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Father to Son - You don't measure up

Updated on August 6, 2014


IBM CEO talks about father son relationship

It's hard to believe Thomas Watson, Jr, a man that made it to the top as Ceo of IBM felt the sting of a father's rejection.

For more than thirty years I interviewed some of the world’s most famous people. One famous person who was also an author told me on the air that if anyone wanted to succeed in business that person should be as good a communicator as I was. It was the highest compliment I ever received on my interviewing skills.


As Father’s Day approaches, I remember vividly the interview I did eighteen years ago with Thomas Watson Jr. the former CEO of IBM. Watson was he selected Time magazine’s Man of the Year in the 1950’s ; he is credited with being the person who turned IBM from the foremost maker of typewriters to becoming a leading manufacturer of computers.


I never met Watson, but I interviewed him by phone on my radio show about the book he had written Father, Son &Co: My Life at IBM and Beyond. I read the book as I always tried to before an interview. I found it fascinating and moving. On the air Watson shared the relationship with his father the former CEO of IBM, a man who never really retired but went on working as Chairman of the Board. I mean working; he showed up every day, sometimes before Watson himself did. Although Watson loved his Dad, theirs was a complicated relationship. His father could be very harsh in his judgments of his son. Looking back, Watson believed that his father suffered from would now be called clinical depression” He never felt his father truly trusted him enough to turn the company over to him. Many in the world looked at Watson Jr., president of one of the world’s largest companies, as a man whose vision led that company to become an international leader in technology. His father did not seem to be convinced that his son could handle the job.. The senior Watson believed in typewriters ,not these new fangled computers; that view was shared by most of the top administration at IBM. Watson Jr. struggled not only to make his father see his vision but with his own self-esteem. The man he loved and respected above all others didn’t believe in him, or so he thought.


"When my father died in 1956 — six weeks after making me head of IBM — I was the most frightened man in America. For ten years he had groomed me to succeed him, and I had been a young man in a hurry, eager to take over, cocky and impatient. Now, suddenly, I had the job — but what I didn't have was dad there to back me up."

He told me after the show that he had never revealed some of the personal information about his life that he had shared with me. We stayed in touch. He was in retirement and spending a good deal of time on his yacht The Palawan off the coast of New England. I wrote to him in care of his niece who lived on the mainland and he in turn gave her letters to send to me. Thomas Watson Jr. touched my life in some deep way I don’t understand. Perhaps it was his ability to capture in his book that complex relationship between grown child and parent. It was something that I had come to believe; it is the opinions of our parents, which can have more of an impact on us than the opinions of any others.


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    • marlenebr profile image

      marlenebr 8 years ago from Florida

      You're on your way with publishing your first hub; looking forward to others in the future.