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February 10, 1993updated 06 Sep 2016 2:46pm

WIENER ON IBM

By CBR Staff Writer

Having written the piece that appeared in CI No 2,103, Hesh Wiener found that he seemed to be in a tiny minority in believing that IBM’s new chief should come from within the company: here is his response.

From Raj To Riches

The conviction that IBM’s next chief executive should come from outside IBM is very widespread among consultants, stock analysts and other observers. IBM’s board is not yet officially convinced of this notion, but has nonetheless made it very clear that a number of outsiders will be considered. The common case for an outsider is as follows: IBM’s problems stem from its corporate culture. An outsider with a different outlook and philosophy can get the company to behave in new and more effective ways. There is also an unvoiced corollary: galvanised by a leader with a different vision, IBM can reverse its maladroit steps, exploit its ingenuity and inventions, accept with good will the necessary changes and successfully carry the message of its new mission to customers.

IBMthink

Both these statements are generally taken to imply their contrapositives: however knowledgeable, educated, talented, personable and ambitious any IBMer may be, anyone with enough experience to run the company has also been completely inculcated with IBMthink and therefore rendered ineffectual, misguided or both; and IBMers cannot be inspired radically to change their behaviour for the better by one of their own. Obviously, we have taken these ideas to their simplistic extremes. But the words of directors and observers, IBMers and outsiders are not much more sophisticated… at least as reported by the press. That IBM has a strong and pervasive culture is not in doubt. Nor would anyone who deals with the company (or even merely stands close for a while, watching) disassociate IBM’s problems from some of the drawbacks of that culture. But cultural matters, in a corporation as in a society, are thoroughly entangled, linked and interrelated. Altering one aspect of a culture inevitably produces side effects – usually unforeseen and often unforeseeable – that may also be undesirable. This complexity may be hell for those intimately connected with the cultural change and even trying for those standing nearby. (For analysts, historians and other observers like ourselves, the confusing situation can be stimulating and beneficial: the mess is usually pretty good grist for the old mill). Should an outsider be put in charge of IBM – an increasingly likely prospect – the company’s situation may resemble that of India under the British Raj. By this we mean that IBM may get a new and quite visible layer of culture superimposed on its existing way of life, but the penetration of that new culture into the interior of the company and the inner attitudes of its employees will necessarily be incomplete and uneven. Any new regime will gratefully accept credit for everything IBM does right and regret the necessity of blaming the stubborn old IBM culture for every failure. However transparently foolish it may be, this sort of behaviour could play well in the press and on Wall Street, to the delight of shareholders and directors. But it won’t make a whit of difference to customers. What would? Effectiveness and competency, whoever is in charge. And predictability on which customers’ trust can sensibly be based, a trait that will be much harder for an outsider to engender.

Originally published in the February 1993 edition of Infoperspectives International by Technology News Ltd.

Copyright (C) 1993 Technology News Ltd

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