Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
IBM Books Businesses Media Book Reviews

The Maverick and His Machine 255

roomisigloomis writes "The Maverick and His Machine begins with a paragraph that sounds like the first line of a film noir: 'Thomas John Watson began his life at age 40, after Dayton, Ohio, nearly ruined him.' From there, what one would expect to be a stuffy, boring book about a dead white man turns out to be an interesting and inspiring account of The International Business Machines Company (IBM) and the man who started it. Why would a geek care? Because IBM, its technological breakthroughs and Watson are very much the foundation of commercial technology as we know it today." Read on for the rest.
The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM
author Kevin Maney
pages 512
publisher Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
rating 7
reviewer roomisgloomis
ISBN 0471414638
summary How IBM came to be, and to succeed.

At age 40, Watson was thrown a curve ball that, like that first sentence says, nearly ruined him. In fact, it sent him so low that this shaped his character more than anything that had happened to him earlier in his lifetime. It sent him to the lower depths and resulted in him being given the reigns of an equally down-in-the dumps loser business just to get rid of him. He was banished to a corporate Siberia. He was considered a loser, and given a loser's position in a loser's business.

It's at this point that he reshaped and remade that company into what is today known as IBM. The blue suits and white shirts that were the uniform of IBM men became so because he wore one every day. There was no written rule that employees had to wear them; they did it because he did it. That says something: he led by example and his employees admired him.

Just as an aside, it seems that Watson's big thing was that things didn't happen (or went wrong) because people didn't think hard enough. To encourage employees to think he had big "THINK" signs put all over the company. This evolved into "Think" buttons, and employees were even allowed and encouraged to kick back and think. Eventually, small notepads were emblazoned with "Think" and they were called "Thinkpads." Hence, the name of the laptop.

THINK, by the way, is the reason that the company created so many technological innovations.

Now, just because Watson started IBM and largely shaped it into one of the most successful companies in the world doesn't mean he was a saint. Some of the most interesting parts of the book have to do with his home life and how he treated his wife and kids. It seems that he was somewhat of a manipulator who knew how to shape people by breaking them and remaking them.

One story about his son (who would later become CEO of the company) shows Watson's mean streak. It seems that, early in the younger Watson's career, after dinner together at home, the elder asked him what his impression was of one of his executives.

The younger Watson dutifully answered, seeking to impress his father with his skill at observing people. The elder paused and then berated the young man for daring to form an opinion about a seasoned executive who had years of experience behind him. Who did the young man think he was to judge someone who had been in the business since before he was born?

While this isn't the stuff of Ward Cleaver, Watson was, all the same, a courageous and enterprising individual who took risks and (most of the time) succeeded. Especially engrossing is the episode during the depression when IBM was in danger of bankruptcy and shutting its doors. Watson, contrary to what most intelligent people would do, gave a rousing talk to his top executives, telling them that instead of cutting back on manufacturing and personnel, they should increase both.

Luckily (for Watson), a few months later, Pearl Harbor happened and, with the sharp increase in troops, materials and logistics, the U.S. government needed "calculating machines" and needed them fast. While major competitors like NCR and Burroughs had to ramp up production to meet demand, IBM, with its ready stockpile of machines won the contract and delivered, saving them from possible bankruptcy.

There is a lot more I could say about the book but because I don't want to spoil anything, I won't go into it here. However, if you're a Big Blue fan (and I am), you might want to follow up this read with Lou Gerstner, Jr.'s book, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance. It's a great read about how, for the second time in its history, the company was saved from becoming history.


You can purchase The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Maverick and His Machine

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    also forget to close the italics tag?
  • The grandfather of 'business with a baseball bat' was NCR. IBM was the best practitioner of this until Microsoft took over the crown in the 1990's.

    IIRC Thomas Watson learnt his art at NCR, where the ability to smash a rival's machines was one of the job requirements for an ambitious cash register salesman. These days, I'd guess that translates into being able to produce VR TCO studies proving that Windows is cheaper.
  • Old Evil Empire (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:34PM (#8240113)
    I find it very funny that slashdotters are so in love with the company that only 20 years ago was the evil empire. If in 10 years Microsoft does a turn around and starts supporting Linux will we all forget the evils of the past? But then again I am sure many slashdotters are smokers and there is no more evil empire then Big Tobacco.
    • Re:Old Evil Empire (Score:4, Insightful)

      by happyfrogcow ( 708359 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:00PM (#8240407)
      20 years is a really long time in this context. Anyway, i'm a little hesitant to welcome IBM into our homes as much as some are doing so. Who know what they will do in a few years with respect to linux.
    • Re:Old Evil Empire (Score:5, Insightful)

      by molarmass192 ( 608071 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:00PM (#8240414) Homepage Journal
      Personally, it would take more than MS supporting Linux, it would take a change in MS's business practices. I used to detest IBM but their attitude towards business changed. It's just an added bonus that they are the most visible corp backers of Linux. If MS drops their exclusionary tactics and user lock-in strategies of proprietary standards / open standards corruption then I might have a change of heart. However, it would ~5 years of "good behavior" before my suspicions wane, just like it did for IBM.
    • Re:Old Evil Empire (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aiken_d ( 127097 ) <brooks AT tangentry DOT com> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:00PM (#8240415) Homepage

      If in 10 years Microsoft does a turn around and starts supporting Linux will we all forget the evils of the past?

      I sure hope so. One of the defining (and refreshing) characterstics of geeks is their pragmatism. If, in 10 years, Microsoft is behaving decently and contributing to the computing community in a way similar to what IBM's doing today, sure, I'd be friendly towards them.

      What's the alternative? Draw up a big list of "evil" companies who can never be redeemed for the sins of their past, and then hunker down and hate them for the rest of our lives? There probably wouldn't be many alternatives for IT products, let alone food and footwear, after a couple of decades.

      Deal with it. Microsoft is *not* evil in some intrinsic, satanic sense. They're just doing evil and dishonest things. If that changes in the future, I for one will welcome them back into the fold.

      Cheers
      -b

    • If in 10 years Microsoft does a turn around and starts supporting Linux will we all forget the evils of the past?

      If Microsoft did a turnaround and started supporting Linux, becoming part of the solution rather than the 800 pound gorilla of a problem then you're damned right I'd do business with them. You're a fool if you refuse to do business with a company because of what it did 20 years ago, provided that company has changed.

    • It doesn't take a long memory to recall the days when Apple went head-to-head with IBM for the desktop marketplace.

      Just 20 years after the Superbowl ad where Big Blue was smashed by the Apple girl, the top-of-the-line PowerMac G5 sports an IBM-manufactured 64-bit processor.
    • Near-death experiences can change companies as well as people. In the early 1990s, IBM was getting close to bankruptcy. IBM lost ~$8 billion in one year, and no one knew what to do to stop the company from sinking.

      In desperation, the board brought in Lou G., who had no previous experience in IT, to take the helm. Lou remade the company, in particular, making it more customer focused. Employees were so scared of the company dying, that they pretty much went along with his plans. The IBM of today reall

    • Re:Old Evil Empire (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @03:44PM (#8241556) Homepage Journal
      Unlike most of the Slashdot crowd, I'm old enough to remember twenty years ago very clearly. IBM was *NOT* considered an evil empire. It was big, it was a monopoly of sorts, and it was incredibly difficult to compete against, but it was not seen as evil.

      The difference with Microsoft is not its size or monopoly position, but rather its inane mediocrity. IBM innovated. Microsoft does not. IBM produced quality products, Microsoft produces shoddy products. IBM made computing available to the masses, while Microsoft merely dumbed computing down. We consider Microsoft to be an "evil empire" because it could be so so much better. It's like a Wolfgang Puck selling hotdogs, or a Shakespeare writing Hallmark greeting cards.
      • >

        I'm old enough to remember twenty years ago very clearly. IBM was *NOT* considered an evil empire.

        I'm old enough too. And I read. IBM not only was considered an evil empire, it was a convicted monopolist and made only proprietary systems. Guess who incubated William Gates III?

        >

        IBM innovated.

        Not really. All of IBM's "innovations" are actually someone else's, they just managed to make money off it by virtue of their monopoly.

    • But then again I am sure many slashdotters are smokers and there is no more evil empire then Big Tobacco.

      What's so evil about (so-called) 'Big' Tobacco? People want cigarettes; the cigarette companies make them. What's wrong with that?

      Now, my personal opinion is that Marlboro, Benson & Hedges, Pall Mall & al. produce a rather foul-tasting product, but that's also my opinion of Anheuser-Busch and Coors: apparently a good number of people disagree.

      And why is it always called 'Big' Tobacco anyw

      • And why is it always called 'Big' Tobacco anyway? No-one ever calls Kraft Big Pasta, or McDonald's, Burger King & Wendys Big Burgers

        The irony here of course is that Kraft is owned by RJ Renyolds... er Altria. The problem with "Big Tobacco" is the lies and complete disregard for human life that is rampant in the industry.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Deraj DeZine ( 726641 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:34PM (#8240114)
    Luckily...a few months later, Pearl Harbor happened

    Yes, praise be to $DEITY for that event.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'd not have been surprised if IBM already had good intelligence that WWII would involve the US sooner rather than later. Pearl Harbour was a surprise but it hardly came from nowhere.
    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:38PM (#8240165)
      Luckily...a few months later, Pearl Harbor happened

      Pfft, the best thing that happened to computing is Python Harbor. Perl Harbor sucks ...
  • There is a lot more I could say about the book but because I don't want to spoil anything

    IBM stands for International Business Machines. Ok, I just gave away the ending. sorry.
    • by Deraj DeZine ( 726641 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:50PM (#8240301)

      If you're gonna spoil it, at least do it right. The following is copied from the end of the book:

      Watson stumbled a few feet and finally collapsed onto the ground, his face covered with dirt, freshly moistened by the heavy rain. He was disoriented, but well aware that the cliff's edge was merely inches from him.

      "We are losing our patience, Mr. Watson! The next kick will surely land you on the sharp rocks below. Why do you feel the need to hide the meaning of the name IBM?"

      Watson groaned and looked up. He spat in the man's face.

      "I don't deal with your kind!"

      As Watson ached out this comment, a bolt of lightning came crashing down on the other side of the cliff. In the momentary daylight, Watson recognized his enemy.

      "Darl! I should have known! First you try and steal our IP, then you claim we've stolen your's!"

      Darl chuckled.

      "Have you seen our stock price? Your only salvation lies with us!

      "No. You're not my salvation! You're nothing but litigous bastards!"

      With that insult, Darl signalled for his army of lawyers to take care of Watson once and for all. But as soon as one lawyer took a step forward, Watson pulled out a small blue card from his blue trenchcoat. He raised the card high in the air and then furiously whipped his arm down, sending the card flying towards the lawyer at a seemingly relativistic speed.

      The card was not a standard IBM business card. It was made of metal with sharp edges. The corner penetrated the approaching lawyer's head and sent him flying backwards, the splattering blood mixing with rain drops in the air.

      Watson then began hurling the cards one after another at every lawyer until they all laid on the grown, lifeless. Just they way they should.

      "For RMS! For Linus! For FREEDOM!"

      With those words, Watson hurled his last business card at Darl McBride. Darl's head snapped back with the impact, producing a loud cracking noise eminating from his neck area. Darl took a step backwards and collapsed, the card still sticking part way out of his head. Emblazoned on the blood-soaked blue metal were the letters IBM. Underneath, in a miniscule roman font were the words "International Business Machines."

      Just another day at the office in the life of Mr. Watson.

      • You know, for a moment there, you got me thinking that UW was this amazing school that teaches its CS people not only how to be competent techies, but also amazing writers. Alas, at least you cited your source, but it was a bit of a letdown. Hope school's going well for you!
      • With those words, Watson hurled his last business card at Darl McBride. Darl's head snapped back with the impact, producing a loud cracking noise eminating from his neck area. Darl took a step backwards and collapsed, the card still sticking part way out of his head.

        Great... here comes another SCOX press release about death threats against Darl.

      • IBM

        UBM

        We all BM


        (circa 1981?)
    • Now I don't have to rent it when it comes out in video.
  • What would life have been like if the sign had read "INTUIT"?
  • IBM and geeks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:36PM (#8240135)
    Why would a geek care? Because IBM, its technological breakthroughs and Watson are very much the foundation of commercial technology as we know it today.

    A true geek doesn't necessarily care much about IBM. IBM is a lot more relevant to suits. In fact, IBM redefines the concept of "corporate culture" and "standardized outfit". They also embody the culture of centralized computing (or at least used to) and the company used to be seen as a "benevolent dictator", with its policy of renting computers instead of selling them.

    All these things are quite opposite to the world of geeks. Of course, curious and open-minded geeks read about everything, and therefore should read this book as well.
    • Re:IBM and geeks (Score:4, Informative)

      by Your_Mom ( 94238 ) <(ten.rimsinni) (ta) (todhsals)> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:49PM (#8240284) Homepage
      Yes and No. Yes, IBM has a very strict culture inside of it, (which may have changed since the early 1990s, when salesment started wearing *gasp* polo shirts to conventions, when previously they /always/ wore suits), but for geeks who are put into management positions, IBM management sk1llz rock and can teach you a lot. Watson was a hard *ss but he actually cared about what happened in his plants and with his salesmen, whatever their position in his company. A lot of their policies and be adapted to team leadership skills. So while a lot of people see IBM as a stuffy suit organization (which I will not disagree with) there are a lot of good things that can be learned from them.
    • Re:IBM and geeks (Score:4, Insightful)

      by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <david@amazing.com> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:08PM (#8240500) Homepage
      IBM is also making substantial contributions to Linux, and defending it against the bizarre SCO assault. They're a pretty useful lesson now in how to change with the times.

      They're spending quite a bit of money doing the right thing, and they should be applauded for it.

      D
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      While a "true geek" may not care about the history of IBM management, there are many interesting things that have been produced by IBM's scientists and engineers. Many of the neat features in today's microprocessors can be seen in IBM 360/370 series mainframes from the 1960s and 1970s. Today's microprocessors have yet to catch up with the reliability, availability and maintenance features of IBM's large systems. Anyone who is interested in computer architecture can learn a lot from studying the technical hi
      • Today's microprocessors have yet to catch up with the reliability, availability and maintenance features of IBM's large systems.

        That is, to some degree, an apples-to-oranges comparison, as you're comparing microprocessors to complete computer systems.

        I can think of one microprocessor [ibm.com] that, by definition, is used in systems "with the reliability, availability, and maintenance features of IBM's large systems", as it's the microprocessor used in the CPUs of those systems.

        Now, it might be that the z900 micro

    • Could it be that the suits he always wore were simply "efficiency" in his eyes? Maybe he's more geek than you think.
    • Re:IBM and geeks (Score:2, Informative)

      by jstoner ( 85407 )
      I worked at IBM from 1989 to 1994, in the mainframe OS development area, in Poughkeepsie and Kingston, NY. In that time, my area went from a shirt-and-tie environment for everyone to an place where my boss's boss would wear jeans.

      IBM was not homogenous in that respect. Our offices were in a diverse area, near manufacturing, final roll-out facilities (a room bigger than a football field, filled with mainframes running test suites--very cool), and an executive suite, and there were many and varied cultures.
    • Wow. Care to leave the 1980s and come join the rest of us in the 21st century? The IBM you described is nothing like the IBM of today. How this post warranted a "+5, Insightful" is beyond me, since it's clear to me, at least, that you know nothing about what you speak.

      A "true geek" would want to wander thru IBM's research labs, looking behind all the doors, reading what is on the whiteboards, and talking to Senior Scientists. A "true geek" would recognize that much of what stirs his geek-beating heart
  • by so sue mee ( 660717 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:36PM (#8240150)
    Newsfactor [newsfactor.com]

    News.Com [com.com]
    • For what it is worth, my father tells me there was no corporate culture of anti-semitism at IBM when he went there in the late fifties. He advanced rapidly and never encountered prejudice from the younger Tom Watson or any of his superiors. This was the exception rather than the rule in corporate America at that time. By contrast a large (now mega) financial institution whose offer he had previously accepted actually called to un-hire him after they discovered he was a Jew. He wasn't phased because he had h
  • by ArsSineArtificio ( 150115 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:37PM (#8240162) Homepage
    From there, what one would expect to be a stuffy, boring book about a dead white man turns out to be an interesting and inspiring account

    Because heaven knows one could never have an interesting book about a "dead white man".

    • Sorry, I vote against racism in this situation.

      I'm white, against affirmative action, aware of the double standard applied to appreciating white culture and so forth, but that doesn't mean that every negative reference to a white person is racism, even if it points out the person's race.

      A stuffy, boring book about a dead black man would be different in context and motif from the same book about a dead white man. The dialogue, colloqialisms, humor, attitude, and statement about the world would be differen

  • If you like this... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Your_Mom ( 94238 ) <(ten.rimsinni) (ta) (todhsals)> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:39PM (#8240175) Homepage
    ... you might want to read Father Son and Company [amazon.com] by Tom Watson Jr., who took over IBM after his father. Great book, managers could learn a thing or fifteen from Father and Son alike.
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:40PM (#8240190)
    Luckily (for Watson), a few months later, Pearl Harbor happened and, with the sharp increase in troops, materials and logistics, the U.S. government needed "calculating machines" and needed them fast.

    Don't forget that IBM also manufactured .30 cal M1 Carbines during WW2... the ultimate in international business machines (and relations).
  • A Shame, Really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:42PM (#8240208) Homepage Journal
    It's a shame, really that such a company became known for arrogant sales people. We turned down a system 390 because the sales people, rather than answering out questions, elected to respond in a "You're such stupid people, just hurry up and buy our machine" way. A few years later came the massive house-cleaning (which was overdue) when I was trying to arrange the purchase of an RS/6000 (where I was talking to a different salesman every week, whom had inherited all accounts from the privious victim)

    Then there was the round-the-world tech support, which is so reminisent of today's outsource-to-India trend.

    I like what I read about IBM these days, but haven't been in a position to buy from them lately, so don't have much current knowlege.

  • by object88 ( 568048 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:42PM (#8240210)
    For another take on the origins of IBM, read IBM And The Holocaust by Edwin Black [amazon.com]. While I think it's true that any company could have been in IBM's place in WWII, I don't think we should ignore the fact that IBM played both sides.
    • Thanks for mentioning that. It was the first thing I thought of when they mentioned Watson.
    • by zulux ( 112259 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:00PM (#8240408) Homepage Journal
      I don't think we should ignore the fact that IBM played both sides.

      GPL'ed software doesen't play sides:

      GPG is available to me, as well as rat-bastard terrorist types.

      In additon, it's increasingly coming out that American businesses that were engaged with the Nazi's were great fronts for American espionage. Don't be so quick to jusge IBM - ther'es a lot more than meets the eye.

      I learned this from the Swiss: The Swiss wer'e not nearly so neutral as they'd like you to beleive during WWII - their "neutrality" gave them a lot of room to really fsck over the Nazi's as bet they could without getting caught.

    • While I think it's true that any company could have been in IBM's place in WWII, I don't think we should ignore the fact that IBM played both sides.

      I read the book (err, listened to it on tape) and was fascinated. But one question remains.

      If this is the case, has IBM had its pants sued for participating in the holocaust?
  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:44PM (#8240235) Homepage Journal
    "Thomas John Watson began his life at age 40"

    In a log cabin that he built with his own hands?
    • Holy, holy crap. I don't know whether I am hating you for reminding me that Orkans age backward or hating myself for having the memory to be reminded of. All and all a very yucky experience. Shazbat!
  • timeslip (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lpaul55 ( 137990 )
    "Luckily (for Watson), a few months later, Pearl Harbor happened ..."

    Wrong! Long before that, FDR's New Deal and the new Social Security Administration were the source of IBM's turnaround during the depression.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Think!

    and

    We forgive thoughtful mistakes.

    They used to chant these at assemblies....
  • My Review... (Score:3, Informative)

    by chmod_localhost ( 718125 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:48PM (#8240276) Journal
    OK, so I admit that absolutely nothing about this book drew my attention EXCEPT the name of the author, Kevin Maney. Any devotee of his columns in USA Today knows his ability to tell a story. Yes, I knew I should be intrested in the life of Tom Watson -- he was, after all, one of the first "celebrity CEOs," although the term hadn't been invented. But I never thought I would be so fascinated by a man and his story.

    This is a must read for anyone who wants to get a sense of what real leadership is all about. Watson was leading before there were books on leadership and studies on communictation. He was managing corporate culture before there were words for it. He saw his company -- and his employees -- through transitions that go well beyond mainframe vs. PC. When his technologies were rendered obsolete, he simply invented new ones.

    Anyone with aspirations to lead should read this book. It's so action-packed that you may forget it's a true story. But it is. And I can't wait to see the movie.
  • by dmorin ( 25609 ) <dmorin@gma i l . com> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:50PM (#8240291) Homepage Journal
    When this comes out on audio book if somebody could go ahead and rip it for me then blog an announcement someplace so I can go pull it down onto my iPod, then I'll care. I tried reading a dead tree while driving to work one morning, damn near killed myself. Spilled my coffee in my lap and everything, had to tell my wife I'd call her back.
  • Yawn! (Score:4, Funny)

    by bgardella ( 132855 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:51PM (#8240305) Homepage
    My dad would love this book. Which is why I'll never read it.

    --b
  • by sotweed ( 118223 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:52PM (#8240314)
    I think the reviewer got his facts a bit screwed up. The thing that saved IBM, after the depression started and it continued manufacturing, was the start of the Social Security System (I think in 1933; 1941 would have been a long time to wait...).

    The WW II connection is that IBM turned over its manufacturing plants to the government to make war materiel at a 1% profit. Carbines, gun sights, small cannons, other things, were all made in IBM's plants in Poughkeepsie, Endicott, and elsehwere.
    • The WW II connection is that IBM turned over its manufacturing plants to the government to make war materiel at a 1% profit. Carbines, gun sights, small cannons, other things, were all made in IBM's plants in Poughkeepsie, Endicott, and elsehwere.

      Not just IBM, either. You'll find M1s made by fGM and Rockola, as well.

      Mechanical computers (which is what much of the mechanism of a gun, distributor, carburator, or jukebox of the era actually is), and the products that make them, are also very flexible - eve
      • International Harvester and quite a few other "large machinery" type businesses also made carbines.

        Funny thing is that a custom gunsmith who lives near me uses axels out of Ford pickups made between '47 and '52 for his rifle barrels because they are the right kind of chrome/moly steel.
  • by no longer myself ( 741142 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:52PM (#8240319)
    after Dayton, Ohio, nearly ruined him.

    I live in Dayton. I never thought of it as a particularly difficult place to live. Perhaps if I move, I can take over the world and you can all bow down and worship me.

    But don't rush out to buy my septer and throne just yet... I'm kinda stuck with having a negative equity mortgage, so the escape velocity to overcome the sucking power of Dayton is a little out of my reach at the moment. ;-)

  • It is unfortunate that Mr. Watson's views, perspectives, and ideals will be lost forever if the company continues on its current path of behavior. The company is not operated as it once was during the thriving 50's, 60's and 70's. Some portions of the company *are* innovative and forward looking, but much of the company is reigned by dinosaurs that prefer politics to innovation and change. Working here sounds like a wonderful opportunity, but it is not an opportunity, it is merely a job. We are pushing
    • I'm an IBM web developer, and I know for a fact that the internal web standards mandate XHTML 1.0, which is based on XML 1.0. The standards also mandate Mozilla compatibility and Dublin Core metadata. Seems forward-thinking enough to me, given that XHTML 2.0 isn't a standard yet and isn't implemented by any browser, and XML 1.1 was only approved last week. Sheesh.

      Sure, there's lots of bureaucracy and politics in some parts of IBM, but the company's not generally a slouch when it comes to technical standard
  • by cubicledrone ( 681598 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:17PM (#8240620)
    Especially engrossing is the episode during the depression when IBM was in danger of bankruptcy and shutting its doors. Watson, contrary to what most intelligent people would do, gave a rousing talk to his top executives, telling them that instead of cutting back on manufacturing and personnel, they should increase both.

    Interesting. Even more interesting is this quote:

    "No matter what the provocation, I never fire a man who is honestly trying to deliver a job. Few workers who become established at the Disney Studio ever leave voluntarily or otherwise, and many have been on the payroll all their working lives."

    Guess who? Walt Disney.

    These men built two of the most enduring companies in history, and neither of them endorsed mass layoffs. Coincidence? Guess not.

    Will current middle management learn from this? Probably not. They're too "sophisticated" for that.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:18PM (#8240633) Homepage
    There are several other biographies of T. J. Watson Sr. The "official biography" is "The Lengthening Shadow" (1962). It's terrible. The "unofficial biography" is "Think, the Biography of the Watsons and IBM" (1969). That's quite good. Both were written while many people who knew Watson could still be interviewed.

    Watson was a salesman, and was at one point NCR's top salesman, working for Patterson, the head of National Cash Register. The whole Patterson/NCR story is worth understanding. NCR's entire top management was convicted of criminal antitrust violations. Their tactics make Microsoft look like small timers. NCR built defective duplicates of competing cash registers and sold them to make the competition look bad. Their sales reps were instructed on how to sabotage competing cash registers.

  • The younger Watson dutifully answered, seeking to impress his father with his skill at observing people. The elder paused and then berated the young man for daring to form an opinion about a seasoned executive who had years of experience behind him. Who did the young man think he was to judge someone who had been in the business since before he was born?

    Fuck that 360 degree review process.

  • Your review makes Thomas Watson look like a saint,. Please go read _IBM and the Holocaust_ to read what Watson's "mean streak" really represented.
  • I can't believe how acritical this review was. There are several books (and magazine articles and personal anedoctes and so on) documenting how IBM is bad and was even worse, and how they incubated Microsoft and its culture.

    The best I ever read was "Big Blue [amazon.com]: IBM's Use and Abuse of Power", by a DoJ's economist who actually worked fighting IBM's monopoly. He tells us some interesting facts like Thomas J Watson being a convicted monopolist for practices at NCR that'd make Bill Gates blush, and once at IBM

  • by SpekkioMofW ( 711835 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @06:10PM (#8243384) Homepage

    IBM didn't start with Thomas Watson. IBM was originally the Computing-Tabulating-Recording (CTR) Company, founded by Charles Flint in 1911. CTR was made up of three acquisitions:

    • The Computing Scale Company of America
    • The Bundy Manufacturing Company
    • The Tabulating Machine Company

    The latter is most important; it was founded and owned by Herman Hollerith, who invented the electric tabulating machine made famous by the 1890 U.S. Census. Thomas J. Watson wasn't hired as CTR's president until 1915, and the name change did not come until 1924.

    Book suggestion: Austrian, Geoffrey D. Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information Processing.
    New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite." -- Bertrand Russell, _Sceptical_Essays_, 1928

Working...