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Thomas Watson Jr. Articles
The Black Sheep of the Family: Thomas Watson Jr.’s Early Years
When Thomas Watson Jr. stepped into his father’s shoes as president of IBM in 1952, he knew they would be hard ones to fill. Until not long before, Watson Jr.’s life had consisted in large part of drinking and partying. IBM had always been a part of his life, but only in the context of his father’s job. Was he ready to take the reins of this multinational company? Could he break out from his father’s shadow and create his own legacy?
In His Father’s Shoes: Watson Jr. Takes Over IBM
When Watson Jr. took on the top position at his father’s company, he did so at a time when it was devoted to electromechanical punch card systems. Watson Sr. had always rejected electronic computers believing they were expensive and unreliable. Watson Jr. wanted to change all of that.
Lesson #1: Make Your Company a Great Place to Work
“One of the proudest claims is the fact that people say IBM is a good place to work,” said Watson Jr. “I like to think that as we continue to grow we are not only going to live up to that claim, but make IBM an even better place to work.”
Lesson #2: Don’t Try to Tame a Wild Duck
“You can make wild ducks tame, but you can never make tame ducks wild again,” said Watson Jr. “One might also add that the duck who is tamed will never go anywhere any more. We are convinced that any business needs its wild ducks. And in IBM we try not to tame them.”
Lesson #3: Customer Satisfaction Means Your Satisfaction
Aside from IBM employees, no one was more important to Watson Jr. than the company’s customers, and nothing was more important than pleasing them – whatever it took. He understood that customer satisfaction lied at the centre of his business success. In the budding new computer industry, marketing would make the difference in attracting new customers, but it was only the satisfied customer who would return to the company time after time.
Lesson #4: Never Stop Running Scared
“The secret I learned early on from my father was to run scared and never think I had it made,” said Watson Jr. “I never felt I was completely adequate to the job and always ran scared…The fundamental for our success was running scared. I've seen us go by companies whose chief executives used to make me shake in awe." One of the biggest keys to IBM’s success was Watson Jr.’s inability to sit still, to accept his success and ride it out. Instead, Watson Jr. always kept his eye on the future, always looked for improvement, for the next big opportunity and he refused to settle.
Lesson #5: Make Integrity an Integral Part of Your Company
“It is easy to be big in big things, in big moments, when everyone is watching,” noted Watson Jr. “Real character emerges in the way we meet our routine, everyday obligations. Really big people are, above everything, courteous, considerate, and generous, not just to some people, in some circumstances, but to everyone all the time. One of the reasons we are known as a great company is that we are known as a company made up of people like that.”
“The Most Successful Capitalist Who Ever Lived”: How Watson Jr. Rose to the Top
His father might have started the company, but by all accounts, Watson Jr. was the one who gave IBM its teeth. At the time of his passing, Paris’ Le Monde wrote of Watson Jr., “He made the company into a formidable technological and especially commercial engine, and gave IBM its international dimension.” He took six years and three schools to get through high school, but this youth who was “convinced that I had something missing inside” was able to turn his life around, give up his partying ways, and help create what is now the largest information technology company in the world. How did he do it?
Thomas Watson Jr. Quotes
Thomas Watson Jr. Quotes
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