17th Apr 2012

Leadership change at IBM

On 1 January of this year, Virginia Rometty was appointed CEO of US computer giant IBM. Rometty drew a lot of positive media attention because she’s the first female Chief the company’s had in its 100-year history. Outgoing CEO Sam Palmisano was stating the obvious when he said “Ginni got it because she deserved it… It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies.”

Rometty’s status as a gender-political trailblazer took centre-stage again in recent weeks when press coverage of the IBM-sponsored Masters golf tournament was overshadowed by the failure of the Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters, to extend membership to its major sponsor’s new CEO – because of a long-held policy of denying membership to women. While a storm of US media outrage gathered force around the issue, Rometty played it cool, refusing to comment, while attending the event as a guest.

Rometty’s personal opinions about the club’s regressive attitude to women remain unknown – it’s possible she feels her high-profile success as an international business leader is the only riposte she needs to make.

All of that to one side, Rometty’s leadership over the past few months has been notable for an exemplary decisiveness and forward-thinking verve. I have no idea whether or not she’s a golfer, but it’s clear that when it comes to business, she’s definitely not playing games. Let’s look at a couple of crucial moves she made in her first 100 days as CEO.

Three days into her tenure she circulated a memo to IBM staff announcing a high-level executive reshuffle, putting fresh blood into new positions in sales, growth markets and services. These areas are prioritised in IBMs five-year business strategies, which Rometty, who’s been with the company for thirty years, had a hand in developing with her predecessor as CEO, the much-admired Palmisano. Here at First 100, we always advise getting the key players in place as early as possible in order to maximize your effectiveness as a leader in achieving your long-term goals.

Under IBM’s corporate strategy, growth markets (ie everything outside the US and western Europe) are set to make up 30% of the company’s revenues by 2015. China will obviously be a key player. Palmisano had already presided over the sale of IBM’s PC business unit to Chinese system maker Lenovo. James Bramante, the senior VP to whom Rometty gave responsibility for growth markets, is to be based in Shanghai.

Services will be another top priority for the future of Big Blue, and here again Rometty has wasted no time in setting the agenda. As well as immediately appointing Bridget Van Kralingen as head of Global Services, the new CEO has been zealously promoting a vision of IBM as a future player in the world of data mining and analytics.

This is the way it’s meant to be. A senior executive’s early days on the job are critical, and a telling indication of how they will fare in the longer term. This is why a specific and detailed First 100 Days Plan is invaluable – as a way of creating the best possible conditions for accelerating your performance, from the very beginning. Rometty has a keen understanding of this, and has made an impact already.

Hilda Goold



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