Rometty – or ‘Ginni’ as she is known – was head of IBM’s sales and marketing operations. She now joins a very small pool of women chief executives in corporate America: Ursula Burns at Xerox, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, Ellen Kullman of DuPont and, most recently, Meg Whitman, who took the reins at Hewlett-Packard last month.
Rumours were flying about the possible successor to the role as Palmisano approached 60, the customary retirement age at IBM. He’s been CEO for nearly a decade and will stay on as chairman.
Rometty’s appointment comes at a very opportune time. Gender has been on the agenda (‘scuse the pun) for some time. There’s even been talk of boardroom quotas to encourage big firms to appoint more women to high-level positions. However, according to Palmisano, her sex did not figure into the selection process.
‘Ginni got it because she deserved it,’ Palmisano told the New York Times. ‘It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies.’
Indeed, Rometty’s CV speaks for itself. In 2002, she spear-headed the purchase of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting for $3.5bn. Despite cultural issues between the firms, she managed to integrate the consultants into the much more conservative tech firm without too many staff jumping ship. The only black mark against her performance is that she has never spent time in any of the manufacturing or hard tech arms of IBM - a departure from CEOs of old. But perhaps this hails a new future for Big Blue. One that is founded more in cloud computing and the strategic commercialisation of its investment portfolio than computers and accessories.
Despite her exploits, Rometty is virtually unknown outside of the sector. Her Facebook page only boasts 41 likes (42 now), unlike Indra Nooyi with 3,339.
She says of her appointment: ‘There is no greater privilege in business than to be asked to lead IBM, especially at this moment. Today, IBM’s strategies and business model are correct. Our ability to execute and deliver consistent results for clients and shareholders is strong.’