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6, 2000 April, 2000

Highlights—December 20, 2014

  • Seeking Alpha:

    Is IBM Really In Such Bad Shape? By Daniel James. Excerpt: As a shareholder, I'd love to be able to give a bullish call on IBM. However, this is difficult at the moment, due to ongoing headwinds that the company faces in terms of actually growing its business. It clearly needs to spend more on cloud computing, but instead of acquisitions, management seems more focused on share buybacks. If the company is able to show it can return to solid growth, the stock is a bargain. However, we don't have any guarantees on that right now.
  • Seeking Alpha:

    IBM Continues To Crumble. By Josh Arnold. Excerpts: Shareholders of IBM Corp. have had, well, let's say, an "interesting" year. The stock has been wildly volatile, as IBM's leadership team, financials and strategic direction have all been in doubt in investors' collective minds. This has led to some downright horrendous performance in the stock, and has turned Big Blue into the Big Bruise for investors. I personally have not been a fan of IBM, as I think the company lacks a direction - any direction - after years and years of trying to engineer profits via crafty financial dealings instead of growing the actual business. But, for whatever it's worth, IBM has declined quite substantially this year, and in light of that, I'll use this article to assess if the pain may be over soon or if the falling knife should be avoided. ...

    IBM has become a black hole that takes investor capital and wastes it on never-ending attempts to engineer a way to EPS growth, regardless of whether or not it's working. And the model's fair value calculation illustrates to me that investors have absolutely zero faith in IBM's ability to execute, because if they did, the stock would never have reached $157; it would have been bid up a long time ago. But no one trusts the numbers right now, and that's a serious problem for bulls. ...

    Though I sound quite negative, I don't have anything personally against IBM; I just loathe the fact that a company's management has been focused on engineering EPS growth rather than focusing on its people and its business for so many years. The roadmaps that were to double EPS through little actual production but lots of financial games built a house of cards with IBM that has subsequently come crashing down. I honestly don't see what Buffett sees in IBM; I just see a business that is shrinking, and clueless management. And yes, I know he's the best investor of all time, but he's wrong sometimes too.

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • This is really grim. I had always assumed--perhaps, naively--that really smart people ran IBM. God knows, they are paid enough, if that's any kind of a gauge (which, apparently, it isn't).
    • There once were smart people at IBM, but then those who ran them fired them, squeezed them out, and boosted profits. Now, all IBM is is a lot of book value (per author's valuation of IBM) and a lot of empty promises.

      Promises include: acquisitions for growth; IBM+Apple to compete with BBRY, promised free cash flow and profits.

      I called IBM a sell but anticipate the stock will simply drift lower and lower, until its small units start proving themselves. With the way IBM's run, this will take a while.

    • I worked for IBM for 32 years, retiring last year. It was a great company, run by excellent executives. However, as those executives left in the 80's/90's, the executives who moved in, were of a different ilk. Like many of their peers, they were more interested in quarterly, short-term maximization of profits, and not interested in long-term business planning. Lou Gerstner set the so-called vision of turning IBM from a hardware to a SW & services business in the 90's, and they have been running on auto-pilot with that, since. It's a terrible place to work, and has been for about 20 years. The focus continues to be on cutting labor costs, instead of trying to grow revenue. Ask anyone not in an executive position, and they will most likely tell you the same. This article is right on.
    • IBM has touted it's "turnaround" since 1995 with clients and potential customers to win business for 20 years. It worked well as they transformed the business from mostly hardware to more services and software orientation and the resultant financial performance wowed everyone. That story doesn't work anymore. Clients must be pushing back:
      • "If you're so good at this, why isn't your business growing?"
      • "If your analytics are so perceptive, why aren't they working for you?"
      • "After you've cut all the fat of of the system, how do you truly grow economic value?"
      • "What do you invest in, how do you make the investment decisions?"
      • "What are the benefits of your cloud solutions?"
      • "Why is mobile so important, how can I benefit?"

      Funny, IBM does not seem to have answers to those questions...yet. Not sure they will come easily...things are changing too quickly and IBM can't muster the messages quickly enough before the market changes. Fickle times.

      That journey since 1995:

      • Along the way, Finance took over the lead role of "Fiscally" running the company.
      • Cost cutting focused on employee actions in which lists were created based on billable utilization at the exclusion of knowledge capital. Peter G. has much deeper insights than I could ever hope to articulate in a brief comment here.
      • R&D (the seed of organic growth) spending was maintained but oversight (or lack thereof) resulted in many patents being 1) commercially unviable or 2) # patents is a result of employees gaming the IBM system to create any # of "patent applications" to pad one's performance review. To wit, what else besides Watson (struggling to be commercialized) comes even close to a breakthrough technology? Hmm, nothing I can think of. Do a patent search for IBM patents in the past 5 years and read through a few...it's amazing what you'll read...much of it is nonsense.
      • Sales (the fertilizer for organic growth) took a back seat and was handcuffed by what Finance would allow to be spent on winning new customers. Many other administrative functions put offshore and labor arbitraged. The ability to pursue new business in the world's largest economy hamstrung by a lack of onshore domestic resources and capability...lack of IBM faith in the might of the US economic engine.
      • Only the biggest, most traditional, easiest to understand opportunities are funded today (cloud, Watson, mobile, social, analytics — but to what end?) Hard to innovate in that environment. Plus, what's counted as cloud revenue, analytics revenue, mobile, etc? Hard to say because so much is part of bigger deals that include so much other stuff that's it's hard to say what's really "new stuff being sold".

      Organic growth requires innovation coupled with a leap of faith on a few compelling bets. There are no gamblers here that I can see. Maybe Ginny is a gambler; no evidence yet except for throwing out the 2015 Roadmap. I think it's too early to tell. She may have some good cards in her hand, but I don't see any "tells" yet and she's betting after the flop, so few cards left to play.

      Lastly, employee morale is well...most of the best educated, highly motivated contributors (U.S. employees with advanced degrees loyal to their U.S. employer) have been replaced with thousands from third-world countries with third-world educations lacking global insight and strategic depth; part of the "financial engineering" — enough's been said on that.

      So yes, IBM lost its way somewhere around 1/2 way through its transformation when it failed to capitalize on its new found stability to reinvest in meaningful innovation and place a few intelligent bets; but instead chose to "financially engineer" (see point 1 above) continued financial performance through M&A, stock buybacks and increasing dividends.

    • The stock will continue to drop; the ship is sinking. It may rise with the tide, but it's still going down.
    • I'm an IBM bull wannabe, but I'm no where near jumping in at this point. I think there's further downside. I also have no confidence in the current management, which is part of the reason I think there's further downside

      One area of concern for me that Tim mentioned is the morale and treatment of employees. I think layoffs have been necessary, but its the manner in which they do them and how they view the employees, which as Tim pointed out, are as "costs" rather the people. Basically, IBM management has alienated their work force. Energizing the employees and getting their buy-in needs to be part of the company transition. It appears to be completely off their radar right now.

      Speaking of layoffs, I would like IBM management to focus on their bloated mid- and upper-level management layers, which have basically been ignored during the on-going annual workforce layoffs. With less workers now, there are management layers that are no longer needed.

      I would also like to see a change to the IBM executive compensation. The current stock option system rewards them for short-term performance without regard to the long-term ramifications. Their viewpoint is short term. They leave IBM with cash in hand while long-term investors are holding the stock. I would like to see a system where the executives have more of a long-term vested interest in IBM.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • “Fulfilling work, slow career growth”

      Former Employee — Senior Managing Consultant. I worked at IBM full-time (more than 10 years).

      Pros: Excellent benefits and flexibility in scheduling. The organization is adamant about supporting a diverse work force. Large customer base provides a variety of consulting opportunities. Many areas of technology to interest the most selective geek in each of us.

      Cons: Pay is decent but bonuses are insulting compared to similar organizations. Many technical education opportunities provided, but personal education and tuition assistance are outright lies. I worked for IBM for 14 years and I applied for tuition assistance to get a Masters. I was always turned down because it was not "required" for my job. I went to a new organization and was approved for assistance without even being asked about my current role. Now THAT is how to treat someone who wants to improve themselves and the organization!

      Advice to Senior Management: Career advancement in the technical track is not well-documented and obscure. Even managers do not know how to get someone to Distinguished Engineer from a band 9. A true career track with ALL the check blocks visible would help guide those who want more out of their careers. If raises cannot be more than 1%, and qualification for bonuses are not clearly defined, then just come out and say that you will not give these things out. That way, less people will be dissatisfied when they do not occur because they will know ahead of time it is not going to happen.

    • “Services Delivery Manager”

      Former Employee — Anonymous Employee. I worked at IBM full-time (more than 10 years). Pros: The people are great to work with on a daily basis. Cons: Upper, upper management has forgotten what made IBM great. Their greatest resource used to be the people. That is no longer true with the recent resource actions they use to meet the bottom line. Advice to Senior Management: Recognize the employee like you use to in the 90's and early 2000's
    • “IBM — Top Heavy”

      Current Employee — Anonymous Employee in Raleigh, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time (more than 10 years).

      Pros: Technical competence is high; lots of skilled people that understand and perform their job very well. And, for the most part, everyone works hard and is willing to help each other.

      Cons: There are far more planners, project managers, sales-people and managers than actual 'doers' — that implement the technical plans created by others; an 'inverted pyramid' organization where the majority of the effort is on requirements that cascade downward from on-high to a small number of over-worked, stressed out implementers.

      Advice to Senior Management: Build teams of competence BEFORE customer commitments are made by those who will have nothing to do with the implementation, and allow those personnel to create a plan that is THEN agreed to by the customer.

    • “Channel Sales Manager”

      Former Employee — Channel Sales Manager in Phoenix, AZ. I worked at IBM full-time (more than 3 years). Pros: Exciting challenging work. Opportunity to make $$. Good opportunities to learn and travel. Cons: Unstable environment. Restructuring takes place at 6 month intervals. Sales force spends 50% of their time looking for their next job. Advice to Senior Management: Think of ways to stabilize the work force by stabilizing management.
    • “The Consulting by Degrees Program needs a lot of work”

      Current Employee — Consultant in New York, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time (more than an year).

      Pros: The salary is competitive for new graduates, and the healthcare coverage is excellent. There are a lot of great employees at IBM that really want to help younger team members. I've had senior team members set aside time to make sure that I understood what was going on in the project, and that I was really learning something.

      Cons: The CBD program is set up very poorly and delivers little value to recent graduates. The amount of paperwork that needs to be filled out for project assessments, year end reviews, and promotions is astounding and very redundant.

      Advice to Senior Management: Work on the training that is offered to CBDers, and streamline some of the HR processes (year end reviews and promotions). The current training program is useless, and it is difficult to get approval for the types of training that would actually help younger employees with their project roles. The amount of paperwork that needs to be filled out for reviews and promotions is quite frankly insane, especially considering the amount of work the employees are already doing.

    • “Not the old IBM”

      Current Employee — Managing Consultant. I have been working at IBM full-time (more than 8 years). Pros: Salary is acceptable. Bright and dedicated co-workers make work satisfactory. Cons: Benefits declining. High billing rates, to support a large management structure, causing IBM difficulties in securing new contracts. Consulting seems an unstable part of the organization at present. Ms. Rometty was handed a ticking time bomb.
    • “Account Executive”

      Current Employee — Account Executive in New York, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time (more than 3 years). Pros: IBM truly has global reach, which if used to one's advantage can be very exciting. They also feature many, many talented employees. Cons: Senior leadership is sociopathic and is looting the company. There is no other way to describe it. IBM is dying. It will take a long, long time to die, but the disease is called incompetence and I'm afraid it's terminal. Advice to Senior Management: Sociopaths don't take advice.
  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alerts. This weeks headlines include:
    • Senate Passes $1.1 Trillion Federal Budget Agreement, Obama Signs it into Law
    • Paul Ryan’s Way of Cutting Medicare to Reemerge in New Congress
    • Budget or another Topic on Your Mind? Write a Letter to the Editor, Win a Pen!'
    • Scotty Watts Retires as President of the Nevada Alliance, Warren Danford from UAW
    • “Story Warriors” Survey – Please Fill out if you Participated
    • Save the Date: Alliance Legislative Conference will be July 7-10, 2015
New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 12/14/14:

    On Planet Ginni all is well. Internally she is getting hit on her 3Q message with posts being deleted and likes being removed from a man that is now a legend, and if I say "drop kick a moose" those with access will know what I mean!

    At the moment we cannot connect IBM devices to IBM WiFi; OTR is now looking exotic compared with a piece of garbage that is now called TRIPS; we are light years behind in the apps world and the Apple deal will not save us from the incompetent morons that push out apps that a 5-year old coded in the 90s.

    Morale remains appalling — people are not going the extra yard and will not. They/we do the job and then shuffle off home and that's it.

    Planet Ginni and her execs worldwide do not comprehend what a team is or how to motivate their staff. Most people are leaving for much higher jobs or hiding out in plain sight not caring whether they get the bullet or not. This company will not turn around despite the platitudes coming down the line internally.

    All managers have to "blog", and 90% of them remain unread apart from the brown-nosers that "like" the post to ingratiate themselves with management.

    Our code is so far behind it is not funny. Our hardware is breaking with regularity. And that is why the stock will continue to slide. It cannot and will not improve.

    An puh-lease do not say "it is just as bad elsewhere" — that is the lamest argument anyone can offer. -Silver IBMer-

  • Comment 12/14/14:

    @-Silver IBMer-, WiFi connect problem is related to a rollout from the CISO. Deleted posts are not new; try commenting on an IBM post on LinkedIn. If it's not blue kool-aid, rah rah, it's deleted. We've laid off skilled technical folks and hired self described "Passionate Social Media" types in their place. Noted too are re-posts by managers particularly in the Security Services organization who don't seem to do anything other than that. -gone-
  • Comment 12/14/14:

    The 50 happiest places to work in America — http://finance.yahoo.com/news/50-happiest-companies-america-133136248.html. Not so shocking at this point of course, but IBM not even in the Top 50. -@N0NYm0U$ -
  • Comment 12/16/14:

    Steve Bingham has been left or been pushed out from IBM Australia. He previously was the head of GBS in Australia & New Zealand. Next round in Jan 15. -GBS Gal-
  • Comment 12/18/14:

    Peace be with you all this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa. Oh, by the way, that peace will be shattered in January when some of you reading this will find out that you will lose your jobs in the forthcoming RA that will be announced. Please join the Alliance NOW. Is $15 a month worth it? I think it is. Thank you to Lee, Tom, Earl, Rick, Jim and all the others fighting the good fight! -International Bowel Movements-
  • Comment 12/18/14:

    GBS Gal — surprise, surprise — ex PWC guy fails again. Joining Jim Bramante in the good ol PWC boy promotion to failure route no doubt. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 12/19/14:

    This GE Jack Welch created abomination called stack ranking is not only destroying morale at IBM but at Yahoo according to the latest Marissa Mayer fallout articles. Of course IBM also stupidly followed through with this method likes the lemmings they are in management with the same destructive affects on morale that is had on companies like Yahoo and even Microsoft. It resulted in the "lost decade" from destructive effects on morale.

    Fear of being laid off for being a "low performer" as a motivator apparently is not sustainable as people burn out from it.

    Also the big take away is human performance in a pool of people does not fall exactly on a bell curve. You know, only x amount of 1's can be handed out and y amount of 2's etc! IBM management idiots! Is scary that you can be let go even if you are a good performer because of the bell curve performance scoring. Get union folks...stop being mentally abused by greed and inept management! -foo-

  • Comment 12/19/14:

    A friend became an IBMer after the Rational acquisition, and resigned from IBM ten years ago. Yesterday this happened: "Just got to fill out a survey as an IBM alum. The questions were trying to get at what I think of the company, whether I'd recommend it to others as an employer or service provider, and what they can do to improve. One of my answers is that they could treat their employees like the competent and intelligent human beings that they are. It probably went downhill from there. Ten years after resigning and I still haven't developed any affection towards the place." -16YearsAndCounting-
If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

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