In Pursuit Of ‘Cool’ Factor, IBM Runs Afoul

Talent is everything in the fast paced world of technology. Amazon, Facebook and Google were able to achieve dominating success in their markets because they were founded and led by some of the brightest minds our generation has seen. Moreover, they were able to draw in incredible talent just like themselves to pursue big audacious goals that would impact the lives of billions around the globe. They didn’t have to try too hard to be perceived as ‘cool’ to the young, smart, and savvy because they were inherently the best place to work for ambitious tech professionals.

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IBM, on the other hand, has struggled with its perception among young people and has tried to change it by a gradual culling of its older workers in favor of bringing in more millennials. The company, however, denies the assertion and argues that its thousands of layoffs, or more precisely 50,000 to 100,000 in magnitude, were decided based on skills. In recent days, it has come to light that several lawsuits against IBM claim the company engaged in ageist practices. One claim is supported by a deposition given by a long time employee now 67 who had been with the company for 33 years.

Moreover, a former IBM vice president of human resources Alan Wild stated in one civil case that the company "laid off 50,000 to 100,000 employees in just the last several years" in order to transform its image to "[a] cool, trendy organization," like Google or Amazon, and not like "an old fuddy duddy organization."

Through a spokesperson, IBM has provided some comments, “In fact, since 2010 there is no difference in the age of our U.S. workforce, but the skills profile has changed dramatically,” said IBMer Edward Barbini. “That is why we have been and will continue investing heavily in employee skills and retraining — to make all of us successful in this new era of technology.”

Lawsuit or otherwise, IBM continues to charge forward in its commitment to catching and riding the wave of the cloud revolution. It is focused on capitalizing on its bold acquisition of and big bet on Red Hat. “There’s plenty of opportunity,” said CEO Ginni Rometty. “We’ll incent the entire IBM sales force to sell Red Hat while keeping Red Hat’s independence across all clouds.”

Perhaps once the smoke clears or settles, IBM will be able to improve its image and focus on business fundamentals. It should take a page out of Microsoft’s book and specialize in making software and services that businesses cannot live without. And it probably wouldn’t hurt if Ginni wore sneakers from time to time.