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Academy of Achievement Thomas Watson

Thomas J. Watson*

Inducted 1998

Thomas J. Watson, Jr. was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IBM from 1956 through 1971. He led the company through a dynamic period of growth beginning with the period of mechanical tabulators and typewriters into the computer era. Under his leadership, Watson saw IBM grow from a medium-sized business to one of the largest industrial corporations in the world. He also saw growth in the area of employees from 72,500 to more than 270,000 employees at the time that he stepped down in 1971. During the same timeframe, IBM went from a gross income of $892 million to $8.3 billion. Such leadership prompted Fortune magazine to call Mr. Watson “the greatest capitalist who ever lived.”

Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1914, Thomas Watson, Jr. earned a B.A. degree from Brown University in 1937. He started his career with IBM as a salesman, but put it on hold to serve for five years as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. During his service, he rose to the rating of Senior Pilot and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He then returned to IBM to continue his career.

Mr. Watson was elected President of the company in January 1952, made Chief Executive Officer in May, 1956, and elected Chairman of the Board in May, 1961. Thomas Watson stepped down as Chairman and CEO in 1971, a year after suffering a heart attack, but he remained a member of IBM’s Board of Directors until 1984, except for a brief time out from 1979 to 1981 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Thomas J. Watson, Jr. died at the age of 79, on December 31, 1993 in Greenwich, Connecticut, following complications from a stroke.

*Deceased Member