Lessons in Longevity, From I.B.M.
Yet, not so long ago, I.B.M.’s corporate survival was at stake. In the early 1990s, it nearly ran out of money. Its mainframe business was reeling under pressure from the lower-cost technology of personal computing.
New leadership was brought in, and thousands of workers were laid off. It was part of the company’s painful journey to what might be called “post-monopoly prosperity” — that is, a new path to corporate success once a dominant product is no longer the turbocharged engine of growth and profit it once was.
“I.B.M. faced the challenge that all great companies do sooner or later — they dominate, they lose it, and then they re-create themselves or not,” observes George F. Colony, the chief executive of Forrester Research.
I.B.M. met the challenge, moved beyond the mainframe and built a business increasingly based on software and services. So as it celebrates a milestone, the company holds lessons for others.
Evolving beyond past success is a daunting task for companies in all industries. But that problem is magnified in the technology arena, where companies can quickly rise to rule a market, seemingly invincible, until a shift in the technological landscape opens the door to a new generation of corporate dynamos.
That is certainly the test that Microsoft is struggling with today, as it seeks growth beyond its lucrative stronghold in personal computer software. If they are to prosper for the long haul, Google and Apple, too, must reach beyond their dominant businesses. Each of these companies, in its way, is trying.
So, then, what broader insights are to be drawn from the I.B.M. experience? ….”