Truly marking an end of an era at IBM, executive vice president Steve Mills has retired from the company.
Mills, 64, whose most recent position – attained in January 2015 — was executive vice president of software and systems, spent over 40 years at IBM, having joined the company straight out of college. Mills joined IBM in 1973 after graduating New York’s Union College and held a variety of leadership positions throughout his IBM career. He retired from IBM on Dec. 31.
Prior to his latest role, Mills was Senior Vice President and Group Executive of IBM Software Group for 14 years. Mills played a leading role in the growth of IBM Software Group since its inception in 1995. In this capacity, he was responsible for directing approximately 110,000 employees spanning development, manufacturing, sales, marketing and support professions. For the past three years, hardware and systems were added to his responsibilities. With the addition of systems, Mills was responsible for IBM’s products that contribute $40 billion of IBM’s revenue and provide critical infrastructure that powers more than 100,000 enterprises around the world.
Under Mills’ leadership, IBM launched a series of acquisitions that included more than 30 software companies since 2001. Mills instilled a strategy whereby IBM would fill “holes” in its platform by acquiring software companies with expertise IBM needed. This has been especially true in the big data, cloud and analytics spaces.
Known as a fierce competitor true to Big Blue, Mills promoted IBM’s solutions at any opportunity. He did not mind calling a competitor on the carpet for missteps, yet he also saw the value in partnering with competitors when necessary and forming alliances. In an early display of this, back in the SOA Web services era, Mills once shared the stage with then Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to demonstrate IBM’s and Microsoft’s web services interacting with each other.
With that same mindset of “coopetition,” Mills began to push IBM toward open-source software. After former CEO Lou Gerstner ushered in the Linux era at IBM, Big Blue adopted a strategy of steadily supporting, building and using open-source software – often taking the lead in contributing to projects. For instance, the popular Eclipse IDE came out of IBM and Big Blue was a founding member of the Eclipse Foundation.
IBM Software Group was where Mills flourished. In an interview from 2003, Mills said: “The idea of creating a true software business within IBM predates the creation of the Software Group. We began to build out our portfolio in the early 90s when Janet Perna went off to build the DB2 workstation offering in 1991. We delivered in 1993. We delivered products like MQ and what had been our VisualAge tool set in the 1992, 1993 time frame. So there were some activities that had taken place prior to the creation of the software group, which occurred in 1995.”
IBM EVP Steve Mills Retires
Moreover, said Mills, “I think one of the important things that occurred was that Lou Gerstner came into the company, and although not a technologist, it was fairly obvious to him that if you wanted to have a software business, you were going to have to have a lot of specialization in the marketplace beyond your developers to be successful. It was sort of an applied technology. You just don’t buy it and plug it in; you’ve got to put it to use. It requires skill and expertise to sell it and implement it. So there was a real need for field structure in support of a growing software business. And Lou saw the economic benefits of a growing software business, so he bought into the idea of having one.”
Though he was a consummate salesman, Mills also had a sense of vision. Early on in IBM’s push to the cloud he saw a need for a Platform as a Service solution and IBM came up with Bluemix. Last year, Mills told eWEEK he viewed Bluemix as a great place to go to do application prototyping and build applications.
“The importance of that initiative [Bluemix] is to make it easy for people to build applications, provide a broad range of componentry, open tooling, an open environment with the kind of fit, finish and fidelity that I think they often attribute to Microsoft,” he said. “They don’t attribute that to AWS. AWS does have its collection of stuff. It’s heavily steered toward a set of unique Amazon-based structures, which is where they want to take you.”
In addition, Mills said IBM’s recent attention to design in its offering is “huge” for the company. “We’ve always had a user-centered design initiative in IBM, so it’s not new,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is invigorate the design community in IBM so that for a lot of the work we’re doing we want to start with the user experience and work our way back.”
Mills noted that design orientation is critical for IBM products.
“And as we try to extend into more line-of-business people, people who have less and less traditional IT experience, they’re less tolerant of UIs and obscure workflows that make sense to somebody with a degree in computer science but makes no sense to them,” he said. “Because they’re not thinking like computer scientists. So we’re putting all the development teams through the knothole of forcing design up front, design verification. You want to get the design right before you code, as opposed to you code and then think about how a customer is going to use this thing.”