Monday, 20 June 2011

Happy Birthday Big Blue

On June 16th, IBM turned 100. Yes, 100 years old. That is a colossal achievement by any standards. As with living beings, so with corporations - the primary motive, and a great achievement,  is survival. Time to bring out the cake and sing Happy Birthday.

The company started life in 1911 as Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, formed by a merger of three small companies. A decade or so later it changed its name to a more catchy International Business Machines, the name by which it is still known. And over the decades it has weathered many a storm, made many a significant achievement and today, even at a ripe old age, is strong, robust and dancing. That is has done so in the field of information technology, where the pace of change is far more rapid than in other sectors, adds a special gloss to the achievement.

Look at the inventions it has to its credit. The punch clock to record time, the electric tabulating machine, the ATM, the floppy disk, the hard disk, the magnetic stripe card, the barcode system, the relational database, the DRAM .......... Its employees have won five Nobel Prizes. It helped put man on the moon.

It has had towering business leaders. None bigger than Thomas J Watson Sr, who was President of the company for 40 years ,  between 1914 and 1956. A legend, it was he who created IBM. And in the 1990s, when it was tottering and seemed about to fall, it turned to a biscuit king - Lou Gerstner to transform it into a services company.

It was one of the earliest companies to adopt HR practices, that we would consider common place today but were positively revolutionary for those times. Group insurance in 1934, paid leave in 1937, a training centre in 1933. 18 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the US, it recruited its first black salesman.

Its had troubled times too. Early on, it didn't move away from punched cards and almost died. Another near death experience was when it lost the battle for the PC operating system to Microsoft. In the 90s , until Lou Gerstner pulled it into services, it was stuck on being a hardware company. But each time, it survived and came bouncing back. That's the stuff of champions.

Today its back to its heyday. Its a colossus and in robust health. Its one of the largest companies in the world. And one of the most admired. Happy Birthday old girl. You deserve a toast and cheer, even from your competitors.

25 comments:

zeno said...

Shouldn't that be "Happy Birthday Old Boy"? :P

RS said...

A write up that could make every employee of IBM beam with pride. I am sending the link to this post to my friends who works for IBM...

Happy Birthday IBM, indeed. You deserve a huge applause...

kiwibloke said...

Indeed a great company. Have a number of friends working at the big blue. Top notch brains. Happy birthday to IBM. Hope they really make a smarter planet.

Ramesh said...

@zeno - Like girls better than boys :)

@RS - Aww. That's very sweet.

@kiwi - Amen. If only they'd unbutton their shirts and do away with the ties .....

hemarao said...

Wow...a dream Company indeed!
You get a brownie for addressing it as girl :-)
Colleges wait in anticipation for their campus interviews.
Guess what, there is an Indian Company completing its centenary this year too...

Sandhya Sriram said...

it is an amazing feat thus far on where they have got and where they continue to get. In a Product Market, it requires lot of effort and resources, to create that unique differentiator but once it is there, it takes time for competition to catch up. But in a services market, entry is easy, but holding on your nerve and battling competition head on is a different ball game.

I think, IBM has undergone a great transformation in this league and one of the pioneers here.

But I think, IBM should revive its product foot prints with much more intensity and rigour than what they are doing today.

Afterall you are the guys who can proudly boast of Nobel Laurettes. and losing yourself in the vast ocean of services??

Thanks for this Great Post. As RS Said, i am gonna forward this to all my friends who are part of IBM so that their hearts can swell with more pride.

Hopfrog said...

I can remember a time here in the states when computers weren't referred to as PCs, they were called IBMs.

Then again, I can also remember a time when guys started making faster computers in their garages and selling them for half the price of an IBM, and were building PC by mail empires, nearly crippling IBM in the process.

If there was one company I would have wagered was doomed back in the late 80's/90's, it would have been IBM. What their team has done with Watson on Jeopardy is a real testament to how IBM has survived and kept re-inventing.

kiwibloke said...

PS: Forgot to add, perfect timing of the blog. Many happy returns to you tomorrow - the summer solstice and your special day.
Sorry I'm not responsible if the entire blogger community pesters you for a birthday treat!

Ramesh said...

@Hema - Yes, of course. TVS. A stalwart business house, now much diversified.

@Sandhya - Yes, pride for the IBMers. It still makes a lot of products - just that Services saved it in the late 90s.

@Hopfrog - Yes, they got arrogant, lost it, but wonderfully gained it back. For such a huge company to achieve that was very creditable.

@kiwi - Thanks very much. Very kind.

zeno said...

Happy Birthday Happy Birthday :)

RS said...

Is it your birthday?? Your birthday?? Come on Ramesh, this calls for a special celebration!! Sandhya, Gils, RaMmmm, Zeno, .....what say??

Deepa said...

You stole my fb status msg! :) Just kidding. Apparently the employees have been gifted with a book celebrating the 100th b'day. I m thinking how to get my hands on one.

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - If the book is on the history of IBM, it would make fascinating reading.

Lazy girl. If you are on facebook, you can also write your posts on Blogger :):)

hemarao said...

Have a wonderful day Ramesh!
For those of us in B'lore, let us know the venue for the treat :)

hemarao said...

Have a wonderful day Ramesh!
For those of us in B'lore, let us know the venue for the treat :)

Vishal said...

Very happy birthday, Ramesh - wish you loads of success, happiness and glory... God Bless You! You are truly wondeful!

Grand salute to IBM - for making a mark in history and overcoming all the hindrances :)

raghavendra kotla said...

Many happy returns of the day Ramesh....Have a blast.

Thanks Ravi for letting us know :-)

Ramesh said...

@Vishal, Kotla - Thanks guys.

Venkat.. said...

இன்று புதிதாய் பிறந்தீர்
இதயம் பலநூறு கவர்ந்தீர்
நன்று நுன்னரிந்து உரைத்தீர்
ஒன்றிணைந்து பலகருத்து பகிர்ந்தீர்
வலைப்பூவில் இளைப்பாறும்
என் போன்ற மனதிற்கு
பகுத்தறிந்து பலதலைப்பு பகர்ந்தீர்
வணிகம் இருமுறை இனிமை சிலமுறை
குலைந்த தலைப்பில் வடிந்த வலைபூ
எழுத்தின் திறனில் நனைந்த இதயங்கள்
இணைந்து வாழ்த்தும் இனிய நாளின்று
இன்னும் ஆரோக்கியம் ஆயிரம் பெற்று
நூறாயிரம் post எழுதுக..
Happy பர்த்டே myBM- owner (BM- Business Musings)

Ramesh said...

@Venkat - OMG. Totally totally floored. Mikka Mikka nanri.

hemarao said...

Nivea also celebrates its 100th year I see.
Quite a feat to have withstood the shopping smart Rajalakshmis of the world.
and also rightly qualified to be called the Blue Birthday Girl!

gils said...

cell thondri charger thondra kaalam mun thondria mootha blogger thalai rameshku inia pirantha naal nal vaazhthukkal :)

Ramesh said...

@Hema - Oh; didn't know that. Yes that's a stupendous achievement too.

@Gils - Ha Ha. Mikka nandri Swami Gilsananda !

RamMmm said...

Who said elephants can't dance? This one did and it was a mix of ballet, fusion, hip-hop, folk. Short succint summarization and it was a happy birthday to you around the same time you did the post. :-)

Ramesh said...

@RamMmm - Thanks RamMmm. Much appreciated your word on Gils' blog too.

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