If it wasn’t for Robert Moffat getting messed up in a $20 million insider trading case, Virginia Rometty may not have been named IBM’s newest CEO.
Before he went to jail in 2010, Moffat headed up IBM’s Systems and Technology Group and was favoured to take over once CEO Sam Palmisano turned 60, which he did this summer.
Since then, Rometty was a clear frontrunner.
She completely changed the direction of IBM in 2002 by helping lead its $3.5 billion takeover of PricewaterhouseCoopers. In hindsight, it makes sense that IBM would move beyond its thin-margin businesses (PCs, printers, disk drives), and into higher-level products and services, but Rometty took the risk when it wasn’t necessarily popular. After the acquisition, Time reported:
By tapping the vast Rolodex and industry expertise of PWC, Rometty is counting on IBM to help devise a client’s strategy, redesign such key business processes as human resources and finance, and in many cases run those departments and their sophisticated software, as IBM already does for United Technologies’ procurement and Nextel’s customer service. Says Rometty: “We’re creating a new category of services.”
Rometty is already winning admirers at PWC as well, in part by not imposing IBM’s hierarchical culture on the collegial former partnership. With IBM shifting $1 billion of R. and D. to services, Rometty has a lot riding on her new job, but it doesn’t faze her. Her favourite sport, after all, is scuba diving, and that, she points out, is “98% calm and 2% terror.”
The magazine also reported that Rometty’s “people skills and relentless focus on the customer [had] some IBM insiders discussing her as future CEO material.”
She’s been with the company for 30 years, and as VP of sales, marketing, and strategy since 2009, she pushed the company into emerging markets like Brazil and China (via Wired). And that’s exactly what a Fortune 500 like IBM needs in a CEO: someone who’s willing to take risks — even though analysts don’t expect the company’s strategy to change dramatically anytime soon.