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What Rometty's IBM job means

Ginni Rometty

Co Mayo: What does Ginni Rometty's new job say?

There are two striking aspects to Ginni Rometty's imminent elevation to Chief Executive Officer of IBM.

The first, obviously, is gender.

The fact that a woman will lead one the world's biggest, most powerful companies is good for equality in the boardroom. And like the proverbial London bus, you wait an age for a senior woman to break through the glass ceiling in the technology sector and two shatter it at once — it is a neat irony that Romettys immediate competitor will be another woman, HP's recently installed Meg Whitman.

Rometty joins a very select band, but her appointment at IBM, of all companies, will send an important signal to the rest of the corporate world. If it can happen at IBM, once the most conservative of corporations, then it can and should happen elsewhere — and boards of directors will have nowhere to hide.

(See: Getting Women in the Chair here)

Quite what those generations of white shirted career salesmen at IBM will make of it is another matter.

If they have any sense they will applaud, because novelty of her sex aside, she is one of them — a real IBMer.

And that is the real significance of Rometty's rise. Not only will she be IBM's first woman CEO, she'll be the first NOT to have run its hardware business. Rometty is a sales and marketing lifer. She does customers, not boxes.

The single most significant strategic move on Rometty's IBM CV, the reason she got the top job, is that she was mid-wife to the acquisition of PwC's consulting business in 2002. She subsequently integrated those consultants into IBM's 100,000 strong Global Business Services division, the operation that now drives the company.

For the IT Services industry, this is more important than Rometty's gender. What her promotion signifies is a formal recognition that even in a heavy metal technology world it is business services — consulting, integration, process sourcing — that now wears the trousers.

(See: Rometty is first woman CEO of IBM here

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