Many things have changed over the years about IBM, which has one of the oldest continuous histories of any company in the world. The firm that pioneered the floppy disk, an early version of the ATM and one of the earliest best-selling PCs now makes nearly as much money selling consulting services as it does software. Defenders argue that the company has had to reinvent itself so many times to stay alive that the values of Watson are no longer as easy to apply as they used to be.
Doug Shelton, a spokesman for IBM, said that globalization and increased competition make it hard to compare the company with its earlier days under Watson and that it still has the biggest and most talented technology workforce in the world. Shelton said that the company’s head count has expanded every year since 2002 and that it is hiring for positions across the United States.
“Change is constant in the technology industry,” Shelton said in a statement. “IBM is investing in growth areas for the future: big data, cloud computing, social business and the growing mobile computing opportunity. The company has always invested in transformational areas, and as a result, we must remix our skills so IBM can lead in these higher-value segments, in both emerging markets and in more mature economies.”
The cultural shifts in corporate America have not changed only IBM. The company is merely a representative of what has happened at most large, globalized U.S. firms. But some experts wonder whether these companies have gone too far, leaving the rest of the country behind.
“We don’t build companies to serve Wall Street,” said Margaret Blair, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School. “We build corporations to provide goods and services to a society and jobs for people.”
In the decades after World War II, as the U.S. economy boomed, the interests of companies, shareholders, society and workers appeared to be in tune. Towns such as Endicott flourished.
Even until 1981, the Business Roundtable trade group understood the need to balance these different stakeholders.
“Corporations have a responsibility, first of all, to make available to the public quality goods and services at fair prices, thereby earning a profit that attracts investment to continue and enhance the enterprise, provide jobs, and build the economy,” the group said at the time, in a document cited this year in an article in the publication Daedalus.