IBM CEO Ginni Rometty – We Are Selling To Marketeers


IBM’s new CEO Virginia Rometty impresses Darryl Taft as she shifts IBM’s sights

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 accessorised, 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.

virginia Romtty IBM CEOIn her  7 March 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.”

IBM shifts attention to CMOs

Rometty carries that torch forward and 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

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 organisation (which is a winner for big Blue) and leading IBM’s successful integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, among other things.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.

Asked at a dinner recently 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 US is about 20 months, $1.5 trillion was spent on marketing and communications in 2011.

Marketing budgets are expected to grow about 8 percent in the next 12 months, which is two to three times the growth in IT budgets, and CMOs owned or influenced $148 billion in IT-related spending in 2012, Iwata said. That’s a lot of opportunity that IBM is targeting. Big Blue, however, is not going after that big piece of the pie on its own. I just spent time at the Adobe Summit, the company’s digital marketing conference, and the folks that brought you Flash and Photoshop are making a big play for those marketing dollars as well. And they have a different mix of skills and approach that is likely to appeal to some over others.

In her speech Rometty spelled out IBM’s approach, not just to marketing, but overall. “We are an enterprise company and that’s a choice,” she said. “We choose to work with enterprises, not consumers.”

Can she match Palmisano? Yes she can!

virginia rometty IBM CEO

As a proud Baltimorean, I liked Palmisano who also comes from Baltimre, and is the son of an auto mechanic. He went to Calvert Hall, a Catholic boys’ school known in Baltimore for its academics, culture and athletics. My buddy Mike Curreri, an attorney turned tech CEO, graduated from Calvert Hall with Palmisano and remembers him as an all-around good guy with a quick laugh, a kind word and a brilliant smile. Hard work got him into The Johns Hopkins University, from which he graduated to become a salesman at IBM rather than a pro football player or professional saxophonist.


I liked Palmisano because he was a living example of what you can become through hard work, diligence and the right opportunities – and I wondered who could rightly replace him. 

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Ginni’s interview was something of a love fest. Richard Haass, president of the CFR, was clearly overmatched in Ginni’s world – the world of Watson, big data, cloud, social, mobile and analytics — the world where IBM is investing heavily.

The questions included some fat, juicy ones that she could hit hard and drive deep.

“What keeps you up at night,” Haass asked.

“What keeps me up at night?” Rometty said, “In this industry innovation commoditises. The biggest thing to fear in this business is you miss a shift.” She meant a shift – a change – in the way of doing things, an era, a phase. Rometty then described how IBM led in the era of the mainframe, but then lagged when the client/server era came around and the company almost lost its way and went under. However, IBM caught on big again in the era of the web and was on time in seeing the opportunity provided by open source, and is now a leader in the new wave of big data analytics and is making strong strides in social, cloud and mobile.

As Rometty responded to all manner of questions, she didn’t strike a pose of false humility or joke around like some would. She was sharp, cordial and ready for business, but also fun and engaging. She had an answer for every question and didn’t dodge anything, even citing the issue of “nation state-sponsored” cyber attacks, when IBM has major customers in China, which has been accused of sponsoring cyber attacks against the US government and corporations.

Perhaps one of the more salient things she said – for me – was that one of the best things for any company to be able to do is to merge their business goals with corporate social responsibility. Despite some fallbacks, IBM has been doing that for some time and the hope is it will continue to do so under Rometty.

Do you know IBM as well as Ginni does? Try our quiz!

Originally published on eWeek.

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