John Akers dies at 79; former head of IBM

Former CEO of IBM John Akers has died at 79

John Akers, chief executive officer at IBM for eight years during the company's struggles to adapt its dominance in mainframes to the personal-computer era, has died. He was 79.

Akers died Friday in Boston, IBM said in a statement on its website. The cause was a stroke, according to company spokesman Ed Barbini.

A former U.S. Navy pilot, Akers joined IBM in 1960 and stayed there for 33 years, until being ousted as chief executive in favor of RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp. chief Louis Gerstner — IBM's first top executive from outside the company — as financial losses mounted and the stock price skidded.

Early in his IBM career, Akers was an executive assistant to Frank Cary, who himself became a chief executive at the company. Akers also served as president of the data-processing division and president before becoming chief executive in 1985.

In sales and executive roles, Akers is credited with helping elevate and sustain IBM's dominance of the mainframe-computer business, through pushing the adoption of the System/360 and successor machines.

IBM had lost $7.83 billion in two years when the company's board convinced Gerstner, who had turned down the IBM job twice previously, to replace Akers. Gerstner replaced much of the Armonk, N.Y., company's top management, slashed thousands of jobs and cut $7 billion in costs.

IBM's shares rose ninefold from when Gerstner took over through the announcement in 2002 that Samuel Palmisano would be the new chief executive.

John Fellows Akers was born Dec. 28, 1934, in Boston, where his father was in the insurance business. At Yale University, he majored in engineering and played on the hockey team, earning all-Ivy League honors. After graduating in 1956, he became a pilot on an aircraft carrier. He was hired at IBM in 1960, beginning his career as a sales trainee in San Francisco.

In 2011, Akers said he was satisfied with what he accomplished.

"Many things have changed over the years but the values of IBM then and the values of IBM today are what we have built on successfully all of these years," he said, according to IBM's statement. "It continues to result in the best value and solution for the customer."

Akers, who lived in Westport, Conn., is survived by his wife of 54 years, Susan Davis Akers; a son, Scott; two daughters, Pamela Sjodin and Annie Klyver; and 10 grandchildren.

Robertson writes for Bloomberg News.

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