For an extraordinary fifty-seven-year period, one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing companies was run by two men who were flesh and blood. The chief executives of the International Business Machines Corporation from 1914 until 1971 were Thomas J. Watson and Thomas J. Watson, father and son. That great corporation bears the imprint of both men -- their ambitions and their strengths -- but it also bears the consequences of a family that was in near-constant conflict.


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The Watson Dynasty

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For an extraordinary fifty-seven-year period, one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing companies was run by two men who were flesh and blood. The chief executives of the International Business Machines Corporation from 1914 until 1971 were Thomas J. Watson and Thomas J. Watson, father and son. That great corporation bears the imprint of both men -- their ambitions and their strengths -- but it also bears the consequences of a family that was in near-constant conflict.

Sometimes wrong but never in doubt, both Watsons had clear -- and farsighted -- visions of what their company could become. They also had volcanic tempers. Their fights with each other combined with their commitment to leadership and excellence made IBM one of the most rewarding, yet gut-clutching firms to work for in the history of American business.

We are accustomed to describing professional behavior as if men and women leave their emotions and vulnerabilities at home each day. In the case of the Watsons, filial and sibling strife could not be excluded from the office. In closely studying the desires and frustrations of the Watson family, eminent historian Richard S. Tedlow has produced something more than a family portrait or a company history. He has raised the nearly forbidden issue of the role of emotion in corporate life.

This book explores the interplay between the person- alities of these two extraordinary men and the firm they created. Both Watsons had deeply held beliefs about what a corporation is and should be. These ideas helped make "Big Blue" the bluest of blue-chip stocks during the Watsons' tenure. These very beliefs, however, also sowed the seeds for IBM's disasters in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the company had lost sight of the original meaning behind many of the practices each man put into place.

Tracing the family's idiosyncratic ability to cope with each other's weaknesses but not their strengths, The Watson Dynasty is a book for every person who ever went to work but didn't want to check his personality at the door.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Tedlow (Harvard Business Sch.; Giants of Enterprise) brings us a tale of two Thomas J. Watsons, father and son. At 19, Watson Sr. was penniless and sleeping on sponges in the basement of a Buffalo, NY, drugstore-a rather inauspicious start for the man who, in 1914, would take the reins of the bumbling conglomerate Computing-Tabulating-Recording and turn it into that pioneering powerhouse of technology, International Business Machines. Watson Jr.'s beginnings were as shaky as his father's. Plagued by depression and failure, he was finally given the challenge he needed while serving as a World War II pilot, and the resulting turnaround eventually enabled him to take over the controls of "Big Blue." Tedlow offers insight into how the complex and often volatile personalities of father and son created the corporate ethos of IBM during their collective nearly 60 years at the helm. Although his parenthetical commentaries can be distracting, Tedlow does a fine job of synthesizing material from Jr.'s autobiography (Father, Son & Co.) and a plethora of sources into a highly readable work. Recommended for all business collections.-Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061882142
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,100,677
  • File size: 629 KB

Meet the Author

Richard S. Tedlow is the Class of 1949 Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, where he is a specialist in the history of business. He is the author of Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built. In addition to his teaching and research, Professor Tedlow has consulted and taught both marketing and business history to a variety of companies and organizations.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Defining Moments 1
Ch. 2 The Early Years of the "Man of Men" 9
Ch. 3 Watson and National Cash 23
Ch. 4 Crime and Punishment 43
Ch. 5 High Water and Hell 59
Ch. 6 Down and Out 69
Ch. 7 Terrible Tommy Watson 79
Ch. 8 Thomas J. Watson Sr. in 1893 and Thomas J. Watson Jr. in 1933 89
Ch. 9 The Searing Insight 93
Ch. 10 The Watson Way 103
Ch. 11 The Big Payoff 113
Ch. 12 High Time to Grow Up 127
Ch. 13 Watson at War 141
Ch. 14 Father, Son, and Charley Kirk 149
Ch. 15 God Damn You, Old Man! 155
Ch. 16 Siblings: A Brief Introduction 167
Ch. 17 Awakening the Electronic Brain 177
Ch. 18 Death of a Salesman 193
Ch. 19 On His Own 203
Ch. 20 The New Thomas Watson's New IBM 209
Ch. 21 Threats from Without and from Within 219
Ch. 22 The System/360 229
Ch. 23 The Destruction of Dick Watson 243
Ch. 24 Denouement for Dick and for Jane 253
Ch. 25 Denouement for Tom 259
Ch. 26 Denouement for IBM 265
Epilogue 273
Notes 279
Bibliographical Essay 301
Principal Sources by Chapter 319
Acknowledgments 327
Index 329
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First Chapter

The Watson Dynasty
The Fiery Reign and Troubled Legacy of IBM's Founding Father and Son

Chapter One

Defining Moments

The world's fair in New York City at the end of the depression decade was a big deal. Planning began in 1935. The fairgrounds covered 1,216.5 acres in what had been a garbage dump in Queens. By opening day, April 30, 1939, the moonscape that had been Flushing Meadows was transformed, in the perhaps pardonable hyperbole of the guidebook, into a "stupendous, gigantic, super-magnificent ... greatest show on earth." Time magazine called it "the biggest, costliest, most ambitious undertaking ever attempted in the history of international exhibitions."

Over sixty nations had pavilions and exhibits clustered around the "Court of Peace" on the fairgrounds. Every major country was represented save Germany. New York's mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia, had suggested in 1937 that a "Chamber of Horrors" be dedicated to Nazi Germany. The Nazis did not see the humor in the idea of the man they labeled "a dirty Talmud Jew," lodged a protest with the State Department, and refused to participate in the festivities.

Dozens of corporations saw the fair, with its theme of "Building the World of Tomorrow," as an ideal venue for institutional advertising and image making. This fair was to be more than merely a "showroom for the display of goods"; it was to be, according to historian Roland Marchand, a "World Stage upon which to dramatize the advantages of the American system of free enterprise."

Foremost among the more than forty company exhibitors was the nation's largest industrial corporation, General Motors. Still smarting from the disastrous sit-down strike in Flint in the winter of 1936-37, the result of which was the unionization of its plants and the creation of the United Automobile Workers, General Motors was anxious to turn the nation's attention to its ambitions for the future. This it attempted to do through "Futurama," a remarkable invitation to "share our world." It was the hit of the fair, with more attendees and rave reviews than any other exhibit. Other companies spending large amounts of money to educate the public about their greatness included Ford, Chrysler, AT&T, General Electric, and Westinghouse.

Also making their presence known at the fair were the International Business Machines Corporation and its indomitable leader, Thomas J. Watson Sr.

Watson was sixty-five years old when the fair opened, an age when many businessmen think about retirement. But Watson had the energy of a man in his thirties, and we can confidently assert that thoughts of retirement never entered his mind. For years he had been telling his troops, "The IBM is not merely an organization of men; it is an institution that will go on forever." He planned to accompany IBM on its journey -- if not forever, then at least for a good many more years. And he had every intention of using the fair to tell the world that he and IBM -- the two were inseparable in his mind -- mattered.

On May 2, IBM held a huge meeting at the fair, with 2,200 employees in attendance. Watson told the listening throng that he wanted to keep the business session brief because the fair's educational opportunities "are so much broader than anything we could hope to give you that we are going to give you as much time as possible to visit these things." Nevertheless, there were eighteen speakers at the event.

May 2 was as nothing compared to Thursday, May 4 -- IBM Day at the world's fair. May 4 was a busy day for Watson, but not a uniquely busy day. Indeed, one of the remarkable aspects of his long life was the number of days such as this which he arranged (and which those around him endured). Things were kicked off as Watson opened the fair for the day. He was accompanied by a mounted escort from Perylon Hall on the fairgrounds to the IBM exhibit at the Business Systems Building, where a precursor of a form of E-mail was displayed:

As a demonstration of the latest device out of the I.B.M. research laboratories, a letter of congratulation was flashed through the air from San Francisco to New York on an I.B.M. radio-type. ...It was offered as the high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow.

Not only technology but art had a place in IBM Day. The company had commissioned the IBM Symphony by Vittorio Giannini, and the work was performed at this event and was broadcast. In a burst of understatement, Fortune magazine described the symphony as "somewhat programmatic in nature." The second movement contained a melodic reference to the most often sung of IBM's many songs, "Ever Onward."

Painting as well as music was part of IBM's artistic contribution to the fair. Watson was described in the New York Times as taking "a bold and potentially constructive step" by displaying works from seventy-nine countries in his Gallery of Science and Art in a large hall in the Business Systems Building at the fair. "Far-flung" would be the best way to describe the countries represented. They included French Indochina, Libya, Luxembourg, and the USSR. "Our endeavor," explained Watson,

has been to increase the interest of business in art and of artists in business ... This step by an industrial organization is in recognition of the part played by art in industry and its importance to industry in broadening the horizons of culture and influencing the needs and desires of the people of every country.

Whatever that might mean.

This collection traveled from one country to another after the fair. "To be sure," sniffed the Times reporter, "representation by one painter alone [from each country] is inclined to provoke a smile and must have caused prodigious head-scratching." Nevertheless, the plan was pronounced to "[work] well enough ... upon the whole." This project generated a good deal of publicity for Watson and for IBM ...

The Watson Dynasty
The Fiery Reign and Troubled Legacy of IBM's Founding Father and Son
. Copyright © by Richard S. Tedlow. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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