John Akers, IBM’s CEO During Mainframe-to-PC Shift, Dies

John Akers, chief executive officer at International Business Machines Corp. 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 Aug. 22 in Boston, IBM said yesterday in a statement on its website. The cause was a stroke, company spokesman Ed Barbini wrote in an e-mail.

A former U.S. Navy pilot, Akers joined IBM in 1960 and stayed there for 33 years, until being ousted as CEO 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 CEO at the company. Akers also served as president of the data-processing division and president before becoming chief executive in 1985.

One of his executive assistants was Samuel Palmisano, who also later became CEO. He described Akers in IBM’s statement as the ultimate company man and “so committed to the institution and its culture.”

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, New York-based company’s top management, slashed thousands of jobs and cut $7 billion in costs.

Loyalty Praised

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

Palmisano said in the IBM statement said Akers was loyal to the company.

“People liked John Akers, because they knew he cared about them -- as employees, as people, and as IBMers,” Palmisano said, according to the statement.

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.”

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