Blue suits mix with meditation

Merger means bridging a generation gap as well as a cultural divide

YOU do not often hear merger and acquisition specialists talking culture when it comes to business. That is for later - at the Met or on weekends in the Hamptons. But last week was an exception. If they had one worry about the proposed ingestion of Lotus by IBM, it was about the two companies' starkly different personalities. Could they really be meshed together?

For decades, IBM was synonymous with starchy formality. The "Big Blue" tag attached to IBM was born of its obsession with that single colour. The logo was blue and its products - in the beginning huge mainframe computers as large as your living room - were painted in exactly the same hue.

Anyone who worked in the company was for years expected to wear suits, preferably a staid tone of blue, with white shirts and ties. For women, skirts were the rule.

True, since taking over two years ago, Louis Gerstner has moved to exorcise some of the stuffiness. He actually encouraged employees to dress down at work. Plans have also been laid to move the company out of its expansive, rather overwhelming, headquarters at Armonk, New York. But IBM is still associated in most minds with formality and a lumbering bureaucracy.

Lotus is part of the younger generation in the computer industry and has a decidedly different personality. Like Micro- soft, Apple or Oracle, the company has stood for youthful innovation and creativity.

Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus in 1982, was a former disc jockey and devotee of transcendental meditation, who contributed profits to causes such as Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. As a boss, he offered unusually generous leave policies as well as benefits for spouses in homosexual relationships.

Jim Manzi, who took over from Kapor in 1986, has maintained the spirit. At a company party three years ago, he made an appearance in drag. It is hard to imagine Mr Gerstner going the same lengths to entertain the IBM workforce.

It is no surprise that Mr Gerstner has insisted to Lotus that it will be allowed to stay at its base in brainy Cambridge, Massachussetts, in the shadow of Harvard, and work as an independent unit of IBM. He understands the rule that hitherto seemed to make hostile takeovers in this industry an impossible notion: the only value of such companies are the brains within it. Antagonise those brains to the extent that they flee, and you are buying an empty shell.

In spite of its leaden reputation, IBM so far seems to have staved off that eventuality at Lotus. Morale at Lotus has been sliding in recent months, along with company profits. Although asked by Mr Manzi to keep mum about the proposed takeover, employees who have talked seem generally to be excited about the prospect.

Workers who might have been tempted to desert may actually see their prospects brightened by Mr Gerstner's intervention.

Particularly vital is the attitude of one Raymond Ozzie, the principal brain behind the Notes system. Lose him and IBM would lose the genius it is hoping to tap. It is no surprise that colleagues have taken to referring to Mr Ozzie as the "three-billion dollar man".

Mr Ozzie has indicated that he is willing to stay with Lotus, so long as the IBM takeover can be achieved amicably. He sees in IBM the cash he will need to realise the full potential of the system that he designed - cash that Lotus does not have.

"IBM is a tremendous company," he told the Wall Street Journal last week. "They have a lot of interesting technologies and resources that could be brought to bear at scale that has never been available to Lotus before."

So far so good, Mr Gerstner. But if you are planning to visit the folks of Lotus in Cambridge, just remember to loosen that tie.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee