IBM and the Power of Reinvention

IBMI attended a family reunion this weekend, and struck up a conversation with a relative who now works for IBM.

When I was growing up in the 1980’s, my father had several PC’s (personal computers) in the home, and all of them were manufactured by IBM.

That’s right — IBM was actually a “computer company.”

For those of you young turks out there — IBM was once the manufacturer of computers.  In fact, in the ’80’s, IBM exercised dominance over the computer industry.

Today, of course, IBM is one of the world’s largest companies, but isn’t the household name it once was. The company’s name, of course, used to stand for “International Business Machines”, and at the turn of the 20th century, the company was known for making computer scales.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to provide a history of IBM, per se, but rather to highlight IBM’s reinvention of itself into a modern-day consulting behemoth.

That’s right, over the span of a just a few decades, IBM has transformed itself into a a household, brand name hardware company — into a massive provider of consulting services.

Why did it reinvent itself? Simple — it was losing market share to its competitors in the computer hardware space, and was even close to running out of money in the 1990’s.

Many other companies would’ve remained obstinant, dying slow (or quick) deaths as they failed to adapt to the economic realities.  But IBM changed, evolved and thrived.

IBM’s example provides lessons to be learned for any company, large or small. Some companies grow quickly, only to get stuck in a rut due to the limits of the marketplace. Others may launch on the promise of a seemingly great idea, only to find that the market simply doesn’t exist.

Or, similar to IBM, your company may have thrived for the past decade, only to find the market have shifted due to the economic downturn, technological advances, or other tectonic shifts in your industry.

In each of those cases, some sort of change is needed. Perhaps it’s reinventing a portion of your business model. Or, perhaps it’s reinventing your entire business mode, top to bottom.

For example, I know one association who relied heavily on the financial services sector for its membership. Then came the economic downturn in 2008-2009, which led to the demise or consolidation of many companies in the financial services sector.  That led to less dues-paying members for this particular association.

Instead of folding up shop, or accepting the loss of this cash flow — this association created several new business lines that allowed it to stay true to its mission, widen its value, and attract new donors it had never previously served before.

How about you? Have you had to reinvent your company to survive? Please let us know in the comments section below!

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