IBM's Rometty Delivers in First Public Speech as CEO

NEWS ANALYSIS: In her first public speech as CEO, IBM’s Virginia “Ginni” Rometty showed folks that might not have known, why IBM’s board looked to her to take the helm.

IBM’s Ginni Rometty gave her first public speech since becoming CEO last year and she totally delivered. Not to say I was surprised; I wasn’t.

Turned out in all black and subtly accessorized – to a T – Rometty did IBM proud, speaking for IBMers worldwide, chanting the company’s core values as eagerly and sincerely as an eagle scout would quote the scout’s oath. “Dedication to every client's success; Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world; and Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships,” she said at one point, quoting the company’s core values when asked about IBM’s culture.

In her March 7 appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Rometty noted that IBM is one of the few companies in the world where the employees are universally known by the company name and wear the badge proudly. “They’re called IBMers,” she said. The company’s refocused values came after a 2003 “Values-Jam” initiated by then CEO Sam Palmisano, who called the IBMer the company’s greatest innovation. “"IBM has reinvented itself many times,” he said during his tenure. “But through it all, its DNA, its soul remained intact... IBM's most important innovation wasn't a technology or management system. Its revolutionary idea was to define and run a company by a set of strongly held beliefs."

Rometty carries that torch forward and so obviously holds that IBM DNA. For those of us who have observed the company for any amount of time, it’s no surprise that Rometty took the helm and has made a seamless transition into leadership. An un-kept secret about IBM is that it grooms its execs for leadership – both internally and elsewhere. And as it is the case in sports, at IBM it’s next person up. Your number is called and you go in and run the plays and make things happen.

However, Rometty is not just any interchangeable part. She is a true leader. And she “led” her way to the top – heading IBM Sales, Marketing and Strategy, establishing IBM’s Growth Markets organization (which is a winner for big Blue) and leading IBM’s successful integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, among other things.

I was at a dinner recently where when asked what difference Rometty has brought to IBM thus far, the ranking IBMer at the table said he felt it was a stronger focus on the customer. I’m not so sure it’s any stronger, but it may be more nuanced. For instance, Rometty has made it plain that the new target for IBM is the chief marketing officer (CMO) or whatever that role is identified as in enterprises. Her first event as CEO was a symposium for CIOs and CMOs. And IBM has identified the CMO as a major target.

The CMO is a ripe opportunity for IBM and its thousands of business partners, said Jon Iwata, senior vice president of marketing and communications at IBM, noting that although the average tenure of a CMO in the U.S. is about 20 months, $1.5 trillion was spent on marketing and communications in 2011.