The Watson Dynasty: The Fiery Reign and Troubled Legacy of IBM's Founding Father and Son

Richard S. Tedlow, Author
Richard S. Tedlow, Author HarperBusiness $26.95 (340p) ISBN 978-0-06-001405-6
Reviewed on: 11/01/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 352 pages - 978-0-06-145486-8
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-06-145483-7
Paperback - 340 pages - 978-0-06-001406-3
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-06-188214-2
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-06-145488-2
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The soul of corporate man is insightfully explored in this engaging biographical study of the family that built IBM. With a prescient vision of the importance of information processing, Thomas Watson Sr. took over the rudderless conglomerate in 1914, bringing it over the decades into the forefront of the modern bureaucratic economy and the computer revolution. But IBM's corporate culture was not quite the hyper-rational technocracy the company came to symbolize. Starting out as a salesman under National Cash Register's charismatic founder John Patterson,""the father of modern salesmanship,"" Watson elaborated IBM's salesmanship ethos to""totalitarian"" heights, complete with company songs that celebrated Watson's personality cult (""T. J. Watson, you're a leader fine, the greatest in the land"") in terms usually reserved for North Korean dictators. Business historian Tedlow ably analyzes IBM's evolving business strategies, but focuses on the human side, especially the tormented relationship, replete with Freudian overtones, between Watson Sr. and Watson Jr., an energetic playboy who slowly emerged from his father's shadow to succeed him at IBM's helm. Although Tedlow sometimes over-emphasizes their Oedipal wranglings, his approach sheds useful light on the social psychology of IBM's rise--the""ego-shattering rejection"" experienced by salesmen, which the""religiosity"" of IBM's culture was meant to assuage; the techniques for establishing rapport and credibility that transformed the salesman from con-artist to expert consultant in the eyes of customers; the humiliations routinely meted out by abusive bosses to long-suffering organization men. Tedlow is both admiring of and aghast at its protagonists, and his well-researched and briskly written account is a revealing look at the making of corporate America.
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