Four guiding questions to make a company great (Sam Palmisano, 2003/2011)

Four guiding questions were given in 2003 to the top 300 managers at IBM to make the company great (again):

  • “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”
  • “Why would somebody work for you?”
  • “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”
  • “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”

Mr. Palmisano formulated those questions in the months after he became C.E.O. in March 2002 His predecessor, Louis V. Gerstner Jr., recruited to I.B.M. in 1993, had already pulled the company out of a financial tailspin, first reducing the size of the work force and cutting costs, and then leading a remarkable recovery.

In meetings after he took over, Mr. Palmisano told colleagues that I.B.M. was still good, but that it wasn’t the standard-setting corporation that it had been when he joined in 1973. (A history major at Johns Hopkins and a star offensive lineman on the football team, he turned down a tryout with the Oakland Raiders of the N.F.L. for a sales job at the company.)

The four questions, he explains, were a way to focus thinking and prod the company beyond its comfort zone and to make I.B.M. pre-eminent again.
[….]

“This needs to be our mission and goal, to make I.B.M. a great company,” he said, according to executives who attended the gathering. [….]

“The hardest thing is answering those four questions,” Mr. Palmisano says. “You’ve got to answer all four and work at answering all four to really execute with excellence.”

“Even a Giant Can Learn to Run” | Steve Lohr | Dec. 31, 2011 | New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/business/how-samuel-palmisano-of-ibm-stayed-a-step-ahead-unboxed.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Samuel J. Palmisano, who is departing as I.B.M.'s chief, devised four questions that pushed his huge company to stay a step ahead of rivals.