Meet Virginia ‘Ginni’ Rometty, IBM’s Newest CEO

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It’s taken 100 years, but IBM has appointed its first female CEO. Virginia “Ginni” Rometty will officially take the reigns on January 1, 2012, replacing Sam Palmisano, who’s been at the helm since 2002. At age 60, Palmisano is stepping down but will remain chairman of IBM’s board of directors.

Rometty, 54, joined IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer and currently serves as the company’s senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing and strategy, overseeing sales in IBM’s 170 global markets that brought in just shy of $100 billion for the company last year. Prior to that, she served as senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services, where “she led the successful integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting—the largest acquisition in professional services history, building a global team of more than 100,000 business consultants and services experts,” says IBM.

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Palmisano said of his replacement, “Ginni’s long-term strategic thinking and client focus are seen in our growth initiatives, from cloud computing and analytics to the commercialization of Watson. She brings to the role of CEO a unique combination of vision, client focus, unrelenting drive, and passion for IBMers and the company’s future.”

IBM sold off its personal computer business to Lenovo in 2005, and has focused on enterprise hardware, software, infrastructure and consulting services for much of the past decade. Under Palmisano’s watch, IBM has expanded into emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil while getting out of relatively low-margin businesses such as PCs, printers, and hard drives. Rometty commented, “There is no greater privilege in business than to be asked to lead IBM, especially at this moment. Sam had the courage to transform the company based on his belief that computing technology, our industry, even world economies would shift in historic ways. All of that has come to pass.”

Rometty will become one of 18 women running a Fortune 500 company when she takes over on January 1, and she’ll run one of the largest companies in the tech sector. Meg Whitman, recently-appointed HP CEO, and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns share the same distinction as well.

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Ben Bajarin, director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies, Inc., told Techland that while Rometty’s role as a female CEO is important as far as the technology sector is concerned, her experience will prove far more important when it comes to running IBM.

“We see this as a big deal. She becomes the most powerful female CEO along with Whitman. It’s interesting that two of the top five tech companies in the U.S. now have women as CEOs. Although the tendency will be to look at the gender angle—and that is an observation—she was the SVP of global sales and has close and deep relationships with IBM’s customers,” said Bajarin. “This is key, as the next CEO will need to guide IBM into the future, presenting a vision and executing on fulfilling the needs of IBM customers over the next decade. That’s what her experience will bring her, as well as present her with the next challenge in her career.”

Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC, told Techland that Rometty is “super qualified” and said her appointment as CEO is “a very logical step” for IBM.

“Overall, what’s cool about Ginni Rometty’s appointment is that everyone who’s worked with her knows that she is super qualified. She’s been at the front edge of IBM’s well-differentiated ‘Smarter Planet’ strategy for almost two decades (way before it was even called ‘Smarter Planet’)—the idea that technology can be used to transform the global economy, industries and society. She helped develop the strategy in IBM Global Services, and she’s had a lot of success selling the strategy to customers while running IBM’s global sales,” said Gens. “So she’s a very logical choice to step into the CEO chair and continue what’s proved to be a very strong strategy—one that’s certainly got her fingerprints all over it.”

“Just a side note along the gender discussion,” added Gens, “Some people think of Ginni in a ‘business manager’ context, with her long experience as the General Manager of  IBM’s services business and sales organization. But she’s actually a ‘techie’ as well, with a computer science degree, and experience as a systems engineer. She’s a great model for young women (and young men) who have interests in science and technology—and beyond.”

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