IBM's Next CEO: Three Candidates in the Running

According to published reports, the race to succeed Samuel J. Palmisano as IBM's CEO comes down to three Big Blue executives: Virginia M. "Ginni" Rometty, Michael E. Daniels and Rodney C. Adkins.

With the IBM centennial celebration only days away, Big Blue has ratcheted up its search for a successor to company CEO Samuel J. Palmisano.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, IBM is in the process of looking for a successor to Palmisano, who will turn 60 this year, the typical age at which IBM CEOs retire. The WSJ reports that Palmisano is looking to establish his successor by possibly naming a president or chief operating officer in the next 12 to 18 months.

Leading a trio of top candidates to succeed Palmisano is Virginia M. "Ginni" Rometty, according to the WSJ. Rometty is senior vice president and group executive for IBM Sales, Marketing and Strategy. As IBM's global sales leader, Rometty is accountable for revenue, profit and client satisfaction in the 170 global markets in which IBM does business. In this role, Rometty is responsible for IBM's worldwide results, which exceeded $99 billion in 2010. She also is responsible for leading IBM's global strategy, marketing and communications functions.

Previously, Rometty was the senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services. During her tenure, Rometty led the successful integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting -- the largest acquisition in professional services history, building a global team of more than 100,000 business consultants and service experts, IBM officials said.

Observers say Rometty's experience in sales and services could serve her well in leading IBM, as services has become such a big part of the company's business. Rometty would be the first woman to run IBM.

At 53, Rometty holds "a perfect platform for her to hit a home run by performing well-or to slip and fall," Gerald Czarnecki, a former head of human resources for IBM, told the WSJ.

The other top candidates are Michael E. Daniels, senior vice president and group executive for IBM's services unit who is 56, and Rodney C. Adkins, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and technology Group, who is 52.

Daniels has worldwide responsibility for Services, which includes outsourcing, consulting and systems integration, application management, integrated technology services, maintenance and technical services, and global delivery. Together, these businesses account for more than half of IBM revenue, IBM officials said.

Meanwhile, Adkins, who has spent 30 years at IBM, is responsible for all aspects of IBM's semiconductor, server, storage, system software and retail store solutions businesses, with 2010 revenues of more than $18 billion. The company's integrated supply chain, which includes global manufacturing, procurement and customer fulfillment, also reports to Adkins.

Adkins sits on the IBM Operating Team, responsible for day-to-day marketplace execution, and serves on the Board of Governors for the IBM Academy of Technology. However, as he lacks services experience, some observers say Adkins is a longer shot for the CEO role than the others. Yet, with IBM facing a new set of technological challenges in the way of mobile and cloud computing, having a technologist such as Adkins at the helm could be handy for the company. Adkins is an electrical engineer. If promoted to run the company, Adkins would become IBM's first African-American CEO.