Thomas J. Watson bigraphy, stories - American businessman

Thomas J. Watson : biography

February 17, 1874 - June 19, 1956

Thomas John Watson, Sr. (February 17, 1874 – June 19, 1956) was the chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM),. IBM. Retrieved January 28, 2012. who oversaw that company's growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956. Watson developed IBM's distinctive management style and corporate culture, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization, based largely around punched card tabulating machines. A leading self-made industrialist, he was one of the richest men of his time and was called the world's greatest salesman when he died in 1956.


Watson had a newly-acquired NCR cash register in his butcher shop, for which he had to arrange transfer of the installment payments to the new owner of the butcher shop. On visiting NCR, he met John J. Range and asked him for a job. Determined to join the company, he repeatedly called on Range until, after a number of abortive attempts, he finally was hired in November, 1896, as sales apprentice to Range.

Led by John Patterson, NCR was then one of the leading selling organizations, and John J. Range, its Buffalo branch manager, became almost a father figure for Watson and was a model for his sales and management style. Certainly in later years, in a 1952 interview, he claimed he learned more from Range than anyone else. But at first, he was a poor salesman, until Range took him personally in hand. Then he became the most successful salesman in the East, earning $100 per week.

Four years later, NCR assigned Watson to run the struggling NCR agency in Rochester, New York. As an agent, he got 35% commission and reported directly to Hugh Chalmers, the second-in-command at NCR. In four years Watson made Rochester effectively an NCR monopoly by using the technique of knocking the main competitor, Hallwood, out of business, sometimes resorting to sabotage of the competitors machines. As a reward he was called to the NCR head office in Dayton, Ohio.

Head of IBM

Charles Ranlett Flint who had engineered the merger and creation of the Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR) found it difficult to manage and therefore hired Watson as general manager on May 1, 1914 when the company had about 1300 employees. Eleven months later Watson became president of CTR and, within 4 years, doubled its revenues to $9 million. In 1924, he renamed the company International Business Machines. Watson built IBM into such a dominant company that the federal government filed a civil antitrust suit against them in 1952. IBM owned and leased to its customers more than 90 percent of all tabulating machines in the United States at the time. When Watson died in 1956, IBM's revenues were $897 million, and the company had 72,500 employees.

Throughout his life, Watson maintained a deep interest in international relations, both from a diplomatic and a business perspective. He was known as President Roosevelt's unofficial Ambassador in NY and often entertained foreign statesmen. In 1937, he was elected president of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and at that year's biennial congress in Berlin stated the conference keynote to be "World Peace Through World Trade". That phrase became the slogan of both the ICC and IBM. Watson's merger of diplomacy and business was not always lauded. During the 1930s, IBM's German subsidiary was its most profitable foreign operation, and a 2001 book, IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black, argues that Watson's pursuit of profit led him to personally approve and spearhead IBM's strategic technological relationship with the Third Reich. In particular, critics point to the coveted Order of the German Eagle medal that Watson received at the Berlin ICC meeting in 1937, as evidence that he was being honored for the help that IBM's German subsidiary Dehomag (Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH) and its punch card machines provided the Nazi regime, particularly in the tabulation of census data. The most recent study of the matter, however, argues that Watson believed, perhaps naively, that the medal was in recognition of his years of labor on behalf of global commerce and international peace. Watson soon began second-guessing himself for accepting the medal, and eventually returned the medal to the German government in June 1940. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was furious at the slight, and he declared that Watson would never step on German-controlled soil again. As anticipated, Dehomag went into revolt, its management decrying Watson's behavior and openly wondering whether or not it would be best if the firm separated from its American owner. The debate ended when Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, and the German shareholders took custody of the Dehomag operation. But during World War II, IBM subsidiaries in occupied Europe never stopped delivery of punch cards to Dehomag, and documents uncovered show that senior executives at IBM world headquarters in New York took great pains to maintain legal authority over Dehomag's operations and assets through the personal intervention of IBM managers in neutral Switzerland, directed via personal communications and private letters. Whether this was with or without Watson's direct involvement is unclear.

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Living octopus

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