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IBM CEO Ginni Rometty Stepping Down

Arvind Krishna will take the reins as the company’s 10th CEO.

Lynn Haber

January 31, 2020

4 Min Read
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IBM’s Ginni Rometty

After serving as IBM’s chairman, president and CEO since 2012 and leading the company through a massive — and often controversial — turnaround, IBM’s first and only female CEO, Ginni Rometty, will step down on April 6, 2020, according to the company. Rometty will continue to serve as executive chairman of the board through the end of the year.

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IBM’s Arvind Krishna

The IBM veteran began her career with the company in 1981, serving in many leadership positions such as sales, marketing and strategy, and global business services. That was after beginning her career in technical positions such as systems analyst and systems engineer. The IBM Board of Directors elected Arvind Krishna as the new CEO, effective April 6. The company also named James Whitehurst as president of IBM. Whitehurst was senior vice president at IBM and Red Hat CEO.

Rometty’s retirement and Krishna’s appointment comes on the heels of IBM’s Q4 2019 financials which reported a gain of more than 3%, beating analysts’ expectations, boosted in part by the acquisition of Red Hat in 2019.

“We ended 2019 on a strong note, returning to overall revenue growth in the quarter, led by accelerated cloud performance,” said Rometty. “Looking ahead, this positions us for sustained revenue growth in 2020 as we continue to help our clients shift their mission-critical workloads to the hybrid cloud and scale their efforts to become a cognitive enterprise.”

While Rometty recognized her 2012 election as IBM’s top executive as the highest privilege in business, her tenure had its ups and downs, accolades and criticism. Succeeding Samuel J. Palmisano as CEO, Rometty said at the time, “Sam taught us, above all, that we must never stop reinventing IBM.”

And that she did.

Rometty ushered in digital reinvention, moving ahead to what she refers to as Chapter Two. Chapter One was characterized by digital, AI, experimentation and customer-facing apps. Chapter Two is enterprise -driven, or scaling digital and AI, including hybrid cloud and mission-critical applications, all underpinned by responsible stewardship.

During her bold leadership as CEO, Rometty positioned IBM on the forefront of AI, cloud, quantum, blockchain and cybersecurity. She championed the ethical deployment of new technology. A key early and strategic move during Rometty’s leadership was the sale of its x86 server portfolio to Lenovo in January 2014.

Rometty’s critics called for her ouster more than once following 23 quarters of no growth beginning in 2012. It wasn’t until January 2018 that IBM reported a 3.6% rise in revenue, for the quarter. Still, that didn’t quiet her critics.

Rometty was also a strong advocate for new-collar workers building talent and skills to assume the new jobs that AI and other emerging technologies will usher in.

At the same time, IBM was sued for shedding older workers while hiring younger ones in an effort to make the company more attractive to millennials.

Looking ahead, Rometty commented on her successor.

“Arvind is the right CEO for the next era at IBM,” she said. “He is a brilliant technologist who has played…

…a significant role in developing our key technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud, quantum computing and blockchain.  He is also a superb operational leader, able to win today while building the business of tomorrow.  Arvind has grown IBM’s Cloud and Cognitive Software business and led the largest acquisition in the company’s history. Through his multiple experiences running businesses in IBM, Arvind has built an outstanding track record of bold transformations and proven business results, and is an authentic, values-driven leader.  He is well-positioned to lead IBM and its clients into the cloud and cognitive era.”

Kevin Rhone, practice director, channel acceleration at Enterprise Strategy Group, had this to say about the change in executive leadership at IBM, keeping partners in mind.

“Ginni made a big bet with the Red Had acquisition, and her legacy will be dependent on execution and how well this plays out,” he said. “Our view is that along with moves into AI and cyber, it was a challenge for IBM to orchestrate overall and sustainable growth that leverages these big investments. A lot of IBM profit is still from mainframe and infrastructure-related product cycles, and partners continue to rely on product sales for top and bottom line success”

“Going forward, the combination of Krishna as CEO and James as president, has the potential to change the game for partners who also look to transform their businesses around multicloud,” Rhone said. “We expect to see IBM be more aggressive here, providing programs and support for partners that enables them to pursue cloud-first opportunities that leverage IBM middleware and Red Hat technologies.”

In July 2019, IBM named David La Rose as the company’s new channel chief. He replaced John Teltsch who was named general manager, IBM Systems Sales.

Rometty earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering from Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University in 1979.

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About the Author(s)

Lynn Haber

Content Director Lynn Haber follows channel news from partners, vendors, distributors and industry watchers. If I miss some coverage, don’t hesitate to email me and pass it along. Always up for chatting with partners. Say hi if you see me at a conference!

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