Despite its conservative image, IBM is known for its philanthropy as well as its technical innovation. Thus, I became an IBMer.
My mother, as a woman still struggling with her career in the business world almost thirty years ago, at first disapproved. IBM had a reputation as a male-dominated company -- but male did not necessarily mean misogynist, in my mind. For twenty years, it was my home. Although I have since left the company, I was heartened to see, on its recent website message from the current CEO, "We've been spending a great deal of time thinking, debating and determining the fundamentals of this company. It has been important to do so. When IBMers have been crystal clear and united about our strategies and purpose, it's amazing what we've been able to create and accomplish. When we've been uncertain, conflicted or hesitant, we've squandered opportunities and even made blunders that would have sunk smaller companies."(Palmisano, 2004)
This was the best of what I remembered, from working at IBM -- its willingness to admit mistakes, yet retaining a strong emphasis on community and unity, rather than everyone just doing his or her own thing. The website also affirmed IBM's strong code of professional ethics. It also reaffirmed my decision to stay with a large company, as large organizations often have the luxury of making mistakes that smaller companies do not, which can actually make it easier for large companies to be more daring in research, development, and philanthropy.
IBM's culture of men in gray flannel suits is still much criticized by industry outsiders and management gurus. But things have begun to change.
Corporate culture is gaining recognition as an untapped asset for managers and companies alike. The right corporate biology -- the optimal balance of people and culture -- can mean the difference between success and failure... Since the days of chairman Tom Watson, IBM had been know as a strong culture, with white shirts and company songs, with service excellence and a blue-chip image." But lately, " the company's luster began to fade. IBM had become too rigid and internally focused. The strength of its culture had, in fact, made it too inflexible to change. The company took its eye off the customer and lost its ability to adapt." (Mustante, 2001) Now, however, "accessibility" and diversity "is no longer merely a philanthropic endeavor for IBM Corporation," but good business, as the population as a whole, in America, grows more diverse. (Reed, 2004) as the consumer base of IBM grows more global, too, the company has expanded its mind and its product ranges.
Every employee, I have learned, must tread a careful, comfortable yet delicate balance between loyalty and a strong allegiance to one's company, family, culture and history -- and still retain the ability to adapt and to be flexible. I had to be flexible when I switched to Intel after working for IBM for so long. Even though Intel was connected to IBM, it still embraced a slightly rougher, younger, and faster paced attitude in its ethos than did its parent company. And despite my loyalty to IBM, I have performed a multitude of functions and jobs for the organization, which shows my flexibility of character. These positions have included positions in sales and marketing, manufacturing, systems and supply chain management. I have had to deal with diverse personalities, and balance different schedules, cultures, and commitments, in these jobs.
I see my own past -- the child of a single parent in a conservative town, a person who is open-minded yet loyal working in a conservative company, as a series of positive contradictions. Personal and managerial philosophy must be flexible, and changeable, but not simply blow with the wind. One must bend, yet not be broken by the winds of organizational and corporate change. This is my philosophy, even and perhaps because I have sung those IBM company songs, and worn those suits with the top buttons buttoned during the heyday of IBM's dominance.
Musante, Louis a. (November 2001, Issue 1) "IBM." Optimize Magazine. Retrieved on October 17, 2004 at http://www.optimizemag.com/article/showArticle.jhtml?articleId=17700582
Palmisano, Samuel J. (2004) "Business Value, and Company Value." IBM Official website. Retrieved on October 17, 2004 at http://www.ibm.com/ibm/values/us/