You may not know this if you’re not in the industry but IBMers are a bit like Roman Catholic nuns. They never travel in groups of less than 20. I have no idea why except that everything at IBM seems to require massive logistics and planning and scheduling, and a series of pre-planning meetings to discuss the later planning meetings to discuss whatever the actual meeting is. I swear the execs there can’t take a dump unless it’s on their calendar; and before they go they have to find three other dudes to take with them. Yeah. Anyhoo.
This visit in Cupertino was the top brass, with Palmisano and about two dozen of his thugs and flacks and bodyguards and yes-men and shoeshine boys. They rolled up in armored SUVs and they were all wearing suits but they’d taken off their ties and stuffed them in their pockets in an attempt to be cool. You could see the bulges. Palmisano had a guy with him whose job, it appeared, was simply to tell him where he was and the name of whatever guys he was meeting. When I came down the guy was whispering to Palmisano and then Palmisano walked toward me with this big jock smile and I saw him very quickly glance down at a little card in his hand and he said, “Hey, uh,” (glance down again), “Steve, well, it’s great to see you, and thanks so much for making time to see us.” And he gives me the big phony salestard handshake and says, “And I’m here on behalf of the IBM Corporation to tell you personally how much we value your business and how much it means to us to have you as a customer.” I’m looking at him like, What the frig?
His handler dude grabs his sleeve and they do this little huddle where the handler is whispering to Palmisano and Palmisano says, “Huh? Who? Where? Wait a minute, this is Steve Jobs? Steve Jobs of Apple? But what’s he doing– oh, we’re at Apple? This is Apple? Right here? Oh Jesus.” Then he just looks back at me as if I couldn’t hear what he just said and he’s like, “Well, the famous Mr. Steven A. Jobs of Apple Computer, man oh man, do I like what you’re doing out here! Man, with those iPod compact disc players. Wow! My kids love them.”
So right. Whatever. There’s no point to any of this, it’s purely a meet-and-greet, and my guys have arranged to take the BlueTards on a dopey do-nothing tour of a fake manufacturing facility that we’ve set up, just something to keep them busy and walking around for thirty minutes until we can get rid of them. So we get to this area where we’ve got our current product line on display and Palmisano is looking at the Shuffle and asks me if it’s a tie clip, yuk yuk, just joking, he says. Then he goes, “Seriously, what the hell is this? Some kind of mouse?”
I explain what it is and we move down to the iMacs and he goes, “Wow, these are beautiful flat-panel TVs, are you getting into that game too, like Dell? Smart move, if you are. Big money in that consumer space.” I tell him we’re not making TVs, that these are computers. “So they’re hi-def, right?” he says. I tell him again that they’re not TVs, they’re computers. He seems kind of confused for a moment, then he goes, “You mean like terminals? Like network computers?” And I go, No, they’re full computers. He asks me where’s the hard drive, and where’s the computer, and I try to explain that it’s all one piece, and he goes, “Okay, so these are not hi-def television sets is what you’re telling me?” I’m like, That’s right, they’re not television sets. They’re computers. He stands there shaking his head and whistling, like Andy Griffith. And he goes, “Wow. Imagine that. You know, we got out of the PC business. Sold it off to the Chinese. No money in it. But I’m sure you’ll do really well with these, no worries. Stay out of that TV business though. No money there. Just a huge sink hole.”
Right. So we walk along and he asks me if I ever played any football in college, I tell him no, he tells me he played college football and was a lineman and man oh man it was a different game back in the old days, different game, you didn’t have the equipment that these kids have today, why the helmets were just these cheap plastic things with barely any padding, can you believe that? I tell him, Yes, I can believe that, for sure. By then we’re back in the lobby and he says, “Well, uh,” (glances down at card in hand again) “Steve, thanks again for letting us come visit and thank you again for being such a great partner, and you’ve got to come visit us in Armonk sometime and we’ll play some golf over at Winged Foot, ever been there? Beautiful course. You play any golf? No? Seriously? You’re kidding, right? Well that’s a shame. We gotta get you out there. Right guys? We gotta get this guy out on the golf course! Don’t we?”
Then Jon Ive and I just stood in the lobby watching them all waddle their fat asses out to their armored SUVs, putting their ties back on as they went.