IBM discusses insights during company's 100th anniversary

IBM, whose corporate headquarters are in Armonk, N.Y., has reached its 100-year anniversary. Over the years, it has collaborated with Carnegie Mellon on a number of innovative projects. (credit: Courtesy of xrrr via Flickr) IBM, whose corporate headquarters are in Armonk, N.Y., has reached its 100-year anniversary. Over the years, it has collaborated with Carnegie Mellon on a number of innovative projects. (credit: Courtesy of xrrr via Flickr)

The creation of Carnegie Mellon’s Andrew network, developing a Jeopardy!-competing supercomputer, and making a global business last for 100 years were just a few things IBM executives had to talk about during their centennial celebration lecture at Carnegie Mellon on Oct. 20.

This year marks the 100th year of IBM’s existence as a corporation. In 1962, just a few months after IBM turned 50 years old, then-CEO Thomas Watson Jr. explained how only two of the top 25 corporations in 1900 had survived through 1962, displaying how much of a feat it was for IBM to survive for 50 years. Similarly, of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies in 1962, IBM is one of six that still remained last year.

“Figures like these help to remind us that corporations are expendable and that success at best is an impermanent achievement which can, at all times, slip out of hand,” Wayne Balta, vice president of corporate and environmental affairs and product safety at IBM, said at the anniversary event. Balta received a degree in civil engineering from Carnegie Mellon in 1982.

IBM’s lecture aimed to review the different insights the company has gained throughout the past 100 years. “We don’t do this as only an occasion to celebrate our past, but instead we are looking ahead and thinking hard about what our 100-year history tells us about the world today and tomorrow,” Balta said.

Balta said that the corporation has learned three important lessons over the past 100 years. First, IBM’s leadership learned how an organization must change as the world economy changes. By creating and dispersing many sectors of IBM in many different countries “in order to operate amid the crazy quilt of regulations and trade barriers,” IBM became one of the earliest examples of a multinational company.

Second, the corporation learned how to change in response to changes in technology. Balta claimed that the most profound impact in the technological world has come from information technology and from how people can communicate across the globe.

The last lesson Balta mentioned was that an organization “must remain the same at its core, in the face of a changing world.”

Balta also touched on the topic of environmental sustainability as one of the issues people face when looking toward the future. He lauded the establishment of the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon and said that organizations worldwide should be asking themselves how they can keep sustainability as a priority, especially when the concept leaves the platform of mainstream media. “After all, it’s easy to be green when everyone’s watching. But real leadership involves what you do when no one’s watching,” he said.

“There have been a number of really notable innovations that have come out of Carnegie Mellon’s work with IBM over the years,” Carnegie Mellon Provost Mark Kamlet said at the lecture. One of the projects he mentioned was a prototype for a computing environment. “That project led to creation of the Andrew computing network, and CMU became the first university with a completely wired campus,” he said.

In addition to the Andrew computing network, Carnegie Mellon and IBM collaborated with other institutions around the world to build Watson, a supercomputer designed to answer questions in natural language. Watson appeared on national television when it competed on Jeopardy! against former show champions, and it also came to the Carnegie Mellon campus to compete in a Jeopardy!-like game show against students from both Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. According to, IBM recently introduced an application that provides content analytics similar to those programmed in Watson with the goal of helping to make diagnoses — but not treatment decisions — in hospitals.

Kamlet reflected on these collaborative efforts by saying, “We are very, very grateful and hope the partnership continues to thrive on both sides in the future.”