Virginia M. Rometty, 51

Virginia M. Rometty, 51

Senior Vice-President, Global Sales & Distribution

When IBM (IBM) bought the consulting division of PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2002 for $3.5 billion, the tech industry was in the midst of its worst slump since the mid-1980s. Add in consulting is usually the first expense cut by corporations in a recession, and Virginia Rometty, the IBM executive charged with merging PwC Consulting into IBM's business consulting unit, had a big job on her hands.

It hasn't been easy, but Rometty delivered. Last year the $19.6 billion IBM Global Business Services unit produced $2.3 billion in profits, up from $184 million in 2003. So Rometty, who has been at IBM for 27 years, went out on a high note when she shifted in January to run IBM's global sales force. “Ginni really created GBS,” says Frank Kern, who took over the consulting business. “She had to constantly evolve it to stay relevant.”

That skill is one reason Rometty is widely considered a possible chief executive. CEO Samuel J. Palmisano, 57, often has her speak at IBM's leadership forums. She's also an accomplished strategist. Rometty led her group into the business of providing technology for complex transportation systems and upgrades of the electric grid. That spadework blossomed last year into IBM's uber-strategy of providing the business expertise to help create a “smarter” planet.

--by Steve Hamm