(4 of 4)
Through a string of promotions, Palmisano has lived with his wife and four kids for nearly two decades in the same house in Southport, Conn., where his neighbors and friends include GE chairman Jeff Immelt. But along the way, Palmisano has developed a bit of a taste for the good life. By way of his wife, who comes from a prominent Connecticut banking family, Palmisano counts the first President Bush as a friend and golfing buddy, and his family's hideaway is a house in Kennebunkport, Maine, that he purchased from, you guessed it, the Bush family. "Palmisano is loose around power," says Doug Garr, the author of IBM Redux.
From almost the moment Palmisano joined IBM as a marketing trainee in the data-processing unit straight out of Hopkins in 1973, he stood out for his maniacal attention to execution, candor and wit. Throughout his career, as he built up the services organization, stemmed the losses at the PC unit, simplified the server assembly line and skillfully bridged the culture gap at IBM Japan, he has made clear that he is not your average IBM stuffed shirt. He would get visibly upset, sometimes snapping pencils in half, if meetings or presentations dragged on, and he was known on at least one occasion to go over to an IBM plant to personally thank workers for beating the production schedule on a new computer. A former colleague says of Palmisano, "It's a rare guy who can beat the hell out of you if you missed your numbers, and you still can't wait to show up for him the next day." That kind of loyalty should come in handy if Palmisano and Big Blue are going to meet their own ambitious goals. --With reporting by Jyoti Thottam/New York