MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- IBM is relishing its celebration of 100 years in business in 2011, and with good reason. Few enterprises ever rise to the lofty level of respect the huge corporation has earned during the last century.
There aren't many secrets about how IBM rose to the top, despite a couple of major economic depressions, two World Wars (and several somewhat smaller ones), thousands of competitors nipping at its heels, and the fickleness of the IT market. Big Blue made its mark through continuous investment in innovation, an amazingly consistent business plan, the identification and retention of highly qualified personnel, visionary leadership -- and a little luck.
The company was born when financier Charles Flint created a new enterprise called Computing Tabulating Recording (CTR) Corp. as the result of merging four companies on June 16, 1911. CTR, based in Endicott, N.Y., originally made products that included cheese and meat slicers, weigh scales, time-keeping systems and punch-card machines.
The leading IT company in the world at the time CTR came into existence was Western Union, which was highly profitable but narrowly focused on wire communication. When the industrial revolution led to the digital revolution years later, IBM was the one that picked up on the trends first. The rest is, well, history.
Adding perspective to all of this, CEO Samuel Palmisano (pictured) spoke to an invitation-only full house Aug. 4 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. During a rare public appearance in Silicon Valley, he reflected on IBM's first century and where he thinks it might be headed in the next one.
Plenty of Lessons Learned
"There are a lot of lessons you can learn from a company that's been around for 100 years," Palmisano, a 38-year veteran of the company, said. "You can see them in the museum here (in "Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing," the current lead exhibit of computer hardware), for example.
"However, it does date you when you were trained on those products (in the exhibits)!"