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Watson's story plays out on a global stage, intersecting with the major events and people of his time. A business failure as a young man, he rocketed to the top levels of National Cash Register before a federal antitrust trial nearly brought down NCR and seemingly crushed his career. The moment forever shaped Watson's business sensibilities and drove him to reinvent the American corporation. In 1914, he took charge of a struggling little entity called the Computer-Tabulating-Recording Company, infused it with his values, his competitive drive, and his personality quirks, and transformed it into International Business Machines -- IBM.
Over and over, Watson made daring bets and won, each time vaulting IBM to a new level of size and power. In the 1920s, when information wasn't obviously going to become a big industry, he bet IBM's future on tabulating machines -- the mechanical forerunners to computers. In the Depression of the 1930s, Watson pumped money into R&D and kept factories running while most companies slashed budgets and jobs. When Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal created massive information demands, IBM was ready to fill them. The company's growth exploded, and Watson became the highest-paid American.
In his later years, Watson's life took a Shakespearean turn. He struggled with his son for power, and stayed on at IBM into his eighties, endangering the empire he'd built. He became entangled in controversy by accepting a medal from Nazi Germany, a mistake that haunts his legacy today. In the late 1940s, Watson and Thomas Watson, Jr. guided IBM through the torturous transition from mechanical technology to electronic computers. With exceptional detail that takes the reader inside business meetings in Watson's office and into his relationships with presidents, business leaders, employees, and family members, Maney tracks Watson's rise from obscure cash register salesman to household name. Maney examines the profound impact Watson had on modern companies, the business lessons learned, and the personal motivations that spurred Watson's frantic energy and inexhaustible drive for success. The Maverick and His Machine for the first time reveals the true character of the man whose visionary leadership laid the foundation for the computer revolution.
|Chapter 1||Maverick Kindling||1|
|Chapter 2||Lit by Flint||37|
|Chapter 3||A Mess Spelled C-T-R||59|
|Chapter 4||Bringing Up Baby IBM||91|
|Chapter 5||Daring and Luck||127|
|Chapter 6||Friends, Heroes, Sycophants||161|
|Chapter 7||Enemies and Delusions||199|
|Chapter 8||King and Castle||225|
|Chapter 9||Watson the Second||259|
|Chapter 10||Watson's War||291|
|Chapter 11||Old Man, New Electronic Age||327|
|Chapter 12||World Conquest||367|
|Chapter 13||The Maverick and His Humanity||405|
|Chapter 14||Generations After||433|
His book, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?, was about to be released. In it, he wrote often about Watson and the power of the culture Watson had built, and I looked forward to talking with him about his insights.
But I wasn't sure how well that was going to go. Never a big fan of the press, Gerstner decided to grant only two interviews to publicize the book. I got one of them, and I planned to use it to write a cover story for my employer, USA Today. I respected Gerstner, but on a few previous interviews over nearly a decade, he'd been prickly and intimidating. So I was expecting more of the same as Gerstner's public relations person, Laura Keeton, led me into a small conference room in IBM's headquarters.
There is one other relevant fact here: This happened to be on the day when Gerstner relinquished his position as IBM's chairman. As of his meeting with me, Gerstner was free of all IBM burdens.
The door opened. In breezed Gerstner. "Hello, Kevin! Haven't seen you in a long time," he said, smiling and shaking my hand. He was sunny and chatty -- a whole different Lou Gerstner. Over the years, some of his friends had told me he really was funny and charming in private. I was finally seeing that Lou Gerstner.
As we talked, I found that we had each discovered -- through different means -- the same core Thomas Watson. Gerstner had lived it and personally encountered it, eventually finding that the Watson culture formed the inner strength that would help bring IBM back from the brink. In his book, Gerstner wrote: "I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game -- it is the game." As CEO, Gerstner began reviving the best of Watson's cultural values.
I had discovered Watson through research and learned a great deal about him through the thousands of personal documents he'd left behind -- documents that had never before been made public. In my book, I had concluded that Watson's greatest creation was IBM's culture. He hadn't created just a company, he'd created a civilization. Watson, in fact, was the first to truly understand the power of a corporate culture and to purposefully build and tend such a culture.
I had about an hour with Gerstner. We talked about his tenure at IBM, what he learned, and even about his newfound respect for authors, which made me smile. "I found it an extraordinarily difficult process," he said.
When the interview was done, one particular moment stuck with me. It was a story Gerstner told me about Watson's son, Thomas Watson Jr., who took over IBM from Watson in 1956.
One morning in 1993, soon after Gerstner took the IBM CEO position, he walked out of his house to go to work. A car and driver were waiting for him, just as a car and driver had for years picked him up to take him to his offices at RJR Nabisco and American Express. "I went to sit down and realized there was somebody sitting in the other seat," Gerstner told me. There, in the back seat, sat Tom Watson Jr.
In an odd, almost cosmic coincidence, Gerstner lived right next door to Olive and Tom Jr. in Greenwich, Connecticut. The Watson house stood on the waterfront; Gerstner's was on an adjacent property, along a narrow road. Gerstner had lived there well before joining IBM, and the proximity had nothing to do with his getting the job. But imagine the odds of their being neighbors! "He asked if he could please ride to work with me," Gerstner said.
As Gerstner got over his surprise and climbed into the car, Tom Jr. let loose that he was angry about what had happened to "my company." He urged Gerstner to tear the place up and move quickly. Gerstner recalled that Tom Jr. emphasized "the need he had seen over and over again to take bold action." Tom Jr. prodded and encouraged Gerstner, but he did not attempt to tell the new CEO what he should do or how he should do it.
"I was sitting there thinking, 'This is really a special moment,' " Gerstner recalled.
In a sense, Tom Watson Jr. in that moment forged the link between the great IBM of the past and the possibility of reviving that greatness for the future. It was almost as if Watson Jr. rode in the car so he could hand Gerstner the keys to the Watson culture. A few months later, Watson Jr. died.
Today, a new CEO -- Sam Palmisano -- is running IBM. He is a lifelong IBMer. He has the IBM culture -- the Watson culture -- in his veins. Palmisano says over and over that he intends to meld the best of IBM's Watson-era DNA with the best of the new-generation DNA. Much to my fascination, Watson has once again come alive. Kevin Maney
Posted March 31, 2011
This is really a great book. Whether you are a current or former IBMer, of if you enjoy reading about the business leaders of our country, this is a must. Well written, engaging, and hard to put down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 7, 2004
This book seems to have been written primarily because the author learned about the existence of boxes of Thomas Watson¿s papers that had never been read by any biographer or journalist. In some cases, the author¿s access to these new materials does help fill in some minor gaps in the existing accounts of Watson¿s life. And cumulatively, they take some of the shine off the legend, impressing upon one how humdrum the daily life of even a business titan must be. This book is reasonably well written and packed with memorable anecdotes. While it doesn¿t offer stunning new insights, we recommends it as a readable, accessible and balanced introduction to one of the greatest executives of the twentieth century.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 25, 2003
I purchased this book for my boyfriend as a birthday gift. He read it in three days and told me how great it was. I was curious and so I picked it up and thought this was a gripping story about an American institution.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.