The following is the text of "'Laying the Keel' for Growth," an article by Bill Blankenship published on p. 5 of the Number 4, 1986, edition of Think, the IBM employee publication.
"Our ability to compete worldwide depends on the continued flow of product and technology among nations. Attempts to restrict that flow hinder inventiveness, impede productivity and, ultimately, will adversely affect the quality of life of people everywhere."
Speaking is Ralph A. Pfeiffer Jr., the IBM senior vice president who served as chairman of the IBM World Trade Americas/Far East Corporation [A/FE] from its inception in 1974 until its reorganization on July 1 into two IBM World Trade Groups—the Asia/Pacific Group and the Americas Group. He has orchestrated the enormous growth of IBM in the Asia/Pacific region, Latin America and Canada in a role that required him to be both a businessman and an ambassador to 51 countries with diverse ideas about how world trade should work.
A tall, square-shouldered man known for his ability to fly halfway around the world and step off the plane ready to work, Pfeiffer is in a reminiscent mood as his September 1 retirement approaches.
"When I joined IBM back in 1949 in my home town of Cleveland. I had no idea of going into world trade. My goal then was to achieve quota while continuing my education at John Carroll University"
It was at John Carroll that Pfeiffer played football with another sturdy young man destined to make his mark—Don Shula, now coach of the Miami Dolphins football team. They were two of a kind—serious about their work, energetic, ready to try new ideas.
Those qualities helped him close a major sale to the Ohio Bell Telephone Company to handle subscriber billing. AT&T became interested in the application and soon he was in New York working on a presentation to the parent company. The result: AT&T installed the same system in all 21 of its operating companies nationwide.
In 1956. at age 29, he returned to Cleveland, this time as branch manager. "The size of the branch combined with all I had to learn about management," he says, "made that one of the most intensive learning experiences of my life."
He later headed the Government-Education-Medical Region, and in 1969 was named IBM director of marketing. In 1970 he was named president of the Data Processing Division and elected an IBM vice president.
At the time, Pfeiffer recalls, the organization he headed seemed large and far-flung. But in 1974, when he became chairman of A/FE and was elected an IBM senior vice president, the sheer size and diversity of his new territory was staggering: 51 countries, of which only four were developed, six newly developed, and the balance considered emerging nations. Two-thirds of the world's population spread across 18 time zones. And a tremendous variety of languages, political systems and cultures.
His first priority was to develop additional leadership in the A/FE countries, a process he called "laying the keel" for growth. He was also determined that IBM become better recognized for its role in helping emerging nations improve their economies.
The size and breadth of A/FE's territory has required him to be constantly on the go, making some 60 business trips to the Far East alone over the past 12 years. "You can't begin to understand the complexities of doing business in a country like Japan or Thailand or China without getting to know the IBM people on site and the business and government leaders they deal with."
Understanding those marketplaces paid off. Under Pfeiffer's leadership, A/FE grew from an organization with $1.7 billion in revenue in 1974 to $7.5 billion last year.
What other achievements have given him satisfaction?
"Developing people in the A/FE countries," he answers without hesitation. "Forty-eight out of the 50 top jobs in the 10 largest A/FE countries are now held by nationals. I'm also proud of the fact that IBM's people have done so much to help fuel economic growth and development throughout the world."
Another source of satisfaction to Pfeiffer is the growing maturity and self-sufficiency of A/FE's country organizations.
As examples, he points to the success of IBM Japan in competing with the Japanese computer manufacturers, the innovations in productivity developed by IBM Canada, and the expansion of IBM's business in Latin America in the face of import restrictions and market reservation policies.
Despite the demands in running his huge territory, he has also devoted time to numerous outside organizations, including the International Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Independent College Funds of America.
Thinking back over his years with IBM, Pfeiffer has this to say: "It has been a privilege to work with such talented people from so many parts of the world. IBM's people are unmatched. They're the source of this company's greatness. And they're the reason I've enjoyed every minute of the past 37 years."