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5/15/2009
08:05 AM
Bob Evans
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IBM CEO Sam Palmisano Tells Investors, 'We Got It All'

In a candid and often flinty presentation to investors, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano says there's a simple reason why IBM is able to predict continued strong earnings growth while other companies hedge on forecasts: "We are not like the other companies in the IT industry. We're not. We've completely transformed the IBM company." Not clear enough? Try this: "Now look: We got it all."

In a candid and often flinty presentation to investors, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano says there's a simple reason why IBM is able to predict continued strong earnings growth while other companies hedge on forecasts: "We are not like the other companies in the IT industry. We're not. We've completely transformed the IBM company." Not clear enough? Try this: "Now look: We got it all."Palmisano made his comments at the beginning of a four-hour briefing to investors featuring many of IBM's top executives. Saying he would leave the detailed discussions to his lieutenants, Palmisano chose to use his opening presentation to retrace a bit of IBM's history over the past several years and tie that perspective into the company's recent financial performances that have outpaced most of the IT industry.

In so doing, Palmisano seemed to relish the opportunity to jab back at investors who had questioned his strategies during the transformation he spoke of, and he was quite blunt in telling the investment professisonals that their puzzlement over IBM's stated clarity and confidence is a product of their own inability or unwillingness to analyze the company's strategy and performance as a standalone entity, rather than as a member of a larger group.

Speaking in unique style where certain words are given particular emphasis and certain key phrases are repeated, Palmisano took the investors to task for lumping IBM in with other IT companies and failing to recognize, in his opinion, the singular steps the company had taken to separate itself sharply from the pack.

"A lot of people have said to me, 'You guys are defying gravity.' We're not defying gravity - we had a record year in 2008. We got out ahead of it. It's not about defying gravity - we got out ahead of it.

"We took a lot of stuff last year, and a lot of stuff earlier this year, to reduce our run rate of cost and expense by $3 billion. So we're not fighting physics. We just had the financial flexibility to get ahead of it - one might call it insight; call it whatever you want to call it, conclude whatever you'd like to conclude; we just did it, we're done. Most of it's done.

A short time later, Palmisano returned to the matter of the confusion expressed by many analysts over IBM's ability to make clear predictions in this turbulent market. And in his words and his tone and his decision to come back and reiterate a point he'd made quite clearly a few minutes earlier, it became clear that Palmisano was enjoying - really enjoying - the role of an experienced professor repeating a complicated but clear lesson to a set of students who before today had perhaps not been paying attention as closely as the professor would have liked.

"Now again, I'm just repeating comments other people have made, and I said it once before: 'You guys are defying gravity - you're fighting physics - how can you sit there and say, 'At least $9 or $10 this year - how can you even give a projection in this environment? Ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya.'

"Now look: we got it all. Why? Since nobody's asking us why -- 'No one expects you to [make projections], so why would you do it?' Because you need to keep things in perspective: We are not like the other companies in the IT industry. We're not. We've completely transformed the IBM company. We're not.

"And we're not crazy kids. So we don't throw numbers out to throw numbers out. Y'know, we're not that short-term oriented. I'm an old guy - and Mark's [CFO Mark Loughridge] not getting any younger in his job - so, you've gotta reflect on that - this is IBM, this is not, y'know, we're not running around up here dressed in fads, and sunglasses, and whatever kinda designs, so, what is it?

"Well, we're different - we're different because, take our geographic mix, our balance of geographies - we're out in all these countries, we've expanded beyond the BRICs, now we're looking at 16 countries beyond the BRICs, and we're not entering those markets [chuckles] - we've exited India more times than other people have gone in. Y'know, we've been in Brazil - I celebrated the 95th anniversary of IBM Brazil - so I mean it's hard to think of that as an emerging market.

"But, I mean, business is good there, and business is good in others, so we're capturing that and taking advantage of that." He didn't add - but could have - "And don't you forget it."

In the next installment of Palmisano's presentation of IBM's strategy, we'll take a look at growth areas he foresees for IBM and the ways in which he intends to have IBM take very full advantage of stimulus packages being offered by China, the U.S., and other countries.

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