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How They Achieved: Stories of Personal Achievement and Business Success

How They Achieved: Stories of Personal Achievement and Business Success

by Lucinda Watson

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What are the qualities that enable certain extraordinary individuals to transcend self-doubt and stiff competition to reach the pinnacle of success? Can these qualities be learned and emulated by others? Few people are in a better position to find answers to these questions than Lucinda Watson, whose father and grandfather turned IBM into "Big Blue."

Now an


What are the qualities that enable certain extraordinary individuals to transcend self-doubt and stiff competition to reach the pinnacle of success? Can these qualities be learned and emulated by others? Few people are in a better position to find answers to these questions than Lucinda Watson, whose father and grandfather turned IBM into "Big Blue."

Now an accomplished scholar in her own right, Watson grew up surrounded by the greatest business leaders and thinkers of the twentieth century. Her unique access to these top-level achievers combined with her own training and expertise make her especially qualified to obtain their fascinating inside stories.

In How They Achieved, Watson interviews outstanding men and women who have reached the very peak of their professions, distilling those special qualities of personality that separate the winners from the also-rans. These legendary CEOs, celebrated entrepreneurs, and social and cultural visionaries reveal how they discovered their life’s passions, pursued their goals, and overcame adversity.

Susie Tompkins Buell reveals how she managed the evolution of the Plain Jane Dress Company into Esprit Clothing. Faith Popcorn explains how she helps Fortune 500 companies see into the future to devise new strategies and develop new products. And Jack Kornfield, author, psychologist, and founder of the Spirit Rock meditation center, talks about how he achieved a different kind of success––measured not so much in dollars or titles but in personal satisfaction.

These and other achievers tell their stories in their own words, offering their experiences as examples for others to follow. They remember their heroes and mentors, relive their most difficult decisions, and explain how they overcame inner demons such as fear and insecurity. The message they deliver is that self-confidence and self-esteem––both key ingredients for success––are not natural gifts but can be learned, developed, and strengthened. In these compelling success stories, readers will discover proven practices and philosophies that will help them find their own passions, set their own goals, and discover the inner confidence they need to achieve.

Editorial Reviews

The granddaughter of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson interviews 20 CEOs, entrepreneurs, and social and cultural visionaries about how they discovered their life's passions, pursued their goals, and overcame adversity to become leaders in their fields. Interviewees include Susie Tompkins Buell of Esprit Clothing, Sybase CEO John Chen, chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Outward Bound director Allen Grossman, winemaker Robert Mondavi, and psychologist Jack Kornfield, who founded a Buddhist meditation center. Watson teaches at the Haas School of Business, U. of California at Berkeley. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Former President and Chairman, IBM

When my father, Thomas Watson Jr., retired from IBM, Frank Cary replaced him as CEO. Frank first joined IBM as a marketing representative in 1948. He became president of the company in 1971, chairman of the board in 1973, and served as CEO until 1981. He presently serves as a director for AEA Investors, Inc., Celgene Corporation, Cygnus Therapeutic Systems, ICOS Corporation, Lexmark International, Inc., Lincare Inc., Seer Technologies, SPS Transaction Services, Inc., and Vion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

At the time Frank Cary became CEO of IBM, I remember everyone saying he was a perfect replacement for my father because he was so diplomatic. I wasn't sure why that made him a great replacement, but as I later understood more of IBM's history, I clearly saw the value of diplomacy. My father's term at IBM was exciting, dynamic, and filled with rapid developments and change. As a leader, he was inspiring and charismatic, but also volatile from time to time. Frank, in contrast, was calm, intelligent, and well liked by everyone who knew him. He was a good leader in a totally different way from my father, and he really inspired trust and faith in the company.

I hadn't seen Mr. Cary (as I still call him) in many years, but when I contacted him about this interview, he was happy to grant it. His office is now in an office park in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where most of the buildings are fairly similar and impersonal--not unlike an IBM plant. It was difficult to find his office. I had to navigate my way past many nonhuman security barriers such as doors with pass codes and phone boxes with terse instructions. Finding my father's office at IBM was the same kind of experience.

When I at last found his office, Frank, a very genial man, greeted me with affection and interest. He has one of the nicest smiles I ever saw, and his smile is what I remembered most about him. His office displays many mementos from former IBM days and feels like a CEO's office. As Frank reminisced with candor and humor about his past at IBM, I was particularly touched by how much he had clearly loved my father.

Frank had detailed and rich memories about his career, making him an easy man to interview. His conversation is modest and his references to others are generally complimentary, yet he managed to tell a story that was both interesting and thoughtful. I love the moment in an interview or conversation when someone digresses and gets carried away with their memories and stories. With someone as experienced and worldly as Frank, his digressions were especially fascinating as he recounted many memories of IBM, candidly reflected on the company, and noted how it has changed.

Frank made IBM his life and was a great success in the company. He is extremely proud not only of his achievements, but also of the years of dedication and hard work he gave to the company. Many people in business today are as dedicated, but usually because the business is their own. Frank Cary, however, is really a company man, perhaps a dying breed.

Frank Cary

You can never be successful if you don't somehow drum up enough courage to take a lot of personal risks, whether that includes moving from one part of the country to another or standing up to a superior.

I grew up in a little town called Inglewood, California, which in those days was right on the edge of Los Angeles, very close to the aircraft industry. The neighborhood has completely changed over time. It was kind of a villagey town on the edge of Los Angeles then, an independent community that emphasized things like sports, academics, and debating. I participated in these activities at the local high school. Then I went to UCLA where I did undergraduate work. To pay my way through college, I had a great job as a page for CBS.

When World War II came along, I went into the army. I entered as a recruit and managed to get a commission in the infantry. I was very fortunate--I never saw a shot fired the whole time I was in. I served in Japan for about a year after the war. They didn't need infantry officers so they made me a transportation officer. I started out with a company of amphibian trucks hauling stuff from the ship to the shore. Then, when they cleared the docks, they brought the ships to the docks and gave us regular trucks. Before long my company started to go home. I decommissioned the men and then worked with several black transportation companies--three in succession. It was an interesting and valuable experience. Then I flew home and went to Stanford Business School. These early experiences had some influence on my development and on my career.

I changed my career goals several times along the way. My dad was a doctor. He became ill while I was in college and passed away at the beginning of my sophomore year. Up until his death, I wanted to be a doctor. After he died, however, I decided medical school would take too long, particularly since I had to work my way through school. So, I planned to be a lawyer. I majored in political science, got my B.A., and intended to go to law school. When I got out of the army, however, I realized law school would take three years but business school was only a year and a half. I was married at the time, so I made a very practical decision to go to business school. I got into Stanford and have never regretted the choice. I think there are too many lawyers anyway, although a law degree is a good beginning for a lot of endeavors.

I was always a bit of a student of human nature. I learned very early how to get along with all kinds of people and how important it is to be empathic and address people respectfully. That's one of the most valuable things I learned. If I have any wisdom to pass on, it may be that. My father was not the kind of person who got along with people. He was a doctor, but I thought he was a little too rough on people. I believe that you benefit more by approaching people positively. I didn't like some of the negative approaches he took--the way he disciplined me and other things. So I tried to understand people and get along with them. Fortunately, I had a very large cross section of the community in my high school. My class had about 400 or 500 kids and, in those days, only a small percentage of students went to college. I never had any doubt I was going to college, and most of my friends in high school intended to do the same, but we were really a pretty small group. We weren't cliquish, however. I worked hard in school, participated in sports, and learned a lot about human nature. I picked up things from my teachers, my fellow students, some of the people I worked for, and my parents' friends. Then, when I was in the army, there was a larger variety of people to understand, motivate, and get along with. I don't know particularly who or where it came from, but I am a good listener, and I think that helped.

After business school, I thought I was going to be a great retailer, a great banker, or do something in financial services. I thought very seriously about going to work for the brokerage community. I wanted to work for Merrill Lynch, but they only had an opening in Tennessee. Toward the end of school, one of my friends worked for IBM in their summer program. I heard of IBM, but didn't really know much about it. I became interested in the office equipment industry and interviewed not only at IBM but with other firms as well. I concluded this was a terrific industry with a promising future, and IBM was the best company in it. They didn't offer me the most money, but they did make me an offer. I took it, and I think I made the right decision. I started in Los Angeles, the area I wanted, and things progressed from there.

I started training in sales at IBM. It wasn't easy, but it was a stimulating job. At school, I learned about business organization, business function--theoretical constructs. Now I was applying theories with sales reps who were analyzing accounts with data processing information--sometimes accounts of pretty large companies--and formulating solutions to their problems. I'm sort of a puzzle solver, too. I like crossword puzzles, chess, bridge, and anything like that, so I found it very interesting. The training was excellent. I went to both an application and a sales school. I wasn't anxious to knock down doors and make cold calls, but I was very anxious to learn how to use the IBM equipment in productive ways to solve problems for customers. I saw the company had a great future. As a matter of fact, it had an immediate future. No one thought Los Angeles was very good territory when I started, but it was terrific. I made so much money that I considered staying in Los Angeles for the rest of my life. I kept getting offers for promotions, but accepting them would cost me thousands of dollars a year. At one point I told my wife, "We're going to have to decide if I'm going to do this career thing, or if I'm going to be a marketing representative for the rest of my life." I was handling a number of banks and insurance companies and, after a year or two, had some really substantial accounts. I was making about $10,000 a year more than an assistant branch manager and as much as many branch managers. So, it was a financial sacrifice to accept a managerial position. I had to decide whether I was interested in the long term or the short term. Finally, we decided it was the long term, and I accepted my first promotion. IBM was growing so fast that soon after I became an assistant branch manager in San Francisco I was offered a job as a branch manager in Chicago. A year later, I was back in San Francisco as district manager.

I was very lucky in many ways. I worked for some marvelous people. One was a young fellow in Los Angeles named Bud Kocher who was an assistant branch manager. He later became the branch manager in Oakland and then a regional manager, but he died very young. I worked with Bill McWhirter, a branch manager in San Francisco, who was extremely helpful to my career development. He managed his office by providing a good example of every aspect of a sales representative. He would take the time to explain why he did things and how, and to explain the company as a whole--a substantial thing to understand in those days. These two men I worked for early in my career were very important to my development and success. They helped me get an edge on the business and showed me how to be a good sales manager. And, more than anything, the company was growing like a house on fire. They needed capable people. If you were capable, you were offered opportunities. If you didn't take them right away, you didn't necessarily get blackballed, but it wasn't wise to turn down too many offers or people would pass you up.

When we moved back to San Francisco, I was the district manager of the Central Pacific Coast district, which ran from Colorado and Wyoming out through Hawaii. It was the best piece of geography in the country. In 1958, which was a tough year for IBM, the national division didn't make quota, but my district did. We had some terrific offices and branch managers. By that time, Bud Kocher was there as well as a number of senior managers who were what we called wheel horses--people you could count on. We were the only district on the Pacific Coast that made quota that year, so I received a lot of attention within the company. By that time, my wife was saying, "Wait a minute, every year we're moving." So we took a breather. Bob Hubner, IBM's sales manager and a terrific guy, wanted me to move. I turned him down once or twice, but then he made an offer I couldn't refuse. So we packed up and moved east. I began to circulate the halls of 590 [590 Madison Avenue, IBM's Manhattan headquarters] and Armonk [IBM's International Headquarters in Armonk, New York]. We lived in New York longer than any place we'd ever been. So it all worked out very well, though it was at times frightening. Things happened so rapidly I started to worry about whether my kids could keep up with the progress. They were young enough then, however, so everything was fine. Though they might have been born elsewhere, they all grew up in New York.

My business school background was definitely important to me in my career at IBM. I learned a lot at Stanford in 18 months, things I applied very early in my career. First of all, it was important for me intellectually--I understood modern concepts of business. A lot of business was running then just on the basis of experience, but my business theory background gave me a very important perspective. My Stanford experience was also important because it singled me out as someone who had a good education, since not as many people went to business school in those days. I therefore got a bit more attention than if I had just a B.S. or B.A.

I left IBM at the end of 1980, before we had the personal computer. I started the personal computer project before I left, but it didn't culminate until the following year. I was instrumental in putting John Opel in my place. He was a very capable guy who ran the company very well for several years. Looking back, I don't really have any regrets. My wife will tell you the same thing. I've heard her say, "Frank always had the best job in the company, and he always enjoyed it." And I really did. Throughout my career, I wouldn't change a thing. For 38 years, I was really a happy camper.

Some of what happened to IBM subsequent to my departure has bothered me terribly. In recent years, as the company struggled, we had to look outside to choose someone to run it. I think that was the right strategy--an insider would have had great difficulty doing all the things necessary to right IBM. It needed some severe treatment. It wouldn't have been that bad, but we let problems go too long. I have reflected on some issues and wished that I had exercised more fortitude, more stock, or more clout to have changed things sooner. Fortunately, I think the company has recovered. Perhaps I should have tried harder, but it's all history now.

I would tell people starting in business today that it's hard to be overprepared. I think that a good education, diversified personal development, and character are very important to success. You can never be successful if you don't somehow drum up enough courage to take a lot of personal risks, whether that includes moving from one part of the country to another or standing up to a superior. It's very important to be a risk taker and to be courageous about the kinds of things you must do and the decisions you must make. It's also important to have a vision of your goals and be able to communicate that vision. If you want to be successful as a leader, it's important to understand how to set an example and, hopefully, inspire people. A lot of techniques, like effective speaking, can be learned. If you're not a good speaker today, you can't lead a major corporation. The foundations for diversified personal development and character go back to your childhood, to the way you were brought up, and to the kinds of early experiences you had. Mentors also play a big role. I mentioned the people who were important early in my life. Later, Thomas Watson Jr. and Hal Williams played big roles. They were enormously helpful. I had the opportunity to observe them, to see what they thought was important, and how they functioned. It was very, very instructive.


A common theme of the interviews in this book is the importance of taking risks. Frank Cary acknowledges that the courage to disagree with superiors is key to one's success. Frank doesn't believe one attains success by simply aiming to climb the corporate ladder. Instead, success follows from having good business acumen, a vision of your goals, and good people skills, especially the ability to lead and motivate.

Frank describes himself as a student of human nature, and he recounts how early on he learned to get along with all kinds of people. Are people skills so important for the leading executives of companies today? I believe so, as I heard it stressed over and over again from these successful leaders, and continue to hear it stressed in other business circles. For example, two popular business books readily come to mind that discuss the importance of social skills and caring for staff--Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It seems the higher you rise in an organization, the more important people skills are.

In reading Frank's story, I can imagine many readers will resonate with his ultimate decision to not move one more time for his career. Today, many career people put their family's interests ahead of a promotion that includes relocation--even if this decision means finding a new job. Frank's story also illustrates that life demands constant focus on values and the vision you have for your life and your career, making sure you are still on target with your beliefs and where you aim to be. How inspiring to hear that at his retirement from IBM he was able to say, "I wouldn't change a thing."

Meet the Author

LUCINDA WATSON is the granddaughter of IBM's Thomas J. Watson and the daughter of IBM's former CEO, Thomas J. Watson Jr. Watson's privileged upbringing offered her access to world leaders and business moguls, connections she drew from when writing this book. Watson is a former professor of communications at Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

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