James W. Cortada, "Inside IBM: Lessons of a Corporate Culture in Action" (Columbia Business School, 2023)


IBM was the world's leading provider of information technologies for much of the twentieth century. What made it so successful for such a long time, and what lessons can this iconic corporation teach present-day enterprises?

James W. Cortada--a business historian who worked at IBM for many years--pinpoints the crucial role of IBM's corporate culture. He provides an inside look at how this culture emerged and evolved over the course of nearly a century, bringing together the perspectives of employees, executives, and customers around the world. Through a series of case studies, Inside IBM: Lessons of a Corporate Culture in Action (Columbia Business School, 2023) explores the practices that built and reinforced organizational culture, including training of managers, employee benefits, company rituals, and the role of humor. It also considers the importance of material culture, such as coffee mugs and lapel pins.

Cortada argues that IBM's corporate culture aligned with its business imperatives for most of its history, allowing it to operate with a variety of stakeholders in mind and not simply prioritize stockholders. He identifies key lessons that managers can learn from IBM's experience and apply in their own organizations today. This engaging and deeply researched book holds many insights for business historians, executives and managers concerned with stakeholder relations, professionals interested in corporate culture, and IBMers.

James W. Cortada is a senior research fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He spent nearly forty years at IBM in various sales, consulting, management, and executive positions.

Other NBN interviews with the same author include "The Birth of Modern Facts" and "IBM: The Rise, Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon".

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Bernardo Batiz-Lazo is currently straddling between Newcastle and Mexico City. You can find him on twitter on issues related to business history of banking, fintech, payments and other musings. Not always in that order. @BatizLazo

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