Under Tom Watson Sr.’s leadership, IBM weathered ten major economic declines, three major wars, and four of the six largest declines in U.S. stock market history.
And during all this economic, social, and political turmoil, IBM advanced through forty-two years of unprecedented technological change: it divested coffee grinders, candy scales, and cheese and meat slicers, and invested in time devices and tabulating machines; it followed the expansion of electricity around the world and transitioned its warehouse inventory from hand-cranked, spring-driven, standalone, time-recording devices to electrically-powered, dispersed and synchronized, time- and security-recording devices; and it shifted investment dollars from products that landed on the customer’s front counter to higher-value machines filling their corporate back offices.
Even though it was slow to the market, IBM then strengthened its position in those back offices with the acquisition of electric typewriter technology.
Tom Watsons’ learning process to achieve these results can be found in three major crises during his tenure as IBM’s traditional founder: The Crisis of 1914-15, The Crisis of 1920-21, and The Crisis of 1933-34 (the trough of the Great Depression).
Peter E. Greulich
Pete has been studying IBM and early American corporate history since his retirement in 2011. These are his thoughts and musings, and of those whose biographies he has read with links to articles and book reviews on this website.