NEW YORK — IBM on Tuesday named Virginia Rometty, the head of sales, marketing and strategy, to take over as chief executive on January 1, making her the first woman to lead the US computer giant.
The 54-year-old, who is also a senior vice president at IBM, succeeds current president and chief executive Samuel Palmisano, 60, who will stay on as chairman of the board of directors, IBM said in a statement.
Rometty, who is known as “Ginni,” had also been elected to IBM’s board of directors, effective immediately, the company said.
She will be the ninth chief executive in the 100-year-old history of the computer titan known as “Big Blue” and the first woman to hold the top post.
A regular on Fortune Magazine’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” Rometty joins a select group of women heading US technology firms.
They include Ursula Burns, the chief executive at Xerox, and Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay who was recently named to the same post at Hewlett-Packard.
Since becoming CEO of the Armonk, New York-based IBM in 2002, Palmisano has presided notably over the sale of its personal computer business to China’s Lenovo in 2005 and its focus on computer servers, services and software.
In a statement, the outgoing chief executive said Rometty “has successfully led several of IBM’s most important businesses over the past decade” and is the “ideal CEO to lead IBM into its second century.”
“She has spurred us to keep pace with the needs and aspirations of our clients by deepening our expertise and industry knowledge,” Palmisano said.
“Ginni’s long-term strategic thinking and client focus are seen in our growth initiatives, from cloud computing and analytics to the commercialization of (IBM supercomputer) Watson.”
Rometty praised Palmisano’s leadership of the company and said there was “no greater privilege” than to be asked to manage IBM.
“Today, IBM’s strategies and business model are correct,” she said. “Our ability to execute and deliver consistent results for clients and shareholders is strong.”
Ben Reitzes of Barclays Capital said Rometty’s appointment was not a surprise and that she had been considered the frontrunner for the post.
“We have met with Rometty many times in her prior roles and have watched her grow into one of IBM’s strongest leaders,” Reitzes said. “We also believe that Rometty will have the full support of other key IBM executives.”
Frank Gillett of Forrester Research said Rometty’s appointment was a “long-planned move” and that he does not expect many changes in the short run.
Gillett also commented on the appointment of a woman to head IBM, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in June.
“My experience with IBM is that they don’t completely match the color and diversity of the country but IBM seems to be a doing a better job with it than others,” he said.
Rometty holds a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Northwestern University and joined IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer.
She has held a variety of senior executive positions at the company over the years and notably oversaw the integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers after IBM bought the consulting firm for $3.5 billion in 2002.
IBM shares fell 0.62 percent to $179.25 in after-hours trading.