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IBM Selling PC Unit Makes No Sense

Following is commentary from Rob Enderle, Principle Analyst at the Enderle Group.

There are three strong reasons why the alleged sale of IBM's PC unit to Lenovo makes no sense: The property is worth more to IBM then it is to Lenovo; the Thinkpad Notebook line is one of the most powerful marketing tools IBM has; and the sale would put IBM at a greater disadvantage against Dell and HP. Let's take a look at each argument in turn while keeping in mind that just because something makes no sense has seldom stopped stupid decisions from being made.

The PC Company Is Worth More To IBM

IBM sells PCs direct and much of the value to the buyer is connected to the trust they have for IBM and the IBM brand. Unlike IBM Software and IBM Microelectronics, which are less valuable to IBM then they would be as independent units, the IBM PC company is upside down for a sale. For a sale to work, the value of the property must be of equal or greater value to the buyer in order to sell. IBM PC Co., which outsourced much of this work some time ago, provides quality assurance, designs, and the connection to IBM services which often provides critical installation and management help. Without those parts, and particularly without the IBM brand, between 50% and 75% of the existing customer set would move to other vendors.

IBM's value is based on current revenue, while the value to the buyer would be based on the revenue they could expect and the difference should create a gap where the buyer would be unwilling to pay more than half what IBM felt the unit was worth.

The ThinkPad Notebook: IBM's Strongest Marketing Tool
Think: How do most people, see the IBM brand in use? Typically, it is through seeing someone else using an IBM notebook, recognizing that Big Blue logo on the unit's cover. Executives, board members, educators and other critical IBM advocates use and see these products every day and think positive thoughts about IBM. That is marketing, and given the level of some of these executives, very powerful marketing. Think how much it would cost to have any brand put in front of this class of qualified audience. Once the product left IBM, just to stay even, IBM would have to spend millions on marketing programs that wouldn't have anywhere near the repetitive impact the IBM brand has on its notebook line. Louis Gerstner, on his retirement, said that taking the PC Company out of retail was his biggest mistake. I'd say that if his successor makes this decision, it's clearly the front runner for his most foolish move.

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