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Interview With IBM's Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano
When VARBusiness magazine and CRN sat down recently with IBM Chairman and Chief Executive Samuel Palmisano, the interview came with a strange twist, which was revealed part way through the conversation. It seems the chairman of the board viewed this not only as an interview with two long time computer industry journalists but as an opportunity to do some probing of his own. Palmisano is not the only top executive to employ such a tactic. Cisco's John Chambers has the same technique turning the interviewer into the interviewee.
Palmisano hasn't changed much in the years since he ran the company's PC division to his rise to the top. He still dons the same oversized horn-rimmed glasses and dark striped suite he has worn for years along with his trademark laugh. He seems comfortable in the splendid setting of IBM's corporate office, replete with wood-lined walls, glass-doors and library-like quietness. As we wait for Palmisano, who is running a bit late after an important customer meeting, he bursts in larger than life, looking fit and chiding us for not calling on him more often. Our response is one that makes him laugh: "It just isn't easy getting on the schedule of the IBM chairman is it?" Palmisano's private conference room has a credenza featuring a photo of him and Linux Torvalds shoulder to shoulder, and some mementos.
The first question we have to ask is, how does he juggle the traveling with all the requests for his time? And how does he leave himself time to think? With that, Palmisano dives in. As you will find in this interview, Palmisano wanted to address a number of issues and interrupting him -- or even gently steering the conversation -- is next to impossible. So you quickly come to the conclusion that if the chairman of IBM wants to talk, the best thing to do is sit back, shut up and listen. After all, such opportunities do not come up all that often. Our conversation with Palmisano took place at IBM's Armonk, N.Y., headquarters with VARBusiness Editorial Director Robert C. DeMarzo and CMP Channel Group president Robert Faletra, who oversees, among other properties, CRN and VARBusiness.
The demands of being chairman of a an $89 billion company seem overwhelming. How do you manage? Are you left with any time to think?
Palmisano: If you say you think you live on an airplane, you are too old to sleep, you can't sleep anymore, or since you don't sleep as much, you take the time to reflect. The other great thing is that we are a tech company but if it were not for the technology, there is no way any of us could do what we do. There is this thing called Edge, CEO Edge that we have. It is an information system. We could roll the business up daily, but to me it does not make any sense. This place is pretty big. Other people need to look at daily information. Between Edge, I could look at the command pipeline by sector, by industry, by industry within a geography, iSeries demand, or services pipeline for VCS. Any dimension as it progresses through the sell cycle, supply commitment against its manufacturer, right, and then obviously what ships and what bills. This whole pipeline has been automated and the way it has been done is that nobody has to enter any data differently. Just the way they work it's an on-demand business. As they work it goes into the system so as the sales person participates in its cadence, it is in the system and all of these things are naturally in the system.
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