We have just heard that John Opel, who ran Big Blue at the height of the outfit’s mainframe days has died. He was 86.
Opel was IBM’s fifth CEO and was certainly one of the better ones.
He grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri and started out life with a BA in English at Westminster College. He fought in the Pacific during World War II.
After the war a mate of his dad got him involved hawking clocks, meat slicers, and tabulating gear that Big Blue was known for. Opel had to install and maintain the gear himself.
In 1959, Tom Watson Jr asked Opel to be his executive assistant and in 1964, Opel was put in charge of the launch of the System/360 mainframe.
The System/360 was one of the milestones in computing and set IBM up to create a unified computing and software lineup. It had $3 billion a year in sales and Opel was in the middle of it all.
After running IBM’s finances and then its mainframe divisions for a while, Opel was appointed president of the company in 1974. It was on his watch that IBM bought in the PC.
In January 1985, Mr. Opel was succeeded as president by John F. Akers. He remained as chairman until May 1986 and as a member of IBM’s board of directors and chairman of its executive committee until 1993.
Opel did not foresee the changes that were going to hit IBM with the development of the UNIX server, but then to be fair, neither did anyone else, particularly at Big Blue.