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
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

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003