Thomas Watson, Jr. bigraphy, stories - American aviator, businessman and diplomat

Thomas Watson, Jr. : biography

January 14, 1914 - December 31, 1993

Thomas John Watson, Jr. (January 14, 1914 – December 31, 1993) was an American businessman, political figure, and philanthropist. He was the 2nd president of IBM (1952–1971), the 11th national president of the Boy Scouts of America (1964–1968), and the 16th United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1979–1981). He received many honors during his lifetime, including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Watson was called "the greatest capitalist in history" and one of "100 most influential people of the 20th century".

Research and development

Of the two brothers, Tom Jr. made the most obvious impact on IBM as a whole, while Dick ran the international business.

Prior to his time IBM had primarily emphasized the sales organization, with a reasonable range of products. Tom Jr., however, promoted the research and development structure that is essential to modern high technology industry. It was under his supervision that the laboratories were built up, to a point where, in the late 1980s, they contained Nobel Prize winners; and to the point where the research and development function could stand on an equal footing with marketing, true to his original objective.

When Tom Jr. started this process in 1949, IBM was reportedly two years behind its main competitor, UNIVAC. In the 1980s, it was arguably up to a decade ahead of anyone else; though its problems since seem to have destroyed much of its strength in this area. This was not so obvious to the outside world, because the new products still followed the conservative release pattern started in the 1920s (and pursued very profitably until recently). Despite the hype about 'pre-releasing' products which did not yet exist, only when the market was sufficiently developed, and a launch was financially justifiable, did IBM commit its marketing resources. In the labs though, they were able to plan speculatively for the future decades in advance, independent and untroubled by commercial demands. It was an ideal environment for an industrial researcher, and highly productive for IBM.

The first result of this was the IBM 7030 Stretch program to develop a transistorized "supercomputer" a hundred times more powerful than the vacuum tube 704. It failed to meet its price and performance goals, at a reported cost of $20 million. Although embarrassing in terms of the rumors that drifted to the outside world, it would not however be the last IBM computer series to be terminated and the cost was small in IBM's terms; and the experience gained was invaluable. One of IBM's strengths was that, until the 1980s, it really did learn from experience. Most other companies are only too anxious to bury deep their embarrassing mistakes; and never use the invaluable information they have gained. IBM however made very good use of these particularly hard earned lessons.

The three computer families that eventually emerged from 1958 onwards comprised the IBM 7070 and IBM 7090 for large government business, the IBM 1620 for the scientific community and the IBM 1401 for commercial use. Despite the fact that many observers believed that Tom Jr was frittering away the resources his father had built up, these new ranges were remarkably successful, doubling IBM's sales once more over the six years from 1958 ($1.17 billion) to 1964 ($2.31 billion), maintaining IBM's dramatic growth rate virtually undiminished at approaching 30% compound. The effect was that IBM had become independent of outside funding.

In the early 1960s he oversaw the IBM System/360 project, which produced an entire line of computers that ran the same software and used the same peripherals. Since the 360 line was incompatible with IBM's previous products, it represented an enormous risk for the company. Despite delays in shipment, the products were well-received following their launch in 1964 and what Fortune magazine called "IBM's $5 Billion Gamble," in the end, paid off.


Watson received the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1955 for his service to youth. He was the national president of the BSA from 1964 to 1968. His father had also served on the national executive board and was International Commissioner in the 1940s.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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