Five Key Lessons for Today from the Rise and Fall of Yesterday’s IT Leaders

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For the leadership of new companies, the critical success factors include first, a deep knowledge of the market, typically founded on first-hand experience with that sector. Second, a clear appreciation of the technology’s current reality and future trajectory. Third, sound judgment about people. And finally, “steadfastness” – the CEO’s ability to hold the direction he or she has selected even while pundits, customers, and especially direct lieutenants say he’s wrong.

Tom Watson, Jr. introduced tape storage over the objections of top sales executives, who feared erosion of the hugely profitable punch-card business. An Wang drove his company’s transitional leap from prior success in desktop calculators to far greater success in office computers – again over the disagreement of his vice president of sales. Lou Gerstner ignored the advice of press and pundits to break up IBM and jettison the mainframe, which remains profitable to the present time. Scott McNealy overrode his field representatives’ pleas to become a reseller of Microsoft/Intel products.

The IT sector is at another turning point as mobile devices dampen the demand for PCs – just as PCs formerly dampened and then buried the demand for minicomputers. Simultaneously, the purchase of new on-premise servers and licensed software is being displaced by public cloud infrastructure and software services. Add cybersecurity as another question mark for the next decade. In sum, this transformation points to an era of “creative destruction,” in the phrase coined by the Austrian economist on entrepreneurship Joseph Schumpeter. As agile and often new firms will produce creative new solutions, slow-footed companies will be destroyed.

These two prospects will require special assessment: the new companies rising to these opportunities and the old companies threatened by impending change. What lessons can be learned from the histories of corporate rises and falls during equally ferocious transformations of the past?

Ernest von Simson, a senior partner of Ostriker von Simson, a consultancy that assists the largest worldwide enterprises in the selection and deployment of advanced technologies, and author of The Limits of Strategy: Lessons in Leadership from the Computer Industry, has identified five key lessons.      


Related Topics : A Big Market for Big Data Jobs, Midmarket CIO, IT Management Automation, SharePoint, Technology Markets

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