IBM celebrated its 100th birthday last month and the iconic company’s history offers several parallels for fraternities.
On values-based recruitment:
In those days, Big Blue was the place everyone wanted to work and invest. It recruited the best graduates from the best universities, imbued them with its core values of “excellence,” “customer service” and “respect for the individual,” and sent them out in blue suits and white shirts to sell the world on electronic computing.
On doing the right thing, even when it may not be popular (for example, taking a stand against hazing):
Here’s a company whose researchers won Nobel prizes, whose executives stood up to discrimination and prejudice before it was fashionable, and whose name could invariably be found on the list of major donors of the best universities and cultural institutions. And its computers outfoxed the world’s chess champion and took the crown in Jeopardy.
On upholding the company’s core values in the way they were meant to be:
It wasn’t, however, just the strategy that had gone awry. As Steve Hamm writes in a book commissioned for the 100th anniversary, “Making the World Work Better,” some of the core beliefs that had carried the company through other periods of transition had become impediments. Respect for employees, according to Hamm, “had morphed into a sense of entitlement, “excellence in all things had turned into a decision-inhibiting perfectionism, and “the best customer service” became an exercise in giving customers what they said they wanted rather than presenting them with the breakthrough innovation they never knew they needed.
On the willingness to break tradition:
By 1993, things were so desperate that IBM for the first time reached outside its ranks and hired Lou Gerstner, an executive with RJR Nabisco, as chief executive. Gerstner mounted a painful rescue that included closing facilities, selling off businesses and firing 35,000 employees. Gerstner’s strategy was to move IBM out of low-margin equipment manufacturing while moving more aggressively into software and corporate outsourcing of computer services. Under the current chief executive, Sam Palmisano, who took over in 2002, that strategy includes a strong focus on cloud computing, strategic consulting and data analytics.
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