Virginia Rometty — the woman who led IBM’s acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting in 2002 — will be Big Blue’s next president and CEO.
IBM announced the news on Tuesday afternoon, saying Rometty will take the reins from current boss Sam Palmisano on Jan. 1. Palmisano is chairman, president, and chief executive officer, and after the New Year’s Day handover, he will remain chairman of the board. Rometty is currently a senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing, and strategy at IBM.
It’s no surprise that Palmisano is stepping down. This year, he turned 60, the traditional retirement age for IBM chief execs. In June, citing people familiar with Palmisano’s thinking, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company was in the midst of mapping out a succession plan.
Rometty — known as Ginni — was among the top contenders for the job, after helping to lead IBM’s transformation into a massive services business. But some expected the post might have gone to Steven Mills, the senior vice president who runs IBM’s software division, another big area of growth in recent years. When Rometty succeeds Palmisano, she will become one of the most high-profile women in the tech industry, moving alongside HP CEO Meg Whitman, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, and Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.
IBM declined to provide interviews with Rometty or Palmisano, but in speaking with The New York Times, Palmisano said that gender did not play a role in the choice. “Ginni got it because she deserved it,” he said.
Judith Hurwitz, an analyst with the consulting and research firm Hurwitz & Associates, agrees. “She has a very deep understanding of the company, and she’s both an operational wiz and a marketing wiz,” Hurwitz tells Wired. “I’ve never heard anyone within IBM articulate the value of the company the way she does.”
In the press release announcing her appointment by the IBM board, Rometty said there is “no greater privilege in business than to be asked to lead IBM, especially at this moment.” Palmisano called her the “ideal CEO to lead IBM into its second century.” Big Blue celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this year.
Rometty, 54, graduated from Northwestern in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and electrical engineering, before joining the General Motors Institute, a program that rotated recent college grads through various jobs at the venerable auto manufacturer. Then, in 1981, she joined Big Blue as systems engineer in the company’s Detroit office.
After joining IBM’s Consulting Group in 1991, overseeing the company’s consulting work in the Great Lakes region, she eventually rose to the top of IBM Global Services, serving as the division’s strategy leader. For years, she lead Big Blue’s all-important services biz, driving the company’s $3.5 billion acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ consulting business, and after becoming senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing and strategy in 2009, she spearheaded the company’s push into emerging markets such as China and Brazil.
Rometty will be the ninth CEO in IBM’s history and its first female chief exec. “She’s very high energy,” says Chris Ambrose, an analyst with research outfit Gartner. “I would expect that she would continue to drive the services-lead mentality that IBM has adopted over the past number of years.”
Palmisano was appointed CEO in 2002 and became chairman of the board the following year. In 2009, his heir apparent was Robert Moffat, senior vice president and general manager of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, but that October, Moffat was arrested and charged with playing a role in an alleged $20 million insider trading scheme involving some of tech’s biggest names. He was sentenced to six months in jail in September 2010.