The Maverick and His Machine | Kevin Maney

Summary of: The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM
By: Kevin Maney


Get ready to delve into the captivating world of Thomas Watson, Sr. and the pivotal role he played in shaping IBM into the powerhouse it is today. Through ‘The Maverick and His Machine’, author Kevin Maney unveils the secrets behind Watson’s unconventional career journey, his legendary management style, and the crucial business decisions made throughout IBM’s history. Discover how Watson transitioned from a controversial past in National Cash Register to the indomitable force behind the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R), which ultimately became IBM. Learn about the friendships and challenges he encountered, and how they had a lasting impact on IBM’s growth with the focus on research and new products.

The Rise and Fall of Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson was a salesperson for National Cash Register (NCR) before he began his real career at the age of 40. In 1903, NCR founder, John H. Patterson, asked him to set up a dummy company to destroy competitors in the used cash register business. Watson did an exemplary job, leading to his promotion as a sales manager in 1910. Watson learned a great deal at NCR, which was dominated by Patterson, who had strict rules for everything. However, the basis for Watson’s success, the old, used-cash register subterfuge, led to a government anti-trust suit against the company. In 1912, Watson and 29 other NCR employees and former employees were indicted. He found out about his indictment by reading the newspaper. Found guilty, Watson was sentenced to a year in prison. Although he never went to jail, in 1913, Patterson fired him.

IBM’s Transformation under Tom Watson

Tom Watson transformed the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R) into International Business Machines (IBM) by implementing radical management techniques and a new culture. He believed in the benefits of automation and committed to research and development, which set IBM apart from other companies during the Great Depression. While his management system encouraged input from staff, he was the undisputed final authority and arbiter, and established a personality cult that praised him as a “genius.” Despite his progressive views on some matters, he failed to rally opinion against Hitler and made appeasing gestures to Nazi contacts. Eventually, Watson’s son, Tom Jr., succeeded him at IBM and led the company into the computer business.

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