Sales Focus versus Product Focus at IBM

I had seen the problem of the sales force controlling company decisions while I was working at IBM. I told the story to Steve, in hopes of making him speak out more forcefully to the Apple decision-makers.

Sales was the real power behind IBM’s success and had been the driving force since Tom Watson Sr. became the company’s first CEO. I illustrated the fact to Steve by telling him the story of a run-in I had with the man who was the IBM head of sales, John Akers, when I was manager of a company unit in California.

John went to the IBM executive committee and recommended that I accept the transfer of 200 programmers from Manhattan—people who were on the rolls of the sales department but, John said, were not needed in sales.

I visited the Manhattan facility, talked to a number of the programmers, and found that none of them wanted to move to California, and especially not to the part of California where my unit was located, an area the programmers considered a “cultural wasteland.” It was clear to me John’s plan would not work.

However, he convinced the executive committee, and I was told to make it happen. After a struggle and many concessions, we got about half of them to come to California; the rest quit and left the company.

After the crew from Manhattan had gotten settled in, one of the New York programmers came to me with the suggestion that we try the idea called vanpooling. IBM would buy some vans—vehicles that could hold a driver and ...

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