Bob Moffatt, who was tapped to be general manager of the company's Systems and Technology Group last summer when lifer Bill Zeitler, who has been an IBM systems exec since he left college, retired, is a probably a contender. Moffatt ran IBM's PC business (sold off to Lenovo) and its printer business (sold off to Ricoh) and has spent years running IBM's supply chain and cutting costs as operations have been moved overseas. Running STG is his first stab at running a big piece of IBM that actually has a hope of making money. I just hope Moffatt doesn't sell off the server business.
Ginni Rometty is also a contender, I think. She started out her career at General Motors, and eventually ran IBM's vertical industry business dedicated to financial services and insurance, including stints in Switzerland and Japan. (IBM likes its best executives to get a global perspective.) She eventually was put in charge of Global Services for the Americas and then was put in charge for marketing and sales for all of Global Services.
When IBM bought the consulting business of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Rometty was put in charge of that integration, and when Global Services was divided into two pieces because it had become too big, she was put in charge of Global Business Services. This bit of IBM has about a quarter of its employees and about a fifth of its revenues.
Linda Sanford, who has the nebulous title of senior vice president, on demand transformation and information technology, is also a contender. Sanford helped found IBM's supercomputer business in the early 1990s, and has been a general manager in charge of storage (when it grew) and mainframes (when IBM made the difficult transition from bipolar to CMOS mainframe engines). The job she has now is really something akin to chief technology officer at Big Blue, where she is tweaking and tuning the company's systems and business processes. (Don't you just hire Global Services to do that?)
There's one more possible contender who is not on the direct reports list. The IBMers I spoke to say that Rod Adkins, who is senior vice president of development and manufacturing within Systems and Technology Group, could be in the running. Adkins was a general manager for desktop PCs way back when, and was once general manager for Unix systems within Server Group when that was a separate job. He has experience as a high-level executive in printer, mainframe, storage, and software products at IBM, too.
Of course, there is one other possibility that is not yet on the list of direct reports to Palmisano.
Like Gerstner, this person is an ex-McKinsey consultant. (If such a thing is possible.) He was the founder of a small software company that was acquired by a much bigger one during the dot-com buildup. He rose through the ranks at that company very quickly, like Palmisano, and who found himself in charge of a struggling IT giant that he is trying to transform, like Gerstner. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I am talking about Jonathan Schwartz, president and CEO at Sun Microsystems. Well, for maybe another week or so.
$8bn seems like an awful lot to pay for some software and servers and a potential new CEO some day. Anyway, the idea seems to strike the IBMers I spoke to with a kind of horror. (Many cursed, some spat, but then they all laughed.) Which was the fun bit about April Fool's. It will be even funnier should it, by some strange twist of fate, come to pass.
Stranger things have happened. Like AT&T buying NCR, or IBM buying Sun. ®