Thomas J. Watson, Jr., was chairman and chief executive officer during IBM's most explosive period of growth. He led the company from the age of mechanical tabulators and typewriters into the computer era. During his leadership, IBM grew from a medium-sized business to one of the dozen largest industrial corporations in the world. When Mr. Watson became Chief Executive Officer in 1956, IBM employed 72,500 people and had a gross income of $892 million. When he stepped down in 1971, employees numbered more than 270,000 and gross revenue was $8.3 billion. Fortune magazine once called him "the greatest capitalist who ever lived."
Mr. Watson was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1914. He earned a B.A. degree from Brown University in 1937 and joined IBM as a salesman in Manhattan in October of that year. Mr. Watson served for five years as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and at the time of his discharge held the rating of Senior Pilot and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After completing his military service, he returned to his duties at IBM.
In January 1952 he was elected president of the company. In May 1956 Mr. Watson was made chief executive officer and he was elected chairman of the board in May 1961. Mr. Watson stepped down as chairman and CEO in 1971, a year after suffering a heart attack. He remained a member of IBM's board of directors until 1984, taking time out from 1979 to 1981 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Thomas J. Watson, Jr., died in Greenwich, Conn., on December 31, 1993 of complications following a stroke. He was 79.
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