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IBM’s thoughts on how to achieve long-term success

We can’t say that Orwell didn’t warn us. He did. And today “doublespeak” has created a world where it is often the most “conservative” businesses, industries and business leaders who act with the least concern for long-term business success—risking their reputations and brands today for the potential payoff of enormous short-term personal rewards. That’s why it is so refreshing to see IBM’s recent communications centered on their 100th year anniversary. From their advertisement that appeared in the June 16th edition of the Wall Street Journal, to their recent Report of Social Responsibility, IBM is engaging in communications that fly in the face of typical corporate, marketing-driven babble over the past too many decades.

I’ve been a fan of IBM’s CEO surveys and their own cultural transformation efforts over the past decade. But I was still delightfully surprised when reading their 4-page advertisement at how candidly they spoke about their history and some of the major mistakes they’ve made, and how well their story illustrates the business advantage of a operating against a strategy that is focused on far more than simply maximizing shareholder value and quarterly returns.

When Sam Palmisano writes, “to achieve long-term success, you have to manage for the long term,” you might think he’s hired Yogi Berra to head up his Communications team. What it is, really, is an admonition to other business executives who fail to acknowledge such a simple business truth.

Palmisano acknowledges that businesses today must embrace a new kind of approach where individual players recognize they are dependent upon one another and where effective action is “necessarily collaborative.” And he warns us that we “cannot optimize complex systems like food, water, energy, education and cities without simultaneously expanding access to underserved populations, increasing their transparency and architecting their environmental sustainability.”

With this Palmisano creates a 21st century mission and purpose for IBM—one that will attract and help retain the best and brightest minds in the 21st century. As he states it: “In this work, and in what we do every day, my colleagues and I know that we are only scratching the surface of what is possible on a smarter planet. And that is why we also know that our first century, for all its remarkable milestones, was just a harbinger of our second.”

Congratulations, IBM, on a century of success. I hope you live up to the promises you’re making today and that’ll you’ll continue to focus more on helping create a better, smarter world rather than just being the smartest company exploiting the world. The business sector needs a strong, authentic leader who can help us understand that enormous greed isn’t really a true conservative value.

Don’t screw it up.

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