Oral Histories

Jon Iwata

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

Jon Iwata Biography

Jon Iwata leads IBM's marketing, communications and citizenship organization. This global team is responsible for market insights, the marketing of IBM’s portfolio of products and services, communications and corporate affairs, and stewardship of the IBM brand, recognized as one of the most valuable in the world. Jon and his team have led the development of IBM’s “Smarter Planet” strategy, which describes the company’s view of the next era of information technology and its impact on business and society.

Jon is a member of the IBM Operating Team, responsible for day-to-day marketplace execution, and the IBM Strategy Team, which focuses on long-term issues and opportunities. He is vice chairman of the IBM International Foundation. Jon joined the communications function of IBM in 1984 at the company’s Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley. In 1989, he joined IBM corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York. He was appointed vice president of Corporate Communications in 1995 and senior vice president, Communications, in 2002. He assumed his current role on July 1, 2008.

Jon is a member of the Technology Committee of the Museum of Modern Art and is a trustee of the Arthur W. Page Society. From 2006-2007, he served as chairman of The Seminar, a professional group consisting of chief communications officers. He holds a B.A. from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University.

Jon is co-inventor of a U.S. patent for advanced semiconductor lithography technology.


Interviewer: For which of your accomplishments are you most proud?

Iwata: I can’t lay claim to the great team that exists at IBM in communications because I think that, as I recounted, was started by my predecessor and I only furthered that work. My career has been marked mostly by the near death of IBM and our coming out of it. So I think that I’m most proud of the work that I did in partnership with Lou Gerstner and others in changing our culture, and it wasn’t one thing alone. It was many, many things to change the attitude and behavior of a population of people. I am proud of that. Part of that was the power of having, in our case in IBM, articulate a strong point of view to the outside world, which is another way of saying if you say I want to be a leader, then by definition you have to be leading people or clients or employees somewhere. So you better have a good agenda, or a good vision, or a good plan to lead them somewhere.

So I will cite two things very quickly that I contributed to. One was the development in the 1990’s of a strategy called e-business, which we have subsequently galvanized the entire company around and took out to the world. It had an enormous effect on employee not just morale, but direction. More recently we have a strategy called Smarter Planet, which has a lot to do with where we think technology is going today. What the two have in common now that I think about it is they are both forward-looking platforms, which simultaneously allow IBM to talk about where the world is going, where business is going, where technology is going, and then finally IBM and our products and services. But those kinds of agendas and platforms are very, very powerful because they very clearly help articulate a point of view and people don’t have to agree with it, but they can rally around it. They’re very hard to build because they have to be true and they have to be multi-dimensional. I guess I have had a role of both in the 1990’s the development of e-business and right now the development of what we call a Smarter Planet. In essence we have delivered to the corporation not just a campaign, but strategy. I am proud of that.