Uncle Sam

Sam Palmisano dropped in today…

He came in to Delhi, for a CEOs forum hosted by CII (Confederation of Indian Industries).

Perhaps the fact that IBM is an old warhorse that has been around for a hundred years or so, touches a chord in all those who have some aspiration to immortality, and sure enough, the audience had a large percentage of people with salt and pepper hair. Lessons for longevity for the new Indian CEO. 

It was a full house, and the audience trooped in well in time.

“Have you heard Sam before?” asked someone during the tea prior to the talk. “Nope” said I. “Aah…he does a good act” said this someone. India has arrived.

 True to tradition, the dress code was formal, and the front row was taken by IBMers, I suspect, if their dresses were anything to go by. That was one sitting opportunity to innovate!

Sam sure did a good act.

In twenty minutes or so, he summed up a few centuries of management models. 19th century, he said, was the time of “international” corporation. When companies set up sales offices overseas and thrived. 20th, he said, was the time of “multinational” corporation. When companies opened up full scale offices overseas. Had their manufacturing,  supply-chains and even the ‘so called’ back-office operations done locally in the respective countries. This century, he said, is one of the “globally integrated” corporation. Where functions had no rigid binding to point of use, and were carried out wherever it made sense….And these functions could be carried out remote, and be massively integrated horizontally, delivering to their points of use world-wide. Supply-Chain in IBM, he said was one such function, where technology has enabled just this to happen. 

(One wonders though, about this technology enabled super-management….this super-connectivity that enables total centralization….)

Sam spoke of three drivers of this globalization. First, economy….Do it where it makes economic sense…No one can argue against economics…Second, expertise…Just economics wont do….You got to do it where you get real expertise…which is why TCS sets up its RFID lab in USA…or Motorola sources for employees in India….And third, openness….By that he meant the openness of operating environments, in terms of free trade, good infrastructure, good laws, intellectual property protection etc….

And then, there comes into play the core enabler to play in this ‘globally integrated’ workplace. Thats “Trust”. You gotta build trust, he said. And that comes out of the behaviour displayed by employees. In IBM, they had embarked on pushing the ‘centre of gravity’ of the company down, so that employees in the front-end of the compamy would feel empowered to deliver this ‘trust’….

IBM has bet big on India, said he. It now has over 50000 employees here.

They had an open house in Bangalore last year, where they had around ten thousand employees assemble….Mr Sunil Mittal, Vice President CII, and Chairman Bharati group made a mention of this during his ‘welcome address’…He said that the gathering was nothing short of a ‘political rally’, and was a ‘near riot’ situation! Sam was all smiles…

In the Q&A that followed, Sam did mention that ‘India had been discovered’….that China, Latin America and others were watching closely. And that competition was bound to hot up. Which indeed would be a good thing….(For whoever wins or loses, IBM, I guess, being on both sides, would be on the winning side….like Milo Minder Binder of Catch 22)…

Oh, the usual questions were there….Global warming, WTO, Digital divide, China, ‘but what about SMEs’ etc….And he answered them with aplomb….

Long live IBM! God bless America! 


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