Another IBM boss departs: Reorganisation eliminates key figure amid talk of clashes with Gerstner

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THE executive who led the turnaround at the personal computers division of International Business Machines retired from the company yesterday at the age of 53, prompting speculation he had clashed with Louis Gerstner, chief executive.

The departure of Robert Corrigan, an IBM veteran of 32 years, was unexpected. His position as president of the independent IBM PC Company was eliminated in a corporate reorganisation.

The wholly-owned division, whose success has been a powerful symbol of IBM's recovery over the past year, will be run by Richard Thoman, the senior vice-president Mr Gerstner installed late last year as Mr Corrigan's immediate superior.

IBM sought to play down the reorganisation, portraying it as a move to flatten its management structure and reduce bureaucracy. 'We're removing a layer of management,' a spokeswoman said.

IBM said Mr Corrigan had planned to leave at the end of last year, but agreed to stay on 'to assist with the transition'.

The PC Company had considerable autonomy as part of the decentralisation drive led by Mr Gerstner's predecessor, John Akers, and Mr Corrigan appears to have chafed at the new emphasis on intra-company collaboration, some industry analysts said.

Under Mr Corrigan, the PC business - where sales rose 40 per cent last year - was able to design, manufacture and market its products outside IBM's traditional brand- management system, reducing development cycles and allowing it to respond to industry price-cutting. The autonomy has also allowed the PC division to aggressively pursue the lucrative market for 'client-server' networks - essentially stealing business customers who would normally buy systems from other IBM divisions.

Mr Thoman, whose other responsibilities include IBM's Power Personal Systems, is believed to favour a more purely consumer vocation for the PC business.

Mr Corrigan is also said to have clashed with IBM senior management over replacing the Intel semi- conductors that drive IBM PCs with the new PowerPC chips the company has developed in conjunction with Motorola and Apple Computer.

Mr Corrigan is the third senior IBM official to leave the company this year, and the second in the past week. IBM's top strategist, Bernard Puckett, left early in the year and last Thursday Gerald Czarnecki, the executive responsible for cutting the corporation's workforce by 35,000 this year, resigned under pressure.

Only 20 per cent of the job cuts target has been met to date, raising questions over whether IBM will meet its promise to cut costs by dollars 3bn this year.