Watson, Thomas Jonh. Jr. (1914-1993)
The first son of IBM’s founder was born in 1914 in Dayton, Ohio. Tom Watson Jr managed to put the company at the forefront of the computer business.
In his teenage years, he suffered from depression, because he considered himself as being incapable of living up to his father’s example of running the company.
In 1933, he entered Brown University and, although he was a poor student, he graduated in 1937. He then reluctantly joined IBM as a salesman. He was no good at the job, as he preferred to pursue his passion for flying and partying rather than calling up customers.
In 1945, he married Olive Fiel Cawley, with whom he had a son and four daughters.The Second World War released him from this uncomfortable position, and he participated in the war as a US armed forces pilot from 1940 to 1945. Watson flew throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific, and he proved to be an excellent pilot with nerves of steel.
He returned to IBM in 1946, and, a year later, was appointed vice president and member of the board of directors and, later, president. He soon realized that the company’s future lay in computers.
In the 1960s when IBM was the unrivalled leader of the computer business, the company set out to replace their products with a family of compatible computers that would be capable of meeting all customer needs. Thus, based on a small machine, customers were assured software compatibility as they added to their hardware resources without having to replace all equipment. This flexibility was to lead to a complete turnaround in company product policy, making former products obsolete. This was the inspiration behind the name of the popular IBM System/360. This decision entailed a serious economic risk, as it required an investment of five times IBM’s annual income at the time. However, the System/360 revolutionized the industry, and 35,000 IBM computers were installed in 1970 compared with 11,000 in 1964.
In 1971, he suffered a heart attack and he decreased his company commitments.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him United States Ambassador to Moscow, a position which he held until 1981.
In 1985, at the age of 70 years, he retired from IBM, taking the positions of emeritus president and member of the board.
Throughout his professional career, not only did he equal but he far exceeded his father, and IBM came to dominate the world computers market, with a share of 70%.
He died in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1993 at the age of 79 years.