back to article IBM memo to staff: Our CEO Ginni is visiting so please 'act normally!'

Marketing folk in IBM's offices in Austin, Texas, were treated to a visit by CEO Ginni Rometty this week – but not before they were handed a list of things not to do in her presence, including taking selfies or using the loo at the same time. Rometty, also Big Blue's president and chairman as well as chief exec, dropped by the …


      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: IBM hasn't been IBM for a very long time

        This is exactly what happens when hordes of childish upper management takes over...

        Couldn't have stated it better myself. When form is valued over function, you can write off the company, there's no chance of saving it, because all the smart people are gone, leaving toadies and high school vice-principals in charge. These folks are good at two things: playing office politics and looking good when the big boss shows up.

        I'll bet Bell Labs and HP didn't have a "clean desk" policy...back when Real Engineering was being done there.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: IBM hasn't been IBM for a very long time

          Bell Labs - does that bring back some memories! I had a friend who worked there in the late 70s and he got me in for a quick visit one weekend. The place was amazing - lab after lab loaded with test equipment and who knows what else? Not a clean desk in sight! I was like a kid in a candy store. And then he took me into the anechoic chamber and shut the door. First time I ever heard my blood moving through my body. Totally freaky and yet so cool at the same time. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been working there, surrounded by brilliant people inventing cool stuff. Is there any place like this anymore?

          1. StheD

            Re: IBM hasn't been IBM for a very long time

            I worked for a Western Electric research center back in Bell System days. We eventually became Bell Labs. No clean desk policy, but we were not immune from top exec craziness.

            Every year the top WECo execs would come to give us more money, and those of us on the first floor had to clear out of our offices so that they could use them as telephone booths.

            I didn't mind hiding personal pictures, but I had some system diagrams up on my wall, and I got told to remove them also.

            "Don't you want it to look like someone works here?"


        2. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

          "IBM hasn't been IBM for a very long time" -- too true: infested by parasites

          >I'll bet Bell Labs and HP didn't have a "clean desk" policy...back when Real Engineering was being done there.

          Dunno about Bell but re the ORIGINAL Hewlett-Packard:

          "Well... I finally had to quit [from Teledyne, after "marginal people bought the company"]. I just, you know, it was just a bunch of bozos around the company. I don’t know how to run a company; I can't run a company, but I can tell if it’s being run right. I worked for Hewlett Packard. David Packard would deliver the coffee; he’d come around the assembly line and bring us coffee. I mean you know, David Packard knew that the only thing that counted was the product; as long as the product was good, you just take care of the people that make your product good. That's all it takes and the profit will take care of itself, you know, I mean that's the way David Packard was"

          -- Ted Dabney, co-founder of Atari. "Oral History" interview

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: IBM hasn't been IBM for a very long time

        I spent a lot of time at the SJ site at Cottle Road in the early 00s. They'd already sold it to HDS but kept some of the buildings. My abiding memory of the place was people sitting in coats and scarves in their offices, with bar fires on, while outside it was 40 degrees plus Celsius. Building 5 I think it was, and the A/C was killer.

        I had a look at it on Google maps the other day. It's mostly blocks of flats now, although part of it is still Western Digital.

      3. deive

        Re: IBM hasn't been IBM for a very long time

        For all those who say they want the old IBM back, maybe you should read and then be very careful what you wish for...

  1. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton


    I would presume falsifying appearances is acting normally for them

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sam Palmisano visited our offices once. They didn't send that email. Didn't really have to, wouldn't want to share a bio break with Sam

  3. wyatt

    Hope they swept the helipad.

    1. src

      The helipad will be covered with prone employees to cushion the landing of the helicopter.

  4. Salestard

    Smells like paint

    Grandfather was in the Guards for 34 years, and maintained the Queen and most of the upper echelons of the royal family must think the whole world smells of fresh paint.

    After they swallowed up SEMA, we had one of the head sheds from Schlumberger US do a state visit to the regional backwater I worked in. Most people had made themselves scarce, and the guys entourage almost outnumbered the grunts in the office.

    Veep arrives at my desk

    "Hello, and what do you do?" says the man with unnervingly white teeth, looking straight through me

    (cluster of Veeplickers behind fix me with baleful stares)

    "Err, I sell stuff, sir"

    "Well, great job, carry on" comes the reply, and he's already moving away before finishing the statement

    As they sweep onto the next poor sod, one Veeplicker murmurs in my ear "well handled, thanks"

    So inspiring.

  5. Terry 6 Silver badge

    There's so much meat on this!

    The "Potemkin village" aspect alluded to above suggests that the CEO is being kept well away from the way the company functions. Which implies deluded decision making.

    The distance kept between CEO and staff ( and tbh as far as "elevator pitches" are concerned I do have some sympathy) suggests something about the hierarchical nature of the organisation.

    The sprucing up ( deep cleaning etc) suggests that there are issues about the company's values and consistency of decision making - since why is it considered clean and tidy enough for staff, but not for CEOs?

    The fact that senior staff are so anxious about creating this artificial impression suggests that they lack confidence about the efficient running of the organisation.

    The very fact that staff are expected to act in a different manner when the big boss is on site sums up a significant issue in the company culture.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Terry 6

      Nail. Head. Hit.

      AC because - We're a (much) smaller company but it happens here too.

      Major client coming in? Oh we'll fix that issue with the upstairs toilets then, that staff have moaned about for 6 months.

      Someone from the investors coming in? We will make the cleaners actually CLEAN your desks rather than just pretend.

      Makes you feel really valued.

      "All this crap is acceptable for you staff, but we've got *important* people coming now."

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      It would be fun if she suddenly decided that she wanted to see the rest of the building. But that will probably never happen.

    3. Steve 114


      Best bosses I've known just go wandering around when they feel like a break from the fug on the executive floor. As a necessary courtesy, they make a point of saying hello to the guy/girl in charge at each level while roaming, but don't want to be escorted.

  6. John70

    When the owners of my previous employment were due to visit, it was a case of clean up your work area and all the men had to be wearing shirts and ties.

    1. Locky Silver badge

      When the Big Boss came up from the smoke to the frozen northern outpost we ordered in a fish lunch and went to the local for the pub quiz

      He liked the cut of our jib

    2. MJI Silver badge

      One of my bosses is 4 desks up from me

      The other on site somewhere.

      The one in same office is the only person messier than me desk wise.

  7. Frenchie Lad

    Putin's Diktat Word fo Word

    Putin issued the same sort encouragement to his citizens for the World Cup. Luckily for IBMers the penalties for not adhering to this advice is merely the sack back in he Motherland its a labour camp.

    Mind you, as a male, I wouldn't mind running the risk of sacking with a selfie with Ginni in the ladies "powder" room. I'm sure I'd be able to sue for a monstrous amount for unfair dismissal.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A long time ago...

    An old boss of mine used to work in accounts for HP (computers, not sauce) and told me of the time he'd came back from holiday, into year-end, immediately after changes at the top.

    He'd ended up imposing some frank points of view upon some softly-spoken American chap, whilst kicking hell out of his shonky Apollo workstation. When his line manager came in he went white, and my ex-boss was sure he'd be fired there and then.

    Well, the very next day he got a very grateful email and a computer that didn't keep crashing. Their new VP of EMEA (or whatever) had been greatly enlightened by his chat about the faults in the company, when all anyone else had said was how wonderfully things were going.

    Prepping the landscape for The Big Boss is only there to protect the people in change of that building...

    AC because it's not my story, but my old boss'.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: A long time ago...

      "HP (computers, not sauce) "

      I love that you felt the need to clarify that!

  9. Allonymous Coward

    I read a military autobiography once; the author was recounting his experience of being on an army base somewhere just prior to a royal visit.

    After a couple of days of everyone sweeping, painting, polishing etc he realised the royal family probably go their entire lives thinking the world smells of polish and new paint. Sounds like Ginni Rometty might do the same.

    Icon, because I wonder if they needed to polish their keyboards.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      After a couple of days of everyone sweeping, painting, polishing etc he realised the royal family probably go their entire lives thinking the world smells of polish and new paint.

      I doubt it. Prince Phillip was of course a professional Royal Navy officer before marrying the (at the time princess), and no doubt he participated in his fair share of cleaning up exercises for high ups, as one suspects Princess Elizabeth would have done during WW2 when she was serving as a mechanic.

      I'm sure that they will know full well what goes on for offical visits.

      1. Flicker

        Always thought of Prince Philip as a pretty decent bloke - he visted my school when I was doing O-Levels (GCSE in new money..) and toured the newly built metalwork room where a group of us were trying to build a hovercraft. Apart from me everyone was wearing immaculate, gleaming white labcoats but for various reasons mine was uniquely and disgustingly filthy, covered in a mixture of grit and grease. To the horror of the assembled, inanely grinning teachers he made a beeline straight for me and had a brief but surprisingly well-informed chat about why a donated iron-block, water-cooled Vauxhall Viva engine was probably a Very Bad Idea for a vehicle where light weight was an important design factor. He was dead right - the thing could never get off the ground, probably a good thing for the safety of all concerned!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        To be fair to him, he spent a lot of his time fighting the Axis powers.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm thinking about the edge cases in this memo

    If I'm in the lift and Ginny gets it, does that constitute her approaching me? Can I talk then?

    I'm not allowed to make an elevator pitch and I'm not allowed to accost her in the toilets, but can I use the lift as a toilet? Can I talk to her while doing this?

    Just wondering

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm thinking about the edge cases in this memo

      If she got into a lift with me, I'd risk following through to ensure I got a fart out into the open.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: I'm thinking about the edge cases in this memo


  11. Joseph Haig

    When meeting a hippogriff^w^wGinni.

    "Yeh always wait fer the hippogriff ter make the firs' move. It's polite, see? Yeh walk towards him, and yeh bow, an' yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh're allowed to touch him. If he doesn' bow, then get away from him sharpish, 'cause those talons hurt."

  12. frank ly Silver badge

    They walk among us

    Many years ago, the company I worked for won the Queen's Award For Industry and we got a visit from Prince Phillip. The goods lift was painted and carpeted (!) and the corridors along which his party would walk were painted. Also, one of the cubicles in the toilets was clad from floor to ceiling in painted plywood so that there was no possibility of any part of him being seen by anyone if he should need to use it.

    When we looked out of the window and saw his car arrive, we realised that we were in the presence of a living god.

    1. Mr Dogshit

      Re: They walk among us

      He is a living god. The Yaohnanen tribe, who inhabit the South Sea island of Tanna, believe Phil to be the son of a mountain spirit, a divine being.

      Man Belong Mrs Queen Baylis, Matthew (2013) Old Street Publishing. ISBN 978-190869964-0

  13. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    Anybody would think the Galactic Emperor was visiitng, IBM bosses need to take chill pill and relax !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      She is the Galactic Empress.


  14. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    No elevator pitches?

    Does that mean BOFH is specifically prohibited from pitching people down elevator shafts, or am I reading too much into this?

    Regarding head restrictions, we had a manager send such a request via email only to get a Reply All from a guy saying "I will take care of my needs at a time of my choosing, only now every time I take a dump I will think of you."

    1. rmason Silver badge

      Re: No elevator pitches?

      @Chairman of the Bored,

      The BOFH would have to be able to remotely initiate some lift-shaft pushing, from India.

  15. Stork Bronze badge

    While at Maersk Data (long defunct, bought by IBM) the big cheese, Mr. Møller visited. I don't remember any particular instructions, but I did hear him muttering "gud ved hvor mange af dem der bestiller noget?" (~god only knows how many are actually doing anything?)

    He was really sharp. Well into his 80es, he told the designers at the shipyard their design wouldn't work - too big to get into Charleston!

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "gud ved hvor mange af dem der bestiller noget?"

      I worked for a company based in Houston that had board members from way back who were, basically, good old boys. One of them was shown around the shiny offices with the full occupancy and came upon the legal department, which was well known to be vastly bloated. His reported words were "What the Hell are all these people doing, surely we can't be being sued by that many people?"

      Shortly after it was discovered that it was actually more economic to engage lawyers on an as needed basis.

    2. Steve 114

      Mobile office

      At Bata Shoe in Essex, the Big Boss had the goods lift (US: 'elevator') rigged as his own office, and could appear on any floor at any time, looking through the steel concertina gates.

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Re: Mobile office

        goods lift rigged as his own office

        We used to have a client in Bucklersbury House on Cannon Street in London. The lift from the loading bay there had a desk and chair for the security guard. It was ludicrous because there wasn't much space to start with - we had to negotiate with him to get his furniture out first before we could empty the office...

        It all looked very Terry Gilliam though.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mobile office

          Did he have a brollie ?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    WTF does telling an entire IBM marketing department to "act normally" mean? Should they follow their own norms, and continue with their usual behaviour? Or should they pretend they share our values and fit in with the rest of us?

    1. horse of a different color

      Re: WTF?!

      If they're anything like the marketing teams I've worked with, 'acting normal' means they're not allowed to slip out of their human skins to reveal their true lizard forms, or eat live rodents in the presence of real humans. I also liked the comment about not using the toilet at the same time as the CEO - frankly adults should already have mastered this tricky bit of etiquette.

  17. Electric Panda

    Treating CEOs like royalty and tiptoeing around them is something that never sat well with me. Even the politicians prostrate themselves in deference to these people, so who really runs the show?

    They are just human beings doing a job, with a job description to meet and duties to discharge. They are no more or less a company employee than Jim in building maintenance or Sophie in HR.

    I can also relate to earlier comments about the CEO being disconnected and shielded from the realities of what is really happening on the ground, perhaps being fed nonsense by their inner circle. If this is the case, then surely the CEO is not effectively managing the company. I guess it really can be "lonely at the top" if basically all of your peers are yes people, or various people of similar rank and status. How can you possibly empathise or understand what's happening on the ground?

    They also said this about North Korea under the now-deceased Kim Jong Il. Senior officials just lied about stuff (and the lies percolated upwards) because they didn't want a bollocking for things being bad, despite it being bad purely because of Kim Jong Il. And he believed it because he knew no different.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      "...or Sophie in HR"

      Shouldn't that be "Linda in HR"?

  18. 0laf Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I wonder how many businesses go down the shitter because the senior management is presented with nothing but a glowing unicorns and rainbows picture of everything.

    How can you take informed decisions based upon false information.

    Mind you if the CEO wanted a real picture they could just turn up on site happy to see the truth.

    We had the queen visit the little town I stayed in a few years ago. She would only have driven up the road I live on not even got out the car. Even so we still got new lamp posts ahead of schedule, all the road markings repainted and the verges manicured.

    The IMB thing sounds a bit like that

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "We had the queen visit the little town I stayed in a few years ago. She would only have driven up the road I live on not even got out the car. Even so we still got new lamp posts ahead of schedule, all the road markings repainted and the verges manicured."

      We found that having the Tour de France come through had a similar effect on road surfacing a few years ago. It's all going to pot(holes) again now.

      1. Fred Dibnah

        Watching Le Tour would be far more entertaining though.

      2. DiViDeD Silver badge

        On roads and potholes

        On the other hand, IBM do give back to the community in their own unique way.

        The road outside their Cumberland Forest offices in Sydney gets resurfaced every year, and the lines repainted twice a year, come what may.

        Of course, this only extends about 300metres either side of the building, but they're not made of money!

  19. Sideways

    Leave a little present.

    I would get everyone in the office to have beans, sprouts and cabbage the night before. See who can let off the best air biscuit closest to her.

    Winner will be the person who gets to leave there grundle rumble in the lift seconds before she uses it.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Leave a little present.

      Bonus points for evacuating the entire building by the power of your air biscuits. :)


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