WATSON, THOMAS J.
Thomas J. Watson (1874-1956). Watson was the founder of IBM. In the 1890's, in his first forays out of Elmira, Ohio where the family farm was located, Watson held jobs as a traveling organ salesman, a sewing machine salesman and a peddler of phony building company stocks (although he was unaware of it at the time). In 1899, after the stock swindle debacle, he worked for John Patterson's National Cash Register Company. Under Patterson's tutelage, Watson soon rose to the upper echelon of the company and became their top salesman. Patterson then assigned him an illegal duty, which Watson did in perfect innocence. He was to set up a company of his own for the supposed purpose of competing with NCR. In reality, however, Watson's company was to undercut competitor's prices on second-hand cash registers and thus eliminate anyone who stood in NCR's monopolistic way. In 1912, Watson, Patterson, and 28 others were indicted and convicted for the scheme (an appeals court later ordered a new trial that was never held). In 1913, Patterson calmly fired his young protege. Watson quickly recovered from the shock and took over a company called Computer-Tabulating-Recording Company, located near his old hometown in Elmira. The company had begun selling an electrical punch-card computing system developed for the 1890 census and had branched out into scales, meat slicers, and various adding machines. Sales had been slow and Charles Flint, the financier behind the company, recognized the need for a super salesman. Watson was his man. At Watson's order, the now-famous IBM THINK signs went up all over the company's offices, closets, and washrooms, and company salesmen gathered each morning for pep talks from Watson. These tactics worked: from the time Watson took over the company in 1914 until his death in 1956, IBM boomed, thanks particularly to their colossally motivated sales force. (The IBM name was adopted in 1924). At the time of Watson's death, the company had 72,000 employees and sales of nearly $600 million and it was one of the nation's largest corporations.