IBM's new chief: "Don't accept inevitable"

October 25, 2011: 6:07 PM ET

Longtime executive Ginni Rometty will replace Sam Palmisano as president and CEO of IBM starting early next year. She spoke to Fortune minutes after the announcement.

IBM's incoming CEO Ginni Rometty

FORTUNE -- IBM has a new chief. Longtime executive Ginni Rometty will replace Sam Palmisanoas president and CEO starting January 1. Having put in 30 years at the company and survived IBM's (IBM) near death experience in the early 1990s, Rometty literally bleeds blue. She has worked closely with Palmisano during his successful nine-year tenure, and she gets credit for heading up the company's growth strategy by getting IBM into cloud computing and the analytics business. Earlier this evening, Rometty spoke with Fortune senior writer Jessi Hempel:

FORTUNE: What are your priorities going to be?
Rometty: You're not going to be surprised given that part of my role is strategy and together with my colleagues we built the current strategy. My priorities are going to be to continue to execute the strategy we built and the 2015 roadmap. I was an integral part of building it.

FORTUNE: Will Sam continue to be involved?
Sam will continue as chairman. He'll continue to help me with, well, anything I ask him to.

FORTUNE: Could you point to the most important thing you've learned from working with Sam?
That's a good question. I've thought a lot about this and the biggest thing I think Sam taught me -- but I also think that he taught it to the whole company during this time -- can be summed up in a quote: "Don't accept inevitable." That means, you've got to keep reinventing. That, to me, is the greatest gift he's given IBM, this ability to continually reinvent itself. We're in an industry in which you constantly have to make new markets. That's what we are doing with Smarter Planet, analytics, the cloud. Those are all about making markets.

FORTUNE: As you look forward, in the competitive landscape we've seen some big shifts among your competitors in the last year, is there anything that will be particularly important or does this change anything for IBM in the year to come?
No. Our strategy is firm and is very different. We're enterprise, we're not consumer. We're very focused on high value. We're focused on research and development and innovation. We've taken a long view. And maybe above all, we are very focused on value for clients.

FORTUNE: More than any other company in the field, IBM has always emphasized taking a long view. You talk about the 2015 roadmap; are you at work on a roadmap after that?
Not yet. We're at work on delivering on that one. 2015 is still a long way out for us. There are a lot of things we don't know yet. We're hard at work at that. What does have a longer horizon, though, is research and development. We are absolutely working on things that are longer term there, whether that's big data, analytics, the commercialization of Watson. That to me is a very important differentiator between us and others.

FORTUNE: You'll continue your same levels of investment in R&D?
Absolutely. We've been unwavering on those for a decade. It's one thing to spend, the second thing is what you spend on. We're fixated on a business-driven technology agenda.

FORTUNE: What do you mean by that?
It means not just technology for technology's sake. It means technology that can have an effect on the world. Take, for example, Watson. I believe Watson will reshape healthcare around the world in our lifetime.

FORTUNE: Does "business-driven" mean moving science -- more quickly than in decades past -- to commercialization?
That is one manifestation. It also means that you're appealing to decision makers and new buyers who are business oriented. So, a chief marketing officer for example. We've just announced -- and this is another example of making a market -- a new category around smarter commerce, clearly one of the big target audiences is the chief marketing officer, one of the most underserved in the marketplace.

FORTUNE: Thank you so much.
Thanks.

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About This Author
Jessi Hempel
Jessi Hempel
Senior Writer, Fortune

Jessi Hempel is a New York-based technology writer for Fortune. She has written extensively about digital media, online advertising and social networking. Before joining Fortune in July 2007, Hempel worked at BusinessWeek and most recently served as their innovation department editor. Hempel is a graduate of Brown University and received a Masters in Journalism from The University of California at Berkeley.

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