“I attribute the success of our business in the main to the power of our beliefs” – Thomas J. Watson, Jr., 1962
The company I work for is turning 100 years old this week. The company has earned it’s place in history and IBMers around the world are celebrating this fantastic milestone. Being a second generation IBMer (my dad was also a lifetime IBMer) I am very proud of this achievement!!
And what a milestone it is. 100 years is a very long time for a company. Can you even think of five other companies that have survived 100 years? It is hard to do. There are many more examples of companies that were successful, but years later went out of business (see here and here).
So why has IBM survived all these years? There are many reasons we could point to, perhaps the most important being great leadership. But there are others, including IBM’s Research Division, the strength of IBM’s sales teams, and the thousands of dedicated and passionate IBM employees. Those are all important elements of IBM’s success.
Perhaps the most important ingredient of our success can be found in a quote from the book “A Business and its Beliefs: The ideas that helped build IBM“ written by Thomas J. Watson, Jr. in 1963.
“I firmly believe that any organization, in order survive and achieve success must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next I believe that the most important factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And finally, I believe that if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.”
IBM has had a total of 8 CEOs over the span of 100 years. Each one of them has exhibited strong leadership skills that have helped IBM stay strong and reinvent itself as the needs of our customers have shifted over the years. Part of being a great leader is communicating values, beliefs, and marching orders to the company’s employees. Watson Jr. grew up watching and learning how to do this from his dad, Thomas Watson Sr., who was the founder of IBM
In 1962, Thomas Watson, Jr. communicated a set of beliefs the company would stand by going forward. When I joined IBM in 1981, I fully bought into these beliefs and it remains with me still to this day…guiding me in my daily activities, both on the job and off. IBMers around the world have done the same.
The three beliefs are very simple, yet powerful when bought into by everyone working for the company.
- Respect for the individual. This is like the golden rule my parents taught me “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.”
- Customer Service. Provide the best customer service of any company in the world.
- Excellence. Pursue all tasks with the idea that they can be accomplished in a superior manner
In his book, Watson goes on to say
“The basic philosophy, spirit, and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing. All these things weigh heavily in success. But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out.”
The IBMers I have worked with throughout my career have been dedicated to those three beliefs. They have carried out those basic beliefs very well. I believe IBM is celebrating it’s 100 year birthday this week due, in large part, to adherence to those three basic beliefs. Our leaders have, in fact, been willing to change everything about our company except those beliefs. And if we continue to do so, IBM will survive another 100 years.
Happy 100th Birthday IBM! #IBM100