IBMers' thoughts on our centennial
Celebrating 50 years since his first date of hire
What does IBM look like through the eyes of a person whose first date of hire was June 16, 1961? Listen in as Will Somers looks back on IBM's history and forward to its future.
Tell us about your history with IBM
I joined IBM as a college hire from Princeton, beginning work in the Trenton, NJ branch office. My actual hire date was June 16, 1961 — so on the centennial, my service will have covered exactly half of IBM's history. I still have my welcome letter, personally signed by Thomas Watson, Jr. (as you may know, Mr. Watson sent a personal letter of welcome to each new IBMer in those days).
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What made you join IBM?
There were three major reasons:
Reputation: Even in 1961, IBM was viewed as "the leader" in the corporate world (across both business and technical domains, and particularly at their intersection). I had just been graduated from Princeton with my engineering degree.. I wanted a place to go where I could contribute something meaningful and that was IBM's reputation (and, as I discovered, in fact was the case).
Challenge: I wanted the ability to learn from helping to solve "real life" business problems at the nexus of the business and technical aspects (and that came true as well).
People: The IBMers I met were both professional and seemed really interested in us and in our growth and success. Great people.
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What made you join IBM a second time?
I think the first thing that the lady who called — and that's a point in itself — she said, "The company has changed." And I kind of said, "You really want to take this on? I've worked for myself, all this time." And she said, ?No, that's the entrepreneurial spirit that we want."
So over the next several weeks I kind of turned a couple of people down, and then finally met some folks, and I think it was the same points: It was the reputation, the challenge and the people.
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Can you please share one of your strongest memories of IBM from your time as an employee?
There are a couple which stand out.
In 1964, I was privileged to play a role in one of the very first IBM 360 proposals. Kim Redlack (as the Sales Rep) and I (as the lead Scientific Systems Engineer) submitted a 360-40 for Johnsville Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, PA, at 4:00AM on announcement day, April 8th, 1964. One might ask, "What made Johnsville NADC so special that it warranted an accelerated proposal date?" As you may not know, Johnsville has great historical significance for the United States’ space program. Prior to the building of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, TX, which was commenced in 1963, Johnsville was the main training center for the Mercury Astronauts, including Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Deke Slayton and Wally Schirra. The pilot/astronaut training facility and centrifuge were driven and controlled by a custom built, million flip-flop analog computer, one of the largest in the world at the time. That computing device was in turn driven by an IBM digital computer which kept the stored program which drove the centrifuge and sequenced the training exercises to be performed.
As a young engineer with a strong interest in rocketry and aeronautics, my IBM assignment was both an honor and a thrill. I felt privileged to be part of this effort, and somewhat awed to be able to contribute to the space program at such a young age. It meant a great deal to me that IBM would assign such a significant responsibility to someone who was relatively junior.
In the same year, a client who owned a department store in Trenton asserted in a letter to the Regional Manager that our computing installation had not kept the business from getting into trouble. My manager and I basically ended up running their business, helping to manage their inventory, staff and accounts receivable. IBM's commitment to the customer was a hallmark of our company, as it remains today
Those examples from the 1960's, plus my involvement with dozens of other business customers during my first stint, are my strongest memories from that period. When I left in the fall of 1964 under a leave of absence to attend graduate school at Harvard, it remained and still remains my belief that I owed a debt to the company for educating me in the truest sense.
Since my return to IBM, I have been privileged to continue to be deeply involved with customers including the City of New York, Dow Jones (WSJ.com), AT&T, Universal Music in Los Angeles. United Technologies Corporation, Pitney-Bowes and the A&P grocery chain. In all of these diverse customer relationships, we have been able to make a significant contribution.
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What is the biggest change you've seen in the company?
I rejoined the company in 1998, after serving as an IBM Business Partner for
a number of years. During my discussions around rejoining, one woman I met with
said, "The company's changed." Over the past 14 years, I certainly have come to
support the truth of her words. However, and as we discussed at the time and
subsequently, the core values, dedication to customers, respect for the
individual, and commitment to innovation, for example, have not. They made IBM a
pleasure to work with in 1961, and a pleasure today. I am still a full-time
badged employee, and enjoy starting work every day.
Perhaps the most notable changes have been in the areas of globalization and diversity, but even in those areas, it appeared to me the pattern had been set years ago. While today we are much more globally integrated than in the 1960's, even then there was the IBM World Trade Corporation, and folks were assigned to global roles. After all, the company had been named the International Business Machines Corporation.
From a diversity standpoint, while our teammates and their skills, backgrounds and characteristics are incredibly diverse today, the commitment to equal opportunity has always been there. I enjoy today's strength in diversity, but still remember that the lady who taught my 7040 class in 1963 was a woman of color, and how impressed I was by both her deep technical skills and poise as a teacher and mentor.
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In contrast, can you say anything is the same about IBM as the day you joined?
As mentioned above, the core values, dedication to customers, respect for the individual, and commitment to innovation have not changed. I also believe the "3-D strategy," with its commitment for IBMer's to achieve and demonstrate "deep customer understanding," is consistent with IBM's core values and ethics and ongoing belief in customer success and technical excellence.
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What are your hopes for IBM's next 100 years?
I have enjoyed my work with IBM a great deal, and still am grateful that I have been given a chance to make a real contribution, In my first two years with IBM, I had spent close to six months in formal training, either as a student or teaching (As soon as we took a course, we were expected to come back to the branch and teach others). I trust IBMers one hundred years from now can be as grateful for the opportunities they have had to contribute, not just to the culture and to customers world wide, but to their own growth and development, and that they will believe as I do that IBM has contributed to the formation of their values, skills and ideals. For IBM, I hope it will remain and grow as a "shining beacon on a hill."
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New to IBM
All over the world, IBM attracts top technical talent. What draws people who are starting their careers to IBM? Miyuki Okuyama shares her perspective on the company.
What will your job be at IBM?
My job at IBM will be: engineer. I'll design and develop applications. I will belong to Global Business Services, Application Services section. However, currently, I'm in new graduate training and I haven't decided specifically what I'm going to do.
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Before joining IBM, what did you think about the company and its reputation?
Before joining IBM, I thought it was innovative and a contributor to the world by having developed scales, tabulating machines, sound recorders and systems. I also felt IBM is a well-known company, throughout the world and has a good reputation.
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What made you want to join IBM?
IBM is, to me, a world class global corporation, and I thought it would be possible for me to acquire and work with worldwide, advanced technologies and information. Also, as part of my work I wanted the feeling that I'm part of a global community ? such as working with people from other countries, with many people who have different backgrounds, and have a possibility to work overseas or collaborate with coworkers all over the world. That's why I chose to join IBM.
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What are your hopes for IBM's next 100 years?
My hope is for IBM to grow even bigger, and for IBM to contribute to the world ? continue making innovations and never stop thinking. And, inside the company, respecting and valuing diversity even more, and make that idea the world's standard.
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What are you looking forward to most, as an IBMer?
As an IBMer, I am looking forward to seeing the world become smarter, and I hope I will contribute to make that change happen. And I want to make the world full of smiles.
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This year, 176 new graduates joined IBM Japan. During the welcoming ceremony, which occurred two weeks after the recent earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, the new hires created a presentation, in which they compiled IBM's 100 years of history, followed by their aspirations on how they want to contribute to IBM, our clients and society's growth in the next 10, 40 years, and 100 years.
For some IBMers, our company is really a family business. What does IBM look like to someone whose family played a part from its very beginning? Andrew Lee shares family stories and describes the IBM of future generations.
Who in your family worked for IBM, over the years?
Believe it or not, my great-grandfather started working for a company called Bundy Time Recorder, which then merged into International Time Recorder, which was one of the three companies that actually formed IBM, initially. So I'm actually a fourth-generation IBMer.
My maternal grandmother also worked for IBM in Endicott, and two of her bothers worked for IBM, were drafted into World War II, and then returned to Endicott and retired from IBM. My paternal grandfather worked for IBM and retired, and my father worked for IBM when I was born, but left the company shortly thereafter for a career with another company.
I started working for IBM first as a summer co-op in the summer of 1981, and then accepted a job and moved back to Endicott, which was my hometown, and started working for IBM in 1982. So, I'll be celebrating my 29th anniversary with IBM this coming July.
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Did your family's experience with IBM influence your decision to join the company?
I would say that it probably did, particularly my grandfather. He was very much a company person and he was always talking very positively about IBM, so I heard that. But I also think that growing up in Endicott, which was really a company town, had a big influence, also.
I remember, particularly as a kid, since neither of my parents worked for IBM when I was growing up, I remember kind of being jealous of kids that had parents who worked for IBM. IBM had a country club in Endicott, which was very big; it had, I think, two or three swimming pools and it had a lot of sports leagues for kids, as well as for the adults. So, if you weren't part of an IBM family growing up in Endicott, then you kind of felt a little bit left out. But that wasn't really a negative; I think that had a lot of positives, in the fact that I saw how IBM treated its employees and their families, and I think that also had a lot of influence in my ultimately wanting to join IBM.
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Are there family stories of "early IBM" that demonstrate how much has changed over time?
Actually, my mom just told me one recently: my grandmother — which was her mom — started working for IBM right after she graduated from a local business college, and then, when she got married, she had to leave IBM. IBM actually had a policy — I'm not sure if it was all over, but at least in the Endicott area — that said if you were a woman who got married, then the thinking was that you were taking a job away from a man; at the time, they were the bread winners. So [IBM] employed single women, but not married women. And I think that's kind of fascinating, when you think about where we are today, particularly with areas of diversity. That they actually had a policy like that at that time. This was during the [United States] Depression years.
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What is the biggest change you've seen in the company over the time you've spent here?
I think really the biggest change that I have seen in IBM is a cultural change. When I first started working for IBM — and I know it was this way previous to my working for IBM, when my family worked there — was that IBM was very paternalistic, but also very bureaucratic. And I think, particularly recently, we've seen a lot of changes in the fact that IBM is much more flexible and it's much more innovative, as a company, than it was at any time in its past history. So that's very much a positive change.
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So is there anything that's the same about IBM when compared to your relatives' experiences here?
I think, as an employee, what is the same is that — even with all the changes that we've seen in the company — that IBM is still viewed as a great company to work for. I know, personally, when people ask me where I work and I tell them, "IBM," the reaction is always, "Oh!" It's a very positive reaction, even to this day, when I tell people that. So I think, working for IBM, there's a sense of pride that most of us have. And that can be seen recently in the [Watson] Jeopardy! matches. I think that really helped the pride for IBMers globally, to see what IBM is doing and say, "Yeah, we're really an innovative company."
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What are your hopes for IBM's next 100 years?
Well, I guess my biggest hope is that IBM is still going to be around for the next hundred years, but I'm really confident that it will be. I think IBM is going to continue to be a very innovative company, and if we start looking at things like the Smarter Planet initiative and things like that, I think IBM's history of innovation is going to continue well into the future, and we will be in the forefront in addressing a lot of the problems that we'll be facing, globally.
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What are your strongest memories of your time at IBM? What are your hopes for the company's future? Share these and other thoughts about the celebration of 100 years — and counting — of IBMers.
"My fellow IBMers,
"Today begins a historic week for our company. Over the next several days, across more than 170 countries around the world, we will be marking IBM's centennial as an enterprise.
"I want to thank every one of you for all you have done to get us here, and for all you do every day to make IBM the great and distinctive company it is."
So what have we learned?
Five simple steps: Join the Celebration of Service
Learn more about IBM's centennial