After thirty-seven years at IBM, I will be retiring this coming June. I will continue to be involved with the company on a part-time, emeritus basis, contributing as appropriate where I can.
Thirty-seven years in one company is a long time indeed, especially in this day and age. I suspect that few will ask me why I am finally moving on. Indeed, many may wonder what took me so long.
In truth, I have been thinking about this change for a while now, especially since becoming eligible to retire seven years ago. But I could not quite bring myself to do it until now. Why is that? Well, IBM has been such a special place for me that it made my decision to retire very difficult. Let me offer some personal reflections by way of explanation.
First and foremost is the nature of the technical work in which I have been involved. Without a doubt, IBM is one of the great technology companies in the world, with arguably the best R&D labs in the private sector. But while I very much enjoy working on technology and its implications, I discovered early in my career that what I love even more are the many challenges involved in bringing technologies to the marketplace. Over and over, IBM has provided me with opportunities to indulge this love of mine, from mainframes and supercomputers to the Internet, open source and grid computing.
It is impossible to talk about my career at IBM without mentioning our first-rate people. Our people, especially the technical community I have worked so closely with all these years, have provided me with as supportive and stimulating a working environment as I could have hoped for. If anyone asked me for the "secret sauce" underlying whatever it is I have accomplished through the years, I would have to say that it is the exceptional quality of the talent with which I have been privileged to work with, not just within IBM, but outside in the wider world as well.
One of the advantages I found in working at IBM is the ability to have one foot in the world of technology and the other in the fascinating world of business. I cannot say enough about the inspiration I have gotten by interacting closely with so many of our clients, learning about their problems, how they use our products, what works well and what does not. Perhaps it is because of my education as a physicist, but I regard the hard practicality of the business world and the everyday rigors of the marketplace in general as the real world that we need to study, analyze and understand if we hope to help people with our technologies and skills.
More recently, prodded by our innovation initiatives at IBM, I have been asking myself seemingly “soft” questions about the intrinsic nature of business, especially what it means to be a globally integrated business in the 21st century. Revenue, profits and cash are clearly important. But at heart a business is a community of people organized to pursue common objectives. And increasingly, as people and communities interact with each other around the world, the cultural issues are becoming paramount. I am convinced that these are the life and death issues for companies, the keys to their ability to innovate and survive.
Beyond technology and business, my third major draw of working for IBM has been the ability to participate actively in public policy and other major societal matters. I have spent quite a bit of time dealing with government officials and their staffs, especially in Washington, discussing the key technology issues of our day and their implications for public policy. I have learned a lot from these interactions, in particular the importance of explaining our position on the issues and their relevance to society at large in language that is as clear as possible.
Through the years, I have enjoyed immensely my participation in various boards and committees charged with formulating national technical strategies, organizations such as the President’s IT Advisory Committee - where I also served as co-chair for two years, the Computer Sciences and Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council, and the boards of Argonne National Lab and Fermilab.
Finally, as someone who was born and grew up in Cuba, I am proud of IBM's admirable record regarding diversity. I have welcomed the opportunity to be involved with our Hispanic Leadership Council, as well as with our other diversity groups.
Beyond my continuing relationship with IBM, I am still working out my post-retirement plans. I want to increase my involvement with universities, for sure. At MIT, for example, where I have been a visiting professor of Engineering Systems for about a year, I am planning to teach a graduate seminar this Fall on Technology Advances, Business Transformation and Innovation, which will draw heavily on my experiences with the IBM Internet Division and our e-business strategy.
I most definitely plan to continue writing this blog. Blogging has turned out to be a really enjoyable experience for me, far more so than I expected.
The thrill of bringing new technologies into the real world, the challenge of making innovation real in the marketplace, and the opportunity to make a difference in society that I have experienced at IBM have not made this decision to retire an easy one. But it is finally time to move on to a new stage – and hopefully, to new thrills, challenges and opportunities. I am quite excited to see what shape this next stage of my life will take.