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Sam Palmisano

Sam Palmisano, IBM’s current Chief Executive, used to work as an administrative assistant to the CEO John Akers, who presided over IBM’s near collapse. At the age of 52, he has been with the company for 30 years. He has been CEO for just under 2 years and he sees many links between the past and the future at IBM. This is his golden ticket to running the company. He also answers his own emails, a feature that his predecessors lacked. Since he has been involved with the company for such a long period of time, Palmisano can get all the information he wants with pretty much no problem at all. Palmisano is about to internally circulate a set of cultural values, based on input from his employees, that will govern IBM for years to come. He will send the message in letter format from himself and post documents on IBM’s internal Web site. He “hopes the initiative will meld the best of IBM’s old DNA with the best of its new DNA.” Palmisano believes that in order to hold a lasting impression to its employees, customers and communities, as it did from the 1930s to the 1970s, IBM has to set the technology industry’s agenda. "To be viewed as one of the premier companies, you have to do all these things," Palmisano says. "The world won't look at you as a great company if all you do is just make a lot of money. Especially after this dot-com bubble burst. Forget it." Friends say Palmisano is nervous about how the cultural initiative will be accepted. Although IBM has recovered from its catastrophe of the early 1990s to become a solid company, it's far from the dominant force it was for almost 50 years in the 20th century. Few companies reclaim such a position, and some industry watchers say IBM never will. Yet Palmisano persists. "You have to have something that makes people say, 'This is it, this wins, this is inspirational, this is what IBM should be doing,'" he says. "The shareholders are going to get their returns, but that's not the point. You have to do more than that for the world to look at you as a great company." This is how he viewed customer relationships unitl now: “You invent, you build, you sell.” Now what IBM will do: “you go out and you listen, you solve, you craft. It’s different.”

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