IBM's Rometty Delivers in First Public Speech as CEO

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-03-08 Print this article Print

But, that tangent aside, this is about Ginni. I was a Palmisano guy. And after watching how he transformed IBM and worked magic with not only the nearly half a million employees but also with IBM customers around the world – many of whom he knew personally – I was wondering who could rightly replace him. Well, Ginni is showing that she can carry it forward. No, one public speech does not a miracle make. Yet, it’s not just the speech; it’s the fact that she came up through the ranks watching and learning the IBM way, realizing the importance of the client, the responsibility to the shareholder and the value of the employee. Of course, many will argue that point.

On another occasion I lifted a line from Ne-Yo’sMiss Independent,” where when it was becoming clear Ginni was next in line for the head of the company, I said “She walk like a boss, talk like a boss…” At the Council on Foreign Relations she did just that. Though her interviewer, Richard Haass, president of the CFR, was pretty well prepared and obviously a seasoned, erudite guy, he was clearly overmatched by Ginni. After all it was her world – the world of Watson, big data, cloud, social, mobile and analytics -- the world where IBM is investing heavily.

In the end the CFR meeting was something of a love fest, with Haass as well as members of the audience asking Rometty some insightful questions, but also teeing up some fat, juicy ones that she could hit hard and drive deep.

“What keeps you up at night,” Haass asked.

“What keeps me up at night?” Rometty said, “In this industry innovation commoditizes. The biggest thing to fear in this business is you miss a shift.” She meant a shift in the way of doing things, an era, a phase. Rometty then described how IBM led in the era of the mainframe, but then lagged when the client/server era came around and the company almost lost its way and went under. However, IBM caught on big again in the era of the web and was on time in seeing the opportunity provided by open source, and is now a leader in the new wave of big data analytics and is making strong strides in social, cloud and mobile.

As Rometty responded to all manner of questions, I found myself nodding along, saying “that’s right” and “go ‘head on!” She didn’t miss a trick. She didn’t cheese for the camera or strike a pose of false humility or joke around like some would. She was sharp, cordial and ready for business, but also fun and engaging. She had an answer for every question and didn’t dodge anything, even citing the issue of “nation state-sponsored” cyber attacks, when IBM has major customers in China, which has been accused of sponsoring cyber attacks against the U.S. government and corporations.

Perhaps one of the more salient things she said – for me – was that one of the best things for any company to be able to do is to merge their business goals with corporate social responsibility. Despite some fallbacks, IBM has been doing that for some time and the hope is it will continue to do so under Rometty.


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