Why IBM Is In Decline

Steve Denning:

It’s been a striking week for IBM. In its June 2014 issue, Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an interview with IBM’s former CEO Sam Palmisano, in which describes how he triumphantly “managed” investors and induced IBM’s share price to soar.
 But IBM also made it to the front cover of Bloomberg Businessweek (BW) with a devastating article: “The Trouble With IBM.” According to BW, Palmisano handed over to his unfortunate successor CEO, Ginni Rometty, a firm with a toxic mix of unsustainable policies.
 The key to Palmisano’s success in “managing” investors at IBM was—and is–“RoadMap 2015”, which promises a doubling of the earnings per share by 2015. The Roadmap is what induced Warren Buffett to invest more than $10 billion in IBM in 2011, along with many other investors, who were impressed with the methodical way in which IBM was able to make money. (Buffett’s investment was striking because of his long-standing and publicly announced aversion to investing in technology, which he confessed he didn’t understand.)
 After all, IBM under Palmisano had doubled earnings per share in Roadmap 2010, and now it is “on track” to do the same by 2015 under the leadership of Ginni Rometty, another long-time IBMer, who took over as CEO in 2012. She has embraced the Roadmap with as much gusto as her predecessor.
 Yet for critics of IBM like BW, “Roadmap 2015” is precisely what is killing IBM. According to BW, IBM’s soaring earnings per share and its share price are built on a foundation of declining revenues, capability-crippling offshoring, fading technical competence, sagging staff morale, debt-financed share buybacks, non-standard accounting practices, tax-reduction gadgets, a debt-equity ratio of around 174 percent, a broken business model and a flawed forward strategy.