THOMAS WATSON JR: Master Of The Mainframe

THOMAS WATSON JR. The man who built IBM into a computer giant was racked by angst at the notion of filling his father's shoes. But worry was a relentless motivator

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Ultimately, System/360, which revolutionized the industry, proved to be wildly successful as well. IBM's base of installed computers jumped from 11,000 in early 1964 to 35,000 in 1970, and its revenues more than doubled, to $7.5 billion. At the same time, IBM's market value soared from about $14 billion to more than $36 billion.

A heart attack forced Watson to retire at age 57 in 1971, leaving him plenty of time for such adventures as retracing a flight across Siberia that he had made during the war. A lifelong Democrat (his father had been a Franklin Roosevelt confidant), Watson served for two years as Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Moscow.

But perhaps his proudest achievement was to emerge from the shadow of a legendary, relentlessly demanding father. In his first five years as chairman, the younger Watson observed the anniversary of his father's death in 1956 with a ritual. He quietly took stock of what IBM had accomplished since his father died, and then said to his wife, "That's another year I've made it in his absence."

Senior writer John Greenwald wrote his first cover story for TIME in 1982; the subject: IBM

They were called the BUNCH, five computer outfits that seriously challenged IBM in the nascent computer age. Here is what happened to the BUNCH that Big Blue crunched:

Burroughs: The adding-machine company built advanced computers but had primitive marketing skills. It merged in 1986 with Sperry Rand to form Unisys, primarily selling computer services.

Univac built the first commercial computer, which was to data processors what Kleenex is to tissues. But mismanagement caused this Sperry Rand division to blow its big lead.

NCR: The cash-register maker spent years struggling with computers. AT&T bought the company in 1991 only to divest itself of it five years later. Now NCR's major products are ATMs and retail scanners.

Control Data: The former king of supercomputers recast itself in 1992 as Ceridian, an information-services provider. Ceridian spun off Control Data Systems, which now makes software.

Honeywell bought General Electric's computer division in the 1970s with hopes of challenging IBM. But when that proved to be no contest, Honeywell got out of the business in 1991.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page