The Watson Dynasty: The Fiery Reign and Troubled Legacy of IBM's Founding Father and Son

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9780060014056: The Watson Dynasty: The Fiery Reign and Troubled Legacy of IBM's Founding Father and Son

For an extraordinary fifty-seven-year period, one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing companies was run by two men who were flesh and blood. The chief executives of the International Business Machines Corporation from 1914 until 1971 were Thomas J. Watson and Thomas J. Watson, father and son. That great corporation bears the imprint of both men -- their ambitions and their strengths -- but it also bears the consequences of a family that was in near-constant conflict.

Sometimes wrong but never in doubt, both Watsons had clear -- and farsighted -- visions of what their company could become. They also had volcanic tempers. Their fights with each other combined with their commitment to leadership and excellence made IBM one of the most rewarding, yet gut-clutching firms to work for in the history of American business.

We are accustomed to describing professional behavior as if men and women leave their emotions and vulnerabilities at home each day. In the case of the Watsons, filial and sibling strife could not be excluded from the office. In closely studying the desires and frustrations of the Watson family, eminent historian Richard S. Tedlow has produced something more than a family portrait or a company history. He has raised the nearly forbidden issue of the role of emotion in corporate life.

This book explores the interplay between the person- alities of these two extraordinary men and the firm they created. Both Watsons had deeply held beliefs about what a corporation is and should be. These ideas helped make "Big Blue" the bluest of blue-chip stocks during the Watsons' tenure. These very beliefs, however, also sowed the seeds for IBM's disasters in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the company had lost sight of the original meaning behind many of the practices each man put into place.

Tracing the family's idiosyncratic ability to cope with each other's weaknesses but not their strengths, The Watson Dynasty is a book for every person who ever went to work but didn't want to check his personality at the door.

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About the Author:

Richard S. Tedlow is the Class of 1949 Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, where he is a specialist in the history of business. He is the author of Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built. In addition to his teaching and research, Professor Tedlow has consulted and taught both marketing and business history to a variety of companies and organizations.

From Publishers Weekly:

The soul of corporate man is insightfully explored in this engaging biographical study of the family that built IBM. With a prescient vision of the importance of information processing, Thomas Watson Sr. took over the rudderless conglomerate in 1914, bringing it over the decades into the forefront of the modern bureaucratic economy and the computer revolution. But IBM's corporate culture was not quite the hyper-rational technocracy the company came to symbolize. Starting out as a salesman under National Cash Register's charismatic founder John Patterson, "the father of modern salesmanship," Watson elaborated IBM's salesmanship ethos to "totalitarian" heights, complete with company songs that celebrated Watson's personality cult ("T. J. Watson, you're a leader fine, the greatest in the land") in terms usually reserved for North Korean dictators. Business historian Tedlow ably analyzes IBM's evolving business strategies, but focuses on the human side, especially the tormented relationship, replete with Freudian overtones, between Watson Sr. and Watson Jr., an energetic playboy who slowly emerged from his father's shadow to succeed him at IBM's helm. Although Tedlow sometimes over-emphasizes their Oedipal wranglings, his approach sheds useful light on the social psychology of IBM's rise-the "ego-shattering rejection" experienced by salesmen, which the "religiosity" of IBM's culture was meant to assuage; the techniques for establishing rapport and credibility that transformed the salesman from con-artist to expert consultant in the eyes of customers; the humiliations routinely meted out by abusive bosses to long-suffering organization men. Tedlow is both admiring of and aghast at its protagonists, and his well-researched and briskly written account is a revealing look at the making of corporate America.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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