Frank Cary, Former IBM CEO and Chairman, Dies at 86
January 9, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Frank Cary, the IBM chairman who guided Big Blue through some of the toughest and most profitable times in the company’s eight-decade existence, died on January 1. He was 86 years old and was still serving on the board of directors of Lexmark International, the former IBM printer division in Kentucky that was spun out in 1991 and has, to a large degree, succeeding where its parent was failing.
Cary was chairman and CEO beginning on January 1, 1973, after Vin Learson set the IBM precedent of retiring at 60. He remained in charge of IBM until 1981, when he retired. Learson was one of the shakers and movers inside Big Blue who helped make the System 360 mainframe a reality when IBM was under the stewardship of Thomas Watson, Jr., the son the founder of the company. While Cary was running IBM, it had been in the throes of its second antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice for four years–a case that wasn’t dismissed until Ronald Reagan became president. That antitrust lawsuit, more than any other factor, was directly responsible for the foundation of the System/3X family of minicomputers in a new division with hardware and operating system development based in Rochester, Minnesota, and application software development based Atlanta, Georgia. By establishing the IBM midrange line, IBM had something to spin off in the event that it lost the antitrust battle. While Frank Soltis, the chief iSeries architect, gets a lot of credit for the great ideas embodied in the System/38 and the AS/400, the other Frank–Frank Cary–cut the checks that made it happen.
Under Cary’s tenure, Digital Equipment Corp became a force in the computer industry and minicomputers took on IBM’s mainframes; moreover, clone mainframe manufacturers–mainly Amdahl-Fujitsu and Hitachi–also began encroaching on IBM’s mainframe turf, leading the company to launch midrange and eventually entry mainframes–the 43XX line and the 97XX line, respectively. Cary joined IBM as a salesman in 1948 after getting his MBA from Stanford University.