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The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM Paperback – Aug 3 2004

4.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 485 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (Aug. 3 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471679259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471679257
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 3.5 x 22.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 875 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #433,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The story of Watson's transformation of the disorganized, amorphous Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company into streamlined, world-famous IBM receives a spirited telling by Maney, a USA Today technology columnist. Access to previously unexplored records has provided juicy raw material, including letters and internal memos, to bring America's first celebrity CEO to life in this warts-and-all biography. Watson (1874- 1956) saw the strategic value of corporate culture early and was protective of what he built; Maney argues that the strength of that culture later allowed IBM to survive the potentially devastating effects of Watson's personality flaws. Charismatic, optimistic and generous, Watson was also self-absorbed and psychologically ruthless in getting things done his way. Hard to work for and unable to distinguish between the company and himself, he also behaved like a dictatorial CEO and wreaked havoc with his family. Watson's mania for overreaching peaked when he accepted a decoration from Hitler in 1937 under the deluded impression that Hitler would follow Watson's campaign for world peace through world trade; according to Maney, that episode illustrates how out-of-control Watson's ego had grown. Yet, as Maney makes clear in this timely tale of the man who made information into an industry and discovered the power of corporate culture, Watson wasn't just the best business story at the end of the 1930s; he had become a great American success story that captured the popular imagination.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


..."a rich and thorough portrait that goes right back to turn-of-the-century America..." ("Business Voice, March 2003)

"Maney's book should hold great appeal not only for avid business readers but also for devotees of the vicissitudes of financial dynasties." ("Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2003)

..."Maney has written a timely and authoritative biography. Without lapsing into hero worship, he presents a great, if flawed, man in all his humanity." ("Business Week, May 12, 2003)

"A much more lively and nuanced picture of the senior Watson can be found in Kevin Maney's excellent new biography, "The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson Sr. and the Making of I.B.M." ("The New York Times, May 12, 2003)

..."the author's delightful anecdotes showcase the quirky, human side of what became a major knowledge-based company." ("Harvard Business Review, May 2003)

..."excellent use of transcripts... should be recommended reading for anyone who seriously wants to be a business mogul..." ("Economist, 10 May 2003)

..."formidable in its research, vivid, insightful and often hilarious..." ("Management Today, June 2003)

..."an intriguing study of the man who made IBM, Thomas Watson..." ("New Scientist, 7 June 2003)

..."Maney has done a splendid job of getting inside his subject and bringing the enigmatic Watson and his contributions richly to life." ("Library Journal, June 15, 2003)

" ... it's the definitive work to date... " (Focus, July 2003)

" ... a compelling account of one of the twentieth century's most important business leaders... " (Information Age, June 2003)

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
All great stories have a good guy and a bad guy. In this story, it's the same guy. Thomas Watson, Sr., by sheer force of personality, created IBM.
The best part of this book is the IBM songs at the end of every chapter. They are hillarious, but probably no more so than some of the silly cheers dot.coms used to pump up their employees.
But back to the story: Mr. Watson created the first tech growth company of the 20th century. Mr. Maney had unbelievable access to Mr. Watson's personal notes and correspondence as the primary resource to tell how he created IBM. Some of the details about meetings, drawn from the transcribed minutes, give an eerie "you are there" quality to the book. One feels almost as terrorized as the executives in those meetings.
In reading the book, one gets the clear message that Mr. Maney would have really liked to have met Mr. Watson. He truly admires his subject while at the same time showing warts and all. This is not a soft treatment of Mr. Watson. Yet, you can almost hear Mr. Maney saying between the lines, "I just wish I could have met that old S.O.B."
This book holds great detail but is an easy read. Mr. Maney's style covers the point without belaboring it. The book is often funny, sometimes sad but never disappointing.
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Format: Hardcover
If IBM and computers are synonymous, so are Watson and IBM. Whatever the criticisms and the controversies surrounding the 3 magical alphabets in blue, IBM is IBM. To build such a company from ground up, offering solutions to business and scientific computing and thereby acting as the catalyst for the process of economic progress during the most part of the twentieth century is by no means an ordinary feat. That was exactly the material Thomas Watson Sr was made of. Watson has done his job and done it well and now Kevin Maney completes the rest by bringing this story in a truly remarkable manner to our bookshelves.
It is difficult not to fall in love with Watson Sr and his beloved company even half way through the book. From his humble beginnings to the misfortune at NCR, for nearly forty years Watson Sr is just another story of struggles, ups and downs. But to him, life just begins at forty with his job at CTR and of course the birth of Tom Watson Jr. The birth of IBM and its growth under the paternalistic care of Watson Sr through depressions, wars, booms and uncertainties gets a lion's share of coverage in this book. Watson Sr took big business risks bordering on a propensity to gamble, pushing IBM into higher orbits. Luck is the word the author takes recourse to while describing these successes.
The next logical part of the book deals with the succession plan at IBM that is a story by itself. Father, Son and Co by Tom Jr is widely quoted in these pages. The father's affection for his sons Tom Jr and Dick, his struggle to reconcile their differences and the frequent fights with Tom Jr are very close to what Tom Jr himself has described in his book.
The chapters on transformation of IBM into the era of electronics under Tom Jr and the trust suit that had a severe personal impact on Watson Sr deserve commendation.
While reading the pages where the old man bids goodbye to IBM and to this world, I stood up in salute to this great man.
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Format: Hardcover
As an IBMer, I am especially proud of this great uniquely American success story. It will take a really great story to surpass this one. I will focus on just three elements - Watson as a salesman and company-builder, the birth of modern computers, and father-son relationship.
Just like his mentor - Patterson of NCR, Tom Watson was a great salesman and showman. He was consumed by the nurturing of IBM and its customer-first sales culture. He indulged the sales force with presents, superior pay, training, country club, and many other benefits. He was the highest-paid and the first celebrity executive in the US. He placed huge bets, and then worked to make them come out right. He bet that the post-Depression and post-wwII economy will grow rather than shrink, and when it did turn out right, he came out ahead as he was ready with the manufacturing capacity to fill the demand.
Just like the story of placing a man on the moon, the advent of modern computers, or tabulators before them, is a story of intrigue and vengeance as much as it is of investment and the brilliance of engineers. The positive but unintended consequences of the government's involvement in the development and use of advanced 'electronic brains' is also critical in this regard. The shift from electro-mechanical machines to electronic machines was an important discontinuity that created new opportunities for the market as well as for the new generation of Watson family to take over.
Just like Henry Ford's relationship with his oldest son Edsel, Watson's relationship with his older son was tortured. The son rebelled against the extremely-successful father and would do many things to embarrass the father including getting low grades at school.
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Format: Hardcover
I've generally not been a huge fan of business biographies...they can get very much bogged down in transactional specifics and company arcana, not to mention shoot-from-the-hip hindsight. This Watson biography, though, is very different and exceptionally engrossing, for two reasons: One, because Maney, whose USA Today columns are pretty much always highly entertaining, is a terrific storyteller, and two, because it seems Watson was nuts enough to have stenographers in his boardroom and all kinds of other meetings so as to preserve his words and wisdom for the ages (not something today's Sarbanes-Oxley-bound CEO's are hurrying to do!). Maney took that source material and turned it into what I found to be a very interesting page turner that's a great read for anyone interested in the history of business -- any business, not just IBM.
Maney spends a fair amount of time explaining how Watson had large early-career successes at NCR, got into very deep yogurt with the feds for anti-trust activities, and then bounced back from that taint to create the world's first great technology company. It's also fascinating, given our three year old economic malaise, to see how Watson steered IBM through the Great Depression and powered it forward into the modern era.
A very vivid and worthwhile book.
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