IBM chief strategist James A. Cannavino has announced that he will retire, ending a 32-year career in which he led two high-profile divisions but failed to reach the top of the world's largest computer company.
"I've had an itch to run a business," Cannavino said. "I just know that one day I'd like to sit at the end of the table and see if I can do it."
International Business Machines Corp. did not immediately name a successor for Cannavino, 50, but the company said through a spokesman that his position will be filled eventually. He will work until March 31.
He joined the company as an 18-year-old technician at a Chicago field office and rose to lead both the mainframe and personal computer divisions. His tenure in the PC business was marked by a souring of IBM's relationship with Microsoft Corp. and a 1992 restructuring that led to a rebound in sales.
Cannavino was a long-shot candidate for chief executive after John Akers resigned in late 1992. He offered to resign when Louis V. Gerstner Jr. was hired instead.
But Gerstner appointed him senior vice president for strategy and development and learned the technicalities of IBM's business from him.
"We have seen evidence of Gerstner relying on Cannavino heavily to keep him out of the woods when it came to technological arguments," said Bob Djurdjevic, analyst at Annex Research in Phoenix.
"Technology is something I understand and can convert into executive language as well as technical language, so that's been useful," Cannavino said. "There will be others here who can do that for him, lots of others."
Besides, Gerstner "absorbs information like the best sponge you've ever seen," Cannavino said.
In a statement to employees announcing Cannavino's retirement, Gerstner said, "I appreciate his contributions to IBM and wish him all the best in the future."
Cannavino's hiring in 1963 without a college education has become something of an IBM legend. While going to a technical institute, he left a supermarket job and applied at the IBM office because that's where the bus route ended.
After working in Chicago for a few years, Cannavino was sent to IBM's mainframe operations in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and rose through management's ranks. In 1988, he was appointed to lead IBM's PC operations.