Thomas Watson, Jr. stepping down as chairman

(1971 remarks)


Thomas Watson, Jr. stepping down as chairman

Thomas J. Watson, Jr.

Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
At 11:45 a.m., Tuesday, June 29, 1971, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., announced in a nationwide telephone message to employees that he was stepping down as IBM chairman and chief executive officer. The Board of Directors, he said, had that morning accepted his recommendation that he become chairman of the executive committee; that T. Vincent Learson become chairman and chief executive officer; and that Frank T. Cary, executive vice president, be named president. Watson said he would continue as a member of the Corporate Office and the Management Review Committee.

The following is the full text of Watson's broadcast as published on pp. 2-3 of the July/August 1971 issue of Think, the IBM employee publication.


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is Tom Watson, Jr., speaking from Armonk. I've asked Vin Learson to join me today in this telephone hookup to all IBM locations in the United States because I have an announcement to make about a change in the executive structure of the IBM Corporation. I wish it were possible to reach IBM people all over the world simultaneously. However, telephone calls are starting to go out now so that our World Trade people can learn of this morning's announcement as quickly as possible.

Since the fall of 1937, with the exception of five years away during World War II, I have worked for the IBM Company. For the past fifteen years, I have been its chief executive. As with everything in life, those thirty-five years have had their ups and downs, but on balance, no businessman in the world has ever had a more fulfilling, exciting and satisfying career than I. That it has been fulfilling and exciting has been in no small measure due to my father, who guided the corporation during its first forty-two years and got us off to a magnificent start. But my own progress in the business has been most intimately connected with all of you who are listening to my voice today. Some of you have been in IBM only a few months, and a few of you have been in IBM even longer than I. But all of you working together with me and with my associates have given me a tremendous career and I am deeply grateful.

Last fall, as many of you know, I had a heart attack. It wasn't a very painful or serious one, and I've been in the process of putting myself back into full physical vigor over the past few months. Happily, I've been able to do this. And apparently, I can look forward to many more useful years. At the same time, I've been told that the heart attack should serve as a warning, and that one should alter one's programs in a rather major way in order to avoid repetition. I came back to work at the end of February and since then I've been experimenting to see whether or not I can continue to give this corporation the type of leadership it deserves and requires and at the same time change my own program so that my work output and energies are substantially lessened over what they previously were. After four months, I have reluctantly concluded that it isn't possible to do this. One cannot be the chief executive of a very large, fast-moving organization like IBM today and at the same time be restricting one's energy output. Therefore, after long and careful consideration, I have decided, in fairness to all concerned, that it's now appropriate for me to relinquish my responsibilities as chief executive officer and assume a less active role in the company.

Accordingly, I have presented a plan to our board of directors this morning and we have just now concluded the board meeting where my recommendation was approved. It is simply as follows: that I remain a part of the management team of the corporation but that I move to a position of chairman of the executive committee. Mr. Learson will assume the position of chairman and chief executive officer and Frank Cary will move to the position of president. Al Williams, who formerly held the position of chairman of the executive committee, will move to chairman of a newly-established finance committee. This move has been contemplated for some time because of the complexity of the financial side of the business and Mr. Williams' great knowledge of this particular area. Although I intend to remain reasonably active in the overall affairs of the corporation and will continue to participate with Vin and Frank in the Corporate Office and on the Management Review Committee, Mr. Learson will be the head man.

I need hardly tell you of my confidence in Vin Learson. My own decision, while being a tough one from a personal standpoint, was made easier by the knowledge that even though our company now faces some very big challenges, the IBM top management team has never been stronger. This was brought home to me clearly as I observed the way the company responded to the leadership of Vin during the time I was essentially off-line. He and I have been working together since the late Forties. And over the years I've come to know him well and I admire him greatly. He has been involved in every major decision over the past few years and will continue to give this corporation the overall leadership it deserves.

Frank Cary, who had a great deal to do with the success of the System/360 as head of the DP [Data Processing] Group, has earned the admiration of all of us since he became part of the top management of the corporation in 1966. More and more, IBM needs to sharpen its techniques of modern, formal, scientific management. And Frank has been bringing to the MRC [Management Review Committee] this kind of philosophy at a time when it is sorely needed.

So the composition of the MRC has not changed, and I will be available on a full-time basis to help whenever I can. The new arrangement will remove a substantial burden from me and give me a better opportunity to continue living a full life in the future while making available to the corporation any abilities and experience I have developed over the past three-and-a-half decades.

So ladies and gentlemen, I have asked for this telephone hookup to make this announcement and to thank you for your tremendous cooperation with me during the years I have worked with all of you. This is a very sentimental morning for me because I am stepping down from a job that I have valued more than anything in my life outside of my own family. But the wrench is indeed softened for me by the knowledge that I will continue to be a part of the overall management team of the company and can look forward to continuing to work with Mr. Learson, Mr. Cary and all of you on the important problems our company will face in the future. We have a number of current problems to solve. We all know that. But when you have a chance, as I do, to see the IBM team in action around the world, you can't help but feel good about the future. We not only have dedicated people throughout the world, but we have a great storehouse of knowledge both in how to manage the corporation and how to give fine service to our customers, regardless of the environment in which we operate. There is no sounder basis for a good business than that.

Now, since we all have a new boss, it seems to me that we want to hear a few words from him. Perhaps in those remarks he will give me a few orders about the future, and if he does, I'll be pleased to try to carry them out to the best of my ability. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure for me to present our new chief executive officer, and my old friend, Vin Learson.