FATHER SON & CO.: My Life at IBM and Beyond by
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FATHER SON & CO.: My Life at IBM and Beyond

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A candid and absorbing autobiography from the man primarily responsible for transforming IBM from a formidable supplier of tabulating machines, time clocks, and typewriters into a data-processing colossus. Though long the heir apparent to the corporate dynasty established by his charismatic but autocratic father, young Watson did not have an easy time of it. An indifferent student, he barely made it through Brown Univ. World War II, in which he helped set up America's Lend-Lease program in the Soviet Union, gave him a better sense of his own worth. With punch cards on the ropes during the postwar era, for example, the ex-Air Corps colonel was confident enough to battle his dominating parent to get the company into computers. If the results of this decision now seem foreordained, it was at the time (the early 1950's) a gutsy, odds-against gamble. Watson père died at 82 in 1956 shortly after ceding complete control of IBM's global empire to his eldest son. Though daunted by the loss of his difficult, demanding father, the new CEO performed well, presiding over a period of spectacular gain. While antitrust actions and the problems attendant to growing at a double, digit pace tested his stewardship, IBM left its rivals far behind in markets throughout the world. But as Watson makes clear, success exacted a personal toll. When he suffered a heart attack in 1970 at 56, however, the author was able to disengage himself from what, for all its size, was widely viewed as a family firm. But Watson the restless author did not go gently into the good night of retirement. A yachtsman as well as an aviator, he traveled by boat and plane to remote venues, including the Arctic Circle. A lifelong liberal, he also took public positions on touchy subjects like the Vietnam War and arms control, which alienated many fellow businessmen. As Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Moscow during the Afghanistan invasion, moreover, Watson was frustrated in his ambition to help improve US/USSR relations. By 1987, though, the author was allowed to take a sentimental journey (by executive jet) that retraced the trans-Siberian route he'd flown as a young ferry pilot. A dead-honest, often elegiac memoir that not only provides an inside view of a world-class enterprise but also probes the mysteries of becoming one's own man, carrying on in the face of loss and wielding power in responsible fashion.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
Publisher: Bantam