IBM CEO Ginni Rometty: 'Growth And Comfort Don't Co-Exist'

IBM CEO Ginni RomettyFortune ConferencesIBM CEO Ginni Rometty

If any tech company illustrates the word “transformation,” it’s 103-year-old IBM.

Now more than ever.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has no choice but to embrace it, she said on stage Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California.

“Growth and comfort don’t co-exist. That’s true for people, companies, nations,” she said.

Rometty is leading IBM through one of those “change or else” periods.

IBM’s overall revenue has declined over the past three years and she’s being pressured to turn that around. But she’s not going to be forced into chasing what she calls “empty calories,” Rometty recently told the New York Times. “So when people keep pushing us for growth, that is not the number one priority on my list.”

Instead she’s investing billions in longer-term plays, like the hot area of cloud computing and a partnership with Apple to help enterprises embrace mobile.

Plus, she’s shedding shrinking business units, laying off thousands of employees in those shrinking areas while hiring like mad in hot areas (even pressuring employees in danger zones to get retrained).

She’s not alone. All the enterprise CEOs are in the same boat to varying degrees: HP, Cisco, Oracle, SAP.

Rometty loves lists of three things. So she shared her list of three things that she learned so far while she leads IBM through this rough patch.

1. “Never protect the past. If you never protect the past … you’ll be willing to never love something so much you’ll never let it go.”

2. “Never define yourself as a product. Never define yourself by your competition, either,” she says, which is interesting, since most enterprise tech companies seem to love competitive posturing, and trash-talking bravado. But she says when companies do that, “you lose sight of who your customer is and you lose site of what you do. I always say, we don’t exist without them.”

3. “Always, no matter what it is, it is relentless reinvention,” she says. Embracing change makes you a “steward for the long term. You say to yourself, ‘Would I make this same decision if I was a private company versus a public company?'”

Rometty also says she’s inspired by something said years ago by the the late Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. When asked what the secret to her success was, she answered: “Passion and perseverance when everyone else would have given up.”

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