IBM just added a woman to the tiny roster of leading ladies in the business tech world, appointing Virginia Rometty as its first woman CEO. Yes, Rometty's promotion is noteworthy because she's female. Few women head major corporations. The New York Times's Steve Lohr only names four others in his write up of the newest addition, including the recent HP hire: Ursula Burns of Xerox, Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Ellen Kullman of DuPont and Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard. Before she got canned, Yahoo's Carol Bartz was up there. But beyond the XX-chromosome factor, Rometty's new job deserves attention because she's a leading lady who is just plain good at her job and that's the kind of female CEO the business world needs right now.
Unlike other female tech CEO's making headlines lately, Rometty is a much more low-key choice. HP's recent hire, Meg Whitman and former Yahoo leader Carol Bartz have both recently gotten attention just for being women CEO's. But unlike Rometty, no matter how competent (or really, spectacular) these women performed, other characteristics distracted critics. Many found Bartz too bitchy, even though she wasn't actually that bad at her job. And Whitman drew criticism for her arrogance and celebrity. "Her style is so arrogant it gags," Charles House, a longtime H.P. engineer who is chancellor of Cogswell Polytechnical College in Silicon Valley told The New York Times's David Streitfeld when Whitman rumors popped up.
But Rometty has none of that. She's low profile, as Lohr explains. "Ms. Rometty, 54, is well known within the technology industry, but not widely beyond," he explains. Nobody can speculate she got hired because of an aggressive demeanor, like Bartz, or because of her celebrity, like Whitman. Both of these women, as The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal pointed out, weren't actually horrible at their jobs. But, the out of the box personalities and career moves drew criticism, which is unfortunate not just for these specific women, but for women in leadership roles.
Instead, Rometty is getting attention for better reasons: She's just good at her job and she gets things done sans drama. "She has led strategically important sectors of the company as it has shifted to services and analytic software," continues Lohr. Specifically, before the big promotion, as IBM's Senior Vice President, she led the company to buy consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and then continued. And she has other important leader qualities, like she's respected and has good orator skills, as BusinessWeek pointed out when naming her as one of its 25 CEO's of Tomorrow. "CEO Samuel J. Palmisano, 57, often has her speak at IBM's leadership forums," explains BusinessWeek. "She's also an accomplished strategist. Rometty led her group into the business of providing technology for complex transportation systems and upgrades of the electric grid."
The Outgoing IBM CEO Palmisano claims that her chromosomes had nothing to do with the hire. "Ginni got it because she deserved it," he told Lohr. "It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies," he continued. But, really it did.