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Summary Article: Watson, Thomas John, Jr
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US business executive. As president of IBM (International Business Machines) 1952–56, he placed the company at the centre of the industry. Appointed chief executive (1956–71), he committed IBM to a new line of computers in 1962, the S/360s, which revolutionized the industry. He was chair of the executive committee (1971–79) and remained active at IBM into the 1980s, with two years out to serve as US ambassador to the USSR (1979–81). His father, Thomas Watson, Sr, was the founder of IBM in 1924.

Watson's authorization of a $5 billion expenditure to develop a new line of computers in the early 1960s, reputedly about three times IBM's revenues at that time, has been described as one of the largest gambles in corporate history. The groundbreaking S/360, unlike existing computers that were built to complete specific tasks, was a compatible computer for all data processing requirements; customers could start with a small machine and upgrade as demands increased, without losing the original investment. It dominated the computer industry, taking the lead over Sperry Rand, which had manufactured the first large commercial computer, the UNIVAC, and increasing IBM's revenues to $7.5 billion by 1970.

Watson was born in Dayton, Ohio, the eldest son of US executive Thomas Watson, Sr, the founder of IBM. He graduated from Brown University in 1937 and joined IBM in October of that year as a salesman in Manhattan, New York. He then served as a pilot with the US Air Army Corps in World War II (1941–45). After the war he had intended to become a pilot for United Airlines, but was apparently persuaded to return to IBM by the Army Air Forces' Inspector General in 1946. Watson became vice-president of IBM in 1947 and then second-in-command and president from 1952 until his father's death in 1956.

Watson recognized that the future of IBM was in computers, not the tabulators on which the company had been built. In spite of opposition from his father, he recruited electronics experts and new managers he called ‘scratchy’, and built new plants to create a new generation of products. In the 1960s he ventured vast sums on the development of the S/360, and took the lead in the computer industry.

Watson, who had established a more relaxed, decentralized style of management, splitting the company into six autonomous divisions, stepped down as chief executive in 1971 following a heart attack. In 1990 Watson co-authored his autobiography Father Son & Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond.


Watson, Thomas (John), Jr

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