The Business On... Virginia Rometty, chief executive, IBM

Ginni to her friends

She is personable, charming, and ambitious – and now one of the most powerful scuba diving enthusiasts in the world.

So congratulations, then.

The Midwesterner and Big Blue lifer is in the pink. She has just become the ninth chief executive of IBM. It is a company she joined just a few years out of college in 1981, and she is its first female boss. Sam Palmisano, her predecessor, who has led celebrations for IBM's centenary this year is staying on as chairman.

He says?

"Ginni got it because she deserved it. It's got zero to do with progressive social policies."

She says?

"I learned to always take on things I'd never done before."

Why did the board pick her?

Ms Rometty came to prominence when she integrated the PricewaterhouseCooper consultancy business that IBM bought in 2002, fighting the corner of those consulting types who feared they would all be forced to stay in budget hotels and submit to IBM's old monolithic culture. Instead, consulting is now the driving force of the company's growth. She recently took charge of marketing and strategy, too, so was by far the favourite to take over.

Any advice to aspiring women executives?

Actually, she does. She tells the story of being offered a huge promotion earlier in her career, to which she responded that she wasn't sure she was ready and could she sleep on it? "Do you think a man would ever have answered that way?" she says. "You have to be confident, even when you are so self-critical inside."