Thomas J. Watson Sr. was one of the most successful and famous entrepreneurs in the first half of the 20th century. With a management style that was unique at the time, he made IBM the leading supplier of punched card systems in the world.
Watson started his career in 1896 selling cash registers for NCR. Within 16 years, Watson had worked his way up to the position of deputy to John H. Patterson, the founder of the company. His career at NCR came to an end in 1913, when the eccentric Patterson dismissed him.
Shaped by Patterson's management and sales style, he was appointed manager at the Computing Tabulating Recording Company in 1914, which became IBM in 1924. His goal was to create a specific company culture. He enforced a strict dress code, and gave orders for company songs and poems to be written.
Like a patriarch, he made all decisions himself although he was the one to coin the slogan "Think" for all employees. However, unlike Patterson, he felt responsible for his employees. He regarded social and political activities as natural functions of an entrepreneur.
Six weeks before his death in 1956, he turned the IBM presidency over to his son Thomas J. Watson Jr., who restructured the company. He delegated responsibility and moderated the excessive company cult. His greatest merit lay in the introduction of electronics, which paved the way for IBM to become the major computer company in the world.
Before becoming President of IBM, Thomas J. Watson Jr.'s determination did not equal his father's. His performance at school was poor, and he was only interested in flying. World War II, in which he served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, changed his life. He became resolute in his aim to succeed his father at IBM and to prepare the company for the computer age that was just beginning. He asserted himself against his father, and promoted the development of electronic punched card technology and data processing. Whereas Watson Sr. stands for IBM's success as a punched card company, Watson Jr. stands for its success in computer technology.