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IBM’s greatest asset is the IBMer. IBMers are forward thinkers, leaders and pioneers. All through the company’s history, talented and dedicated people — plant workers, engineers, sales representatives and scientists, all over the world — have built the company from modest beginnings to what it is today. As former chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr., said in 1957: “IBM is a company of human beings, not machines; personalities, not products; people, not real estate.”
A large audience of women and men in the main tent at the 1940 Hundred Percent Club event for IBM's top salespeople

IBM leaders

From two generations of Watsons to the executives of the present day, strong leadership has been fundamental to the longevity and success of IBM

About this exhibit

IBM is a company built on a foundation of ideas. From its earliest days, it espoused equal treatment for all workers and championed the importance of education. It has long asked employees to contribute their expertise, passion and high-value skill sets to their communities, donated generously to philanthropic causes and invested heavily in research geared more toward long-term societal good than a quarterly balance sheet. As an institution, IBM would always strive to be a good citizen. And it still does.

Foundational ideas of this sort, which long ago manifested themselves in IBM’s explicit values and de facto culture, don’t take root spontaneously. They need to be established, rewarded and fostered. In other words, they need strong leadership.

What makes IBM’s story unique from a leadership perspective is not the strength of any particular executive but, rather, the consistent stewardship of the company’s founding values established by its first CEO, Thomas Watson Sr., and his eldest son, Thomas Watson Jr., over decades of subsequent leadership regimes. Many books have been written about the brilliance and passion of the Watsons. But IBM’s is not the story of a family enterprise.

Watson Sr. and Jr. created what has been, at various points, the world’s largest corporation and employer. Their leadership style and, most important, their values have far transcended the Watson family.

Explore this section to learn more about how IBM’s founding vision and values have provided decades of guidance to help a diverse, charismatic, brilliant set of leaders shepherd IBM through economic upheavals, product cycles, political administrations, market shifts and strategic corrections. Each leader of IBM — including CEOs and their top lieutenants — has contributed greatly not only to the success of the company’s technologies and services in the marketplace but also to the stewardship and evolution of its foundational ideas.

IBM researchers

The world’s premier corporate research institution depends entirely on the talent, curiosity and ambitions of its people

About this exhibit

In some ways, IBM Research is a nearly unrecognizable descendant of its original incarnation, the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory. Since its unveiling in 1945, in a former fraternity house near the Columbia University campus, the institution has grown into a globally renowned organization comprising 19 labs across a dozen countries on six continents. Over the decades, its footprint, architecture, facilities and tools all have evolved, but the focus and mission have remained ever intent.

IBM Research represents IBM’s explicit commitment to pushing the boundaries of science in search of solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. At the heart of that effort is, and always has been, a collection of brilliant, curious, talented humans.

When the company’s first director of research, Wallace Eckert, set out to establish a culture for IBM Research, he deliberately embraced nonconformists and freethinkers — people he felt would thrive in a casual, highly collaborative atmosphere. From the beginning, he understood the importance of recruiting across scientific disciplines, assuming that people of diverse backgrounds could help shed light on problems in fields outside their expertise.

The approach has been fruitful beyond any reasonable expectation. Thousands of gifted scientists and engineers have devoted their careers to IBM Research over the years. They have received six Nobel Prizes, six Turing Awards, five National Medals of Science, and three Kavli Prizes. The institution boasts 20 inductees to the US National Inventors Hall of Fame and has generated more patents than any other company for more than 25 years. There are also more than 300 IBM Fellows, the company’s highest award in honor of technical talent.

More compelling than the awards and recognition, however, are the humans of IBM Research who have collectively contributed to the advancement of business and society in immeasurable ways. They have invented DRAM, the scanning tunneling microscope, the relational database, the PC, Sabre, LASIK, and dozens more seminal breakthroughs in software and hardware. They have given the world the basis for instantaneous global transactions, seamless travel reservations, and e-commerce, as well as fractals, a basis for understanding nature. They have provided the building blocks for nanotechnology, natural language processing and high-temperature superconductivity, not to mention the world’s fastest supercomputers.

Read on in this section to learn more about the impressive accomplishments — and diverse backstories — of the people who have given IBM Research its impressive global impact and staying power.

Women in technology

IBM’s relentless efforts to build a diversified workforce have paid huge dividends in innovation while creating greater opportunities for women.

About this exhibit

Almost as long as IBM has existed, the women within its ranks — programmers, mathematicians, scientists and executives — have been invaluable drivers of productivity, creativity and innovation.

IBM’s first CEO Thomas J. Watson Sr. made a deliberate decision to bring women into the company’s workforce because he understood the value — to society and to his bottom line — of diversity of perspective and experiences. In 1935, decades before the US Equal Pay Act became law, Watson asserted: “Men and women will do the same kind of work for equal pay. They will have the same treatment, the same responsibilities and the same opportunities for advancement.”

This edict established a mindset, but it would require both talent and perseverance to overcome societal norms. Ruth Leach was just 27 when, in 1943, she became the company’s first female executive. As she climbed the ranks she served as a spokesperson for IBM’s pioneering efforts to recruit and train women for professional roles.

With World War II increasing the demand for women in the US workforce, female IBM researchers and scientists helped lay a foundation for subsequent generations to advance the development of everything from programming languages and large-scale computing platforms to AI and blockchain. IBM computer scientist Frances Allen, a pioneer in compiler organization, was the first woman to be named an IBM Fellow. She also was the first woman to win the esteemed Turing Award. Years later, IBM engineer Sharon Nunes, a pioneer in the battle to harness various technologies to fight climate change, would be honored with the Frances E. Allen Award for Outstanding Mentoring.

The pursuit of gender parity in technology, math and science remains an uphill climb and IBM persists in developing means of inspiring, instructing and retaining women in technology-related roles. There’s a partnership with Girls Who Code, which counts more than 10,000 alumna globally. And to surmount the work-life challenges that women disproportionately face — which often force them out of careers — the company established the Global Work/Life Fund in 2000, with a focus on its employees’ childcare and elder care needs. Now open to other industries, the program has reached 4.3 million people.

IBM has provided a platform for many women to develop game-changing solutions across society. Researcher Chieko Asakawa, an accomplished sprinter in her youth, lost her sight in a swimming accident at 14, which ultimately set her on a quest to make technology more widely accessible. She developed a revolutionary web-to-speech system called the IBM Home Page Reader and new avenues to use AI to provide greater independence to people with disabilities. Irene Greif, an electrical engineer and researcher at IBM, identified a more collaborative style of working by marrying aspects of computer science with sociology and anthropology. Computer-supported cooperative work evolved into its own field of research and has informed a class of shared-productivity software.

In 2012, a woman assumed the role of IBM CEO for the first time. Ginni Rometty, a 40-year veteran of the company, boldly repositioned IBM for the future. She led the acquisition of 65 companies, as well as investments in hybrid cloud and quantum computing, and a focus on greater diversity and responsible stewardship in the digital age.

Read on in this section to learn more about the women who, through their skills, determination and perspectives, have shaped IBM into a global force in information technology.