Last Tuesday, IBM quietly took several of its top executives and had them trade places with each other. While the IT giant issued no press releases about the action, the news was the talk of the company by the end of the day. When the dust settled, Al Zollar was no longer General Manager of the iSeries group. Replacing him is Mike Borman, who is leaving his post as General Manager of IBM's Global Business Partners organization.
According to a company memo, five executives participated in the managerial migration. Instead of running the iSeries group, Zollar is now General Manager of the Tivoli team within IBM Software Group (SWG). Zollar replaces Robert LeBlanc, who is now the General Manager of the Application and Integration Middleware group (known by many as the WebSphere group), another part of SWG. LeBlanc takes the baton from John Swainson, who is now Vice President for Worldwide Software Sales. Swainson replaces Donn Atkins, who is taking the helm at Global Business Partners as General Manager. Atkins is filling Mike Borman's post at Global Business Partners, thus completing the five-way switch.
Principles of Executive Motion 101
Before I dive into the personalities involved in this synchronous shakeup, there are a few things you should know about IBM's management policies. When it comes to offering reasons for moving its executives, the company has always been tight-lipped. In most cases, however, IBM makes such changes for two reasons. First, the company regularly moves its more promising executives to acquaint them with all aspects of the company. This is a way of grooming them for their next move up the corporate ladder. Second, IBM moves managers when they are not performing well at a particular post. When this happens, the company does not automatically conclude that the executives are incompetent. Instead, it gives them one or two more chances to prove themselves in positions that may be more suitable for them.
Over the years, IBM has perfected a method of moving its executives that makes it difficult to determine whether the moves are motivated by the first or the second of these two reasons. That method is the executive shuffle, and last week's action was a textbook example of the technique. In a shuffle, several executives who are on the same rung of the corporate ladder swap positions with each other. Since nobody is promoted and nobody is demoted, it is hard to know which executives are being groomed for greater things and which ones are getting a pep talk in the bullpen.
I am fairly sure that IBM's latest shuffle involved a combination of grooming and pep talks. I say this because most of these executives have experienced some significant successes and serious struggles over the last few quarters. Al Zollar, for instance, has successfully presided over a complete overhaul of the iSeries product line. On the other hand, iSeries revenues declined by 7% during the first quarter of this year and by 28% during the second quarter. Over at Software Group, Atkins helped IBM take market share from its competitors in several key product categories. However, sales for the second quarter were flat compared to last year as many companies put their purchase plans on hold.
To put it simply, IBM's motives for shuffling the five executives are probably mixed. The company undoubtedly hopes that each executive will both gain and contribute fresh insights at his new post and be the right manager to address any problems he inherits from his predecessor. Zollar, for instance, may be ideally suited to help Tivoli improve the packaging of its complex product lines and make them more popular with resellers. As a former manager of networking and security products, a General Manager of Lotus, and General Manager of the iSeries group, he has the right background to achieve those objectives.
Reasons to Like Mike
In much the same way, Mike Borman should be a great fit for the job of iSeries General Manager. He has spent the last few years managing Global Business Partners, the group that is IBM's interface to over 90,000 resellers, integrators, and solution providers. Since these channels are responsible for over 80% of all iSeries sales, Borman's background will prove invaluable. He knows better than anyone does what levers IBM must pull to make those channels perform better.
In addition, Borman has plenty of experience working with POWER servers because he managed the pSeries group during the late 1990s. During that time, he played a key role in consolidating the pSeries and iSeries onto a common hardware platform. He was also in charge of IBM's strategy for repositioning its servers as platforms for e-business. That is an area where the iSeries still needs to make progress. Borman could help to make that happen.
In short, I like the cards that the latest executive shuffle has dealt the iSeries community. Borman's appointment indicates that IBM remains committed to growing the iSeries rather than merely supporting it. While I doubt that Borman will make any fundamental changes to the iSeries strategy in the coming months, I expect he will make some significant adjustments to the way that IBM executes that strategy. In a market where execution can mean the difference between growth and stagnation, that is good news for iSeries customers.