Virginia Rometty took over this week as the first female CEO in IBM’s storied history. She’s new, but is she a new kind of leader?
By all accounts Rometty — who got her start as an IBM sales engineer 30 years ago — was groomed by outgoing CEO Sam Palimsano and isn’t expected to radically change direction at the 100-year-old company. IBM’s services business has evolved into its most important division under Palmisano, and that’s where he encountered Rometty, who was eventually made head of Global Business Services.
But on her first week at the job, there was one difference. When it came time to reach out to company employees, Rometty decided to skip that staple of Sam Palimsano communications: the company-wide e-mail.
Instead, she made a video, outlining her priorities as leader, and posted it to Connections, the company’s Facebook-like internal social network.
The video quickly went “viral” on Connections, according to a Twitter message by Jennifer Okimoto, an associate partner with the company’s Global Business Services group.
Another IBM employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press, said the video was an informal talk on Rometty’s priorities for 2012. The message quickly received hundreds of comments from IBM employees — though our source said he didn’t pay much attention to it.
Palmisano would use e-mail to announce major corporate news, such as the company’s quarterly earnings. When IBM’s Watson computer crushed its humanoid competitors on Jeopardy early last year, Palmisano sent another company-wide blast, waxing on “the meaning of Watson’s victory.”
But these days, there’s a bit of a war against e-mail going on in some corporate backrooms. Late last year, Atos CEO Thierry Breton made waves when he said that he wanted to ban e-mail at the technology services company that he runs by 2014. A few weeks later, Volkswagen said that it was turning BlackBerry mail off for German employees after the workday, so they wouldn’t be on call for e-mail messages all night long.
Rometty’s in-house social networking sets her aside from Palmisano, but only so far. Like her predecessor she still doesn’t use Twitter, or any other public social network.
Incidentally, Rometty has already shuffled the deck in IBM’s executive suite. On Tuesday, she named a new head of sales, Bruno Di Leo, and promoted IBM’s North American sales chief, Bridget Van Kralingen, to the post of senior vice president of consulting, according to a report in Bloomberg.
(Photo courtesy Asa Mathat, Fortune Live Media)