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Who was that visionary guy at IBM?

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. was much more than a wildly successful businessman:  He was a seer.

Seventy-odd years ago, Watson dreamed up the concepts of  “data processing” and “information.” He couldn’t really explain what they meant, and may not have fully understood them, but he could see them. In the throes of the Depression, Watson financed the research that yielded both the earliest computer theory and the first computer.

But beyond technical advances, Watson insisted that people should take responsibility for their work, be proud of it and enjoy it. He wanted employees to improve things. In fact, “Think” became IBM’s slogan. In return, Watson offered lifetime job security.

Considered offbeat back then, Watson’s brand of leadership still works:
  • In the mid-1930s, he eliminated “foremen.” They became “managers,” making sure workers had the tools and the training to do their jobs. Sound familiar?
  • He said the worker knew better than anybody how to improve production and the product. Years before World War II, IBM started using what we now call quality circles.
  • Everybody could go straight to Watson with ideas or complaints.
  • He put everyone on salary and canned the distinction between blue-collar and white-collar workers.
  • Rebelling against Henry Ford, Watson treated workers as if they had the biggest possible job instead of the smallest.
Watson was rigid. But even though he came off as cranky, vain and opinionated, he also showed loyalty and willingness to admit mistakes. Like Abraham Lincoln, he owned a powerful intellect but remained practical, offending the fashionable people of his day.

He envisioned a better company, and he did something about it.

— Adapted from “Thomas Watson’s Principles of Modern Management,” Peter F. Drucker, Esquire.

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