The following is the text of "Profile: The Man Behind The Title," published on pp. 34-35 of the March 1974 issue of Think, the IBM employee publication. The images shown below were not included in the original article.


Not long ago a member of Thomas J. Watson, Jr.'s staff, accompanied by his wife, visited the former chairman of the board at his home in Maine. The assistant's wife was intrigued by the history of a local peninsula, and Watson, hearing of this, said he had an interesting book on the subject. "Please take it with you," he added. "But I'll have to have it back. It's the only copy I have." The couple returned to their home in Connecticut, and a few weeks later the wife received a handwritten note from Watson. It said that he had located another copy of the book and would she please keep hers and enjoy it.

A minor incident. But it illustrates some paramount facets of the Watson personality his interest in and sensitivity to people, and his supremely well-organized approach to all matters, an approach that rarely overlooks any item, big or small, and makes every minute count.

The list of Watson's nonbusiness interests and achievements is extraordinary by any measure, even more so when you consider his consuming involvement with IBM over the years.

"Tom has always had a tremendous inner drive to excel in everything he does," says a longtime friend. "It's a manifestation of his lifelong pursuit of excellence, a quality that's deep in his makeup."

This drive for excellence is one of the heritages from his father, Thomas J. Watson, Sr., who took command of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (which ultimately became IBM) in 1914. It was in that year also that Tom, Jr., was born.

Tom Watson, Jr., refers to his father frequently, not only, apparently, because of their great common interest in building a business, but because of the profound influence the older man had on his son.

"Father never forgot his humble origins," says Tom Watson...
"Father never forgot his humble origins," says Tom Watson, "and he could go to a plant or an office and talk to the people there and really know how they felt and what they wanted most. He had the common touch, and this is the big reason why, over the years, IBM has been among the leaders in benefits. My father was very sensitive to the needs of the average person who worked for IBM. I don't think I'm as good at it as he was, but I've always tried to remember that the people in the business are the most important part of every consideration."

Tom Watson, Jr., and one of his employees in San Jose.
Tom Watson, Jr., and one of his employees in San Jose.
It is this interest in people, perhaps, which has caused Thomas J. Watson, Jr., to gain a well-deserved reputation as a person willing to speak out as a private individual on major issues of the day. He has stood up for a number of causes ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam, internationalism, better national health programs, more efficient use of America's retired people (with more dignity and usefulness for them), providing some sort of guaranteed Federal aid to people whose incomes are below a certain level.

In 1966, defending the last point, he told an audience in Chicago: "Many of my friends tell me that a dole of any sort saps the initiative, and I do not disagree. But how much initiative is there left to sap from a coal miner in Appalachia whose mine is closed and who actively has sought work for a decade? . . . It would be simple to say that all the unemployed are shiftless, lazy, and undeserving. But it just isn't so."

In 1968, addressing the topic of the computer's potential threat to privacy, he warned against the glorification of machines. This sort of attitude, he said, could "fold, spindle, and mutilate the human being."

While the unremitting pursuit of excellence often makes for a hard road, in Watson's case, it has led to an imposing record of achievements.

He is a talented and experienced pilot, adept at handling prop-driven, jet, single-engine, or multiengine aircraft. And gliders, too. He is a tough, imaginative oceangoing sailor. He is an excellent skier.

"He likes to test himself," says a man who has known Watson for years. "And he is a competitor. Make no mistake about that."

Watson's nonbusiness interests extend far beyond the world of sport. He is an enthusiastic and skilled photographer who likes to talk shop about his equipment, and takes pictures of professional quality.

He is a collector of art, and, for a man as busy as he is, an extremely well-read person. Watson sometimes deprecates his own intellectual depth, pointing out that he was an indifferent student in college and that some of his business decisions were as much the result of hunch and instinct as brainpower. This does not happen to be an opinion shared by his friends.

Over the years he has given great amounts of his time to civic, educational, charitable, and governmental organizations ranging from President Eisenhower's Commission on National Goals, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Boy Scouts of America (he was president of the National Executive Board) and the National Center for Voluntary Action to the board of trustees of one of his children's schools, and a New York City committee created to improve pedestrian safety.

He is on the board of two other corporations besides IBM, and is a trustee of Brown University, the California Institute of Technology, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Watson is also an ardent collector Among his specialties: antique cars and scrimshaw, the carved ivory pieces turned out by whalers during their long sailing voyages around the world.

Friends and associates say that Watson is a man with a well-developed sense of humor that reveals itself it everything from joke telling (he is at unabashed stealer of stories that strike his fancy) to an occasional playful prank. Some of the gifts he has thought of for colleagues at birthday and anniversary parties are legendary.

Watson on a roll.
Watson on a roll.
Flying, perhaps, is the activity which appeals to him the most. He spent much of his allowance while a student at Brown on flying lessons, and during his five-year hitch with the Army Air Corps (he was called to active service with the National Guard a year before America entered World War II), he rose from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel, ferried bombers to Russia, and flew in the China-Burma-India Theater.


Watson as an Army captain.
Watson as an Army captain.
It was in the Air Corps, says Watson, that he really learned that a person had to conform to some degree to the rules of the organization he was with. And he credits his service experiences with giving him much needed confidence in his ability to return home and do well in his father's company, something about which he had worried.

Even with all his outside activities and business interests, Watson manages to be a family man. He and Olive Watson, married in 1941 just eight days after Pearl Harbor, have a son and five daughters. While business has kept him away from home much more than he would like, Watson has done his best to be with his children, occasionally traveling great distances for as simple a pleasure as keeping a sailing date with one of his daughters. He has four grandchildren now, and already the older ones go sailing and skiing with their tall, white-haired grandfather.

His health has improved steadily since his heart attack in late 1970, and, while careful to pace himself, Watson still leads a busy and varied life. He skis and flies with as much gusto as ever, and is planning a number of what he calls "fun projects," including an expedition this summer to Greenland.

How does Watson, the sportsman, man of public issues and government service, and family man, differ from Watson, the corporate executive? A close friend and business associate answers this way: "You really can't tell where one ends and the other begins. Watson is Watson on and off the job.

"He tries for excellence in the personal things he does. And he wants everything about IBM to be excellent, too and that includes the people, products, buildings, everything. It doesn't matter if it's something as small as chipped paint in an IBM elevator or the biggest computer we're going to make. He's involved. He's concerned."

Other qualities characteristic of IBM's second chairman of the board, according to those who know him well:

"A sense of doing what's right that's instinctive just like his father's."

"He never fails to think of the people impact of everything he does."

"He has style. He isn't a technical man, but he has the imagination to see things that need doing. And he has great faith in the people of IBM."

What about that Watson temper that one hears about in IBM? Well, it exists, but those who know the man well say it's a more-or-less natural product of his drive and his impatience with careless or incomplete work.

How much will IBM be changed without Tom Watson, Jr., present on a full-time basis?

"I don't think IBM will lose its basic beliefs or anything like that," says a Watson associate of many years. "We have a great tradition to carry on and a management team that will continue to do an outstanding job. But it won't be the same company without Tom Watson. It couldn't be."