IBM, Turning 100, Highlights a Century of Service

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IBM marks 100 years in business on June 16, a rare achievement by any standard — and considering that its business is technology, make that an astounding achievement.

To mark its centenary, the brand is launching global initiatives that will incorporate all 170 countries of operation, including hundreds of local grants to support employees’ volunteer activities in support of “smarter planet initiatives” as a global “Celebration of Service” in which tens of thousands of IBMers, retirees and partners will participate.[more]

Service to the community reiterates the brand’s commitment to customer service.

“Since its early days, IBM has been operated based on a set of core beliefs. IBM would distinguish itself with its respect for the individual, its pursuit of excellence in all things and its commitment to providing the best customer service,” says a new book about IBM’s 100 years, Making the World Better, by Kevin Many, Steve Hamm and Jeffrey M. O’Brien.

“These values were baked into the core DNA by Thomas Watson Sr., who built the near-failing organization of 1914 into an industrial giant with staying power. And that DNA has taken hold in millions of employees over the course of 100 years.” (Yes, the inspiration for that Jeopardy!-loving Watson.)

Originally called the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR), it changed to International Business Machines (IBM) in 1924, establishing itself as a global brand with a one word mantra: THINK.

While other tech giants such as Digital Equipment Corp., Wang, Prime and Data General are all gone, IBM remains.

In its transformation from a hardware business to software and services, there were highs and lows, such as: “IBM misread the client/server architecture. While Compaq was selling a server or two into mid-market and large companies and then coming back to sell some more, IBM missed this [market] until the 1990s, missing an important business opportunity,” comments Amy Wohl, an industry analyst whose beat includes IBM, to eWeek.

But, with more highs than lows, IBM’s revenue in 2010 from software reached $22.5 billion, and “according to some industry reports and an analysis of the financial statements of leading software vendors, if the IBM Software Group were an independent entity, it would be the second largest software company in the world, behind Microsoft,” continues eWeek.

As part of the service-oriented centennial initiative, IBM’s UK marketing communications team is launching a “service bureau” for non-profits and charities, including free workshops, one-to-one consults, and access to research and expertise.

“We are a strong brand but lots of people still think we only sell PCs. We need to shift that perception and prove that we offer a broad range of services. At IBM it is important to have relationships with our customers beyond technology,” said Caroline Taylor, VP marketing, communications and citizenship. 

The goal is to grow the bureau by inviting other small to medium-size business marketers to volunteer.

Stanley S. Litow, VP Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs and president of the IBM Foundation, says, “Since 2003, IBMers have provided more than 11 million hours of skills-based volunteer service in communities around the world; more than any other company.”

IBM models a hundred-year-old brand that morphed into a learning organization that honored its mantra, and now increases its focus on service beyond profit. It’s also shining a spotlight on its employees, communities and customers — a move Thomas Watson would no doubt approve.

Other ways that IBM is celebrating its 100th year: THINK, a leadership forum being held in New York in September; a global lecture series; a limited collection of IBM 100 branded merchandise (for sale in the IBM Logostore); a microsite highlighting a century of innovation; a social campaign to stimulate conversations; and short films, which you can watch above and below.

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