In 1980, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) was the eighth largest corporation in the country, according to the Fortune 500. It was bigger than General Electric. No other tech company was in the top 30 companies on the list. In the current list, IBM ranks 49th. It is miles behind Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and a small army of other tech companies. By any measure, IBM is big tech’s largest failure.
IBM is small now. In the recently reported quarter, revenue was flat at $16.7 billion. Apple’s net income was $20.7 billion in its most recent quarter. IBM’s net income was $2.7 billion, up from $2.3 billion in the same period a year ago. James Kavanaugh, IBM senior vice president and chief financial officer, said, “IBM’s revenue growth and operating profit in 2022 demonstrate the strength and multiplier effect of our platform-centric approach to hybrid cloud and AI.” It is tough to support that statement in a review of the financial statements. IBM’s numbers were below consensus estimates. The company laid off 3,900 people. (Click here for the 21 companies making the most profit per second.)
IBM said it expected only the most modest growth next year. It will need to do better than that to gain on companies it will never catch in either revenue or earnings. Its cloud business is a small fraction of that of leaders Amazon and Microsoft.
Did IBM’s failure have to occur? No. It had a massive R&D capacity (perhaps the most impressive in the world) for decades. It could have entered virtually any of today’s largest tech sectors. It not only missed the cloud. It missed the search business, the e-commerce sector and the chance to dominate the global OS systems.
IBM’s years of real success are decades behind it, which will never change.
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