his hands as he introduced luminary after
luminary. And he introduce them each as though they were personal
friends in addition to being IBM clients,
partners and leaders in their respective fields.
conference convened more than 700 emerging leaders from government, business,
academia and science from around the globe. It should have been dubbed "Sam
gets together with 700 of his friends." With the UN in town, several
high-ranking foreign dignitaries appeared. I was half expecting President Obama
or at least the first lady to show up for a cameo, what with all the
security and everybody else who dropped by.
loose list of some of the luminaries that addressed the crowd at IBM's
two-day THINK event included: Sir Howard Stringer, chairman, CEO and president, Sony; Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi, professor
of Management Practice, Harvard Business School, and Professor Emeritus,
Hitotsubashi University; Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO,
JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Dr. Victor K. Fung, Group chairman, Li & Fung
Limited; Jim McNerney, chairman, president and CEO, The
Boeing Company; Dr. Fareed Zakaria, CNN host, Fareed Zakaria GPS;
; columnist, The Washington Post
; and author; Thomas L.
Friedman, Foreign Affairs columnist, The New York Times
and author; Pascal
Lamy, director-general, World Trade Organization; Andrew N. Liveris,
president, chairman and CEO, The Dow Chemical Company; Sunil Bharti
Mittal, chairman and Group CEO, Bharti Enterprises Limited;
Her Excellency Laura Chinchilla-Miranda, President, Republic of Costa
Ellen Kullman, chairman and CEO, DuPont; Charlie Rose, executive editor
and anchor, Charlie Rose; Joichi Ito, director, MIT Media Lab,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Tina Ju, founding and managing
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, China; His majesty King Abdullah
Hussein, King, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; His Excellency Felipe
Hinojosa, President, Mexico; His Excellency Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino
President, The Philippines; and Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New
name a few.
addition, on the first day of the THINK Forum all of IBM's
senior vice presidents were in attendance, all sitting together in solidarity
and support for the cause and for their leader. The perceived forerunners to
replace Palmisano when he steps down were in attendance, including Rodney C.
Adkins and Virginia M. "Ginni" Rometty. According to some IBM
observers and various reports, Rometty appears to be the frontrunner to become IBM's
next CEO. Rometty has been showcased at major IBM
events, such as the company's Centennial Celebration in June and also at the
THINK Forum where she introduced IBM's
increased focus on its Corporate Service Corps and how it applies to IBM's
also essentially shadowed Palmisano at the event. She brought to mind pop
singer Ne-Yo's song, "Miss Independent," in that he says: "She walk like a
boss, talk like a boss..." And "She made for a boss, only a boss. Anything less
she telling them to get lost..." It is clear, Rometty, like all the IBM
senior VPs, bleeds blue.
it is also pretty clear that Palmisano, having reached the magic age of 60 when
IBM CEOs are typically supposed to step down,
is not going anywhere - at least not in the very near term. Palmisano is
right at home where it counts most for Big Blue: Mixing it up with IBM
customers. He shared tales of learning personal responsibility as a
second-generation Italian immigrant growing up in Baltimore.
And he translates how those lessons shape his thinking about IBM
as a corporate entity with responsibilities and obligations to its clients.
his remarks at the THINK Forum are telling. He spoke of how many companies find
it easy to stick with the things that made them successful rather than to adapt
and change, as IBM has done over its 100
years in existence.
is a bone pile of enterprises, cities and societies that had great first acts,
but were unable to achieve a second. Why? In most cases it is because they
couldn't break their emotional attachment to what had brought them success in
the first place."
said leaders of today and of the future have to contend with the realities of
global integration and of the new networked world, including the Internet of
of this is generating vast stores of information, he said. "It is estimated
that there will be 44 times as much data and content coming over the next
decade...reaching 35 zettabytes in 2020." A zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21
zeros, he said. "And thanks to advanced computation and analytics, we can now
make sense of that data in something like real time," Palmisano said. "This
enables very different kinds of insight, foresight and decision-making."
perhaps most telling about Palmisano's leadership style is his willingness to
said one key to success for leaders is "to see yourself not only as a fierce
competitor, but also as a broad collaborator. Don't get me wrong: Competition is
essential as a spur to innovation. But in a world of increasingly
interdependent systems...the Wild West of competition needs to be complemented by
far more collaboration across old boundaries. Across academic disciplines, and
industries, and nations, and even among competitors."
that has something to do with why IBM has
been able to supplant Microsoft as the second-most valuable tech company behind
Apple. As of September 30, IBM had a market
capitalization of around $214 billion and Microsoft had one of $213.2 billion.
Apple's market cap is $362.1 billion.
harking back to IBM founder Thomas J.
Watson, but also making a point relevant to his own situation, Palmisano said,
"How does an organization outlive its founder? We've learned that you should
never confuse charisma for leadership. The first job of a leader is to enable
the organization to succeed without him or her...and the key to that is to
deliberately build a sustainable culture.'
built that way of thinking when he developed the IBM
culture way back when. Palmisano is just carrying on the tradition as he
prepares to pass the torch.