It’s like going to Wisconsin

joe —  Fri 26-Feb-10 — 35 Comments
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It’s been a difficult week – a week of highs, a week of great introspection and a week where I discovered something very painful about my role here. To get to this discovery, I need to introduce a little bit of history.

Thirteen years ago I became the first engineering manager at a very small startup called Internet Security Systems. Like many startups, it was the wild west of times. We were brash, confident to a fault, energetic, willing to do whatever it took to conquer the world. It was the definition of reckless abandon.

while we were sleeping.jpgOver time we tempered some of that recklessness and became more of a business, that is if you consider tarantula dens outside the president’s office, cubes dressed as shower stalls and “Bldg B3 – Bathroom” addressed magazines being delivered directly to the men’s restroom as normal business protocol. Yes we were quirky and yes sometimes we crossed the line but we delivered great products.

In those days we acquired several companies. Each of those companies were instantly brought into our culture and each one embraced it fully. It was always tradition for the acquired management team to drink champagne from the purple shoe (an ISS tradition) to demonstrate that they were one with us and our odd traditions.

Fast forward to three years ago when a very large and well respected company, IBM, acquired ISS. By most this was seen as a great acquisition as they had the scale we needed to fuel the next growth spurt and we had the exact products they needed to fill in their gaps.

So on that first day do you think that our ISS management team stood before the world and perform a gesture symbolic of the IBM community? No and not because we were rude and arrogant, but because IBM was well aware of our culture and wanted to keep it intact. They even insisted that we keep the shoe purple rather than change it to blue. This was seen as a very positive indicator that maybe we weren’t going to lose our culture. We arrogantly thought that maybe we could even spread some of our culture to the rest of IBM.

Think about this for a moment. IBM was 330,000 people strong and ISS was around 1,400. As the old saying goes, you don’t join the Army expecting to change the Army. You don’t even join the Army expecting to be left to the way you usually do things. Yet that is what was being established.

Now take one more fast forward to this week, a week where I tendered my resignation to take on a new and exciting chapter in my life. In taking a look back at the past three years I can say without doubt that we have failed miserably as an acquisition. We stand here today broken from trying to intertwine these two radically different cultures. We have given up on trying to let the new Army recruit exist as they were and have today decided it was time the soldier become Army green. I wholeheartedly support this move and believe that had it been done when we were acquired that things would be much different now.

I mentioned that this week was difficult especially when it dawned on me how I had contributed to this failure. It came to me as I kept hearing from many of my coworkers that they were sad to see me go as I was the last icon of ISS and that ISS was now officially dead. At first my pride took over and I felt great knowing that I was associated with the fun, energy, creativity and dedication that was ISS. I then felt a little sad because I knew they still wanted what ISS was.

As I left work yesterday all of that pride and sadness turned to guilt. I realized that I was one of the reasons that ISS had not become IBM. I was one of the icons that gave people hope that we could still be ISS, but that is one of the chief reasons this acquisition has not yet lived up to its potential. Not because I had failed to deliver but because of what I represented.

Bill Murray.jpgDid you ever notice in history when one country acquires another the first thing they do is to exile (or kill) the leaders and destroy any icons that remind people of the past? The more different the two cultures are, the more important those acts become. IBM did a brave thing and tried to keep the icons as they wanted what ISS used to be. I think they truly believed that Bill Murray would be able take the EM-50 into Czechoslovakia and help the Army defeat the bad guys.

What you haven’t seen yet is Stripes II, where Bill realizes that the Army still needs to do what the Army does best and he needs to go find a place to do what he does best.

It’s a great movie. Both sides win in the end.

Today’s Question
If you were IBM, how would you have handled the acquisition of a company steeped in its own culture?

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  • http://learfool@blogspot.com Mark

    It’s hard to believe you’ve been in one place, so to speak, for 13 years. Of course, I knew you when ISS was bringing you in as the first Engineering Manager and we had to meet secretly out of concern for what the unbridled Engineering team would think about this sudden burst of oversight.

    I can’t speak for the past seven years or the IBM acquisition, but cultures change even without external influence. The ISS we started at was not the ISS that IBM bought. At some point, I believe, you have to make that transition if you’re going to continue to grow. Grow up or grow stale.

    A previous manager of mine gave me this advice about acquisitions (and it sounds just like the countries above): Fire the head guy and impose your culture immediately. It may cause the smaller organism more pain in the short term, but the unified organism will thrive because of it.

    But what I really wanted to say is “Best of luck”. You rank among the finest Engineering Managers I ever had the pleasure of working with.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Thanks Mark, I remember that first lunch well, my friend.

  • http://divinevibe.com/ Divinevibe

    Could it be done differently?  Maybe?  Sometimes we assume that a combination or blending of two oppositional energies will blend into “one” something new.  This is not always the case.  Some energies combine beautifully to create a new powerful change, reaction or element.  Others fight, oppose, resist and sometimes in that resistance of energies, the sand creates the pearl. 

    I would like to believe that ISS was a gathering of oddly unique and special individuals who came together for a short time to laugh, grow, and personally experience the power of what one group can create when objectives are clear.  A shooting star blasting through the cosmos for a brief moment in time.  To be a person who walked in that path or touched by that shooting star can have indelible personal growth to the individual.  It was a beautiful blending of energies creating powerful change.

    I am deeply thankful for the “ISS experience” but I have no expectations of IBM providing to me a similar experience.  The IBM experience has a growth that is completely different.  I think in the end we all have to be willing to say good-bye when we know it’s time to leave.  When that personal lesson has completed and you know you must look for the next opportunity for growth whatever that might be.  

    So to answer your question…
    If you were IBM, how would you have handled the acquisition of a company steeped in its own culture?

    I think you talk about change and you talk about the immediate IBM values.  You ask each individual why are you here?  What is your personal plan of growth?  Those that choose to stay will do so because they will see value in their own personal path or experience.  (No matter how hard it is to see their friends leave.)

    If we are not in growth, then we are in decay.  Taking personal responsibility and self-governance towards our growth is every individual’s job, not a company’s! 

    It is my hope that the gritty, hard sand that is IBM will somehow irritate the chemicals within me providing the personal experience I require to become “the pearl” my soul is traveling towards!  =)

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Oddly enough, I like the three core values that IBM has. As a matter of fact there are a lot of things that IBM does as a corporation that I really like.

      What has been odd is how that has not trickled down to our division. That is something I still am studying as it seems to be common with other organizations. I think Sam and many of the executives truly believe what they say. Somehow it gets lost before it gets to our level.

  • Dave

    It was a failed experiment and I think that many folks don’t realize this fact. IBM went into this acquistion with good intentions, just not realizing that doing so, in the manner they chose to approach the effort would doom the experiment to fail from the start.

    With the exception of this fact, I agree with everything you’ve stated regarding the best typical approach to dealing with integrating an acquisition, which has been proven over time through trial and error. I can say I agree after having participated in a total of 7 acquisition integrations during my professional career, both successful and unsuccessful ones.

    With this in mind, it does boggle my mind how people think that they can change reality……meaning people that think: “while I realize that there’s an established approach and method to making this effort successful, I will try the total opposite approach and it will succeed because I’m better/smarter/etc.. than everyone else in the world, both past and present…”

    Off the soap box now – Good Luck to you and keep in touch.

  • aj

    Just because you did not drink the kool-aid does not mean you should feel guilt.

  • No1

    Culture is only 1 aspect of it. There is the business failure as well as a cultural failure. I think most of us knew, on some level, that the culture would eventually change. Most of us knew, even if it was unconsciously or we were in conscious denial, that IBM culture would eventually take over. It wasn’t if, but when. But compared to everything else, many may feel that this is the least of the issues. Even with a different culture, we can still do our jobs, try to make a difference, try to move things forward.

    But this seems not to be the case. As we said, it’s not a mere case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, its the right hand not even knowing that a left hand exists. Decisions are being made in a vacuum with no regard to any impact other than the immediate narrow direct impact; like shooting a gun when the visibility is only 3 feet.

    Culture or no, speedy assimilation or not, it would not change the fact that IBM has cultivated a culture of fear. This isn’t just throughout ISS, but throughout IBM at least in America. I know that TSG feels it too. The “rumor mills” are 100 times more rampant now than they ever were at ISS, an they are often more accurate. Everyone knows that cuts are coming (and they seem to come every quarter regardless of IBMs results), and everyone wonders if their head is on the chopping block next. They see their colleagues falling like soldiers on Omaha Beach, and feel its only a matter of time until they fall. That is an aspect of the current IBM culture. Fast or slow ISS assimilation wouldn’t change that.

    We now release products with no way to sell them. Products are being released and their predecessors are being EoSed, and there are no tools with which to sell the new products. Performance or sizing numbers so we even know which product might be a right fit? No. Brochures to send to potential customer and partners who call? No. PRICES? No. Nothing. Yet we are expected to sell. Thats a beautiful case of where the right hand has no clue that the left hand exists. I could come up with half a dozen similar scenarios easily.

    During the last years of ISS, as I have said previously, it seemed like ISS lacked a forward moving direction. All we did was release patches and small feature upgrades. Innovation was LONG gone. The IBM acquisition held great promise for many of us. Greater resources at our disposal, fresh eyes dedicated to seeing us succeed and take us to a new level. You know, IBM-success-like level.

    Instead, to me, it looks much like the aforementioned Omaha beach, but hours after the invation. Casualties are everywhere. Promises are floating dead in the water.

    There is not only no direction forward, but there is no plan to stand still. Ahh, I long for the last days of ISS. I guess we didn’t know how good we had it when we were stagnant with no sense of direction. It seems like today we are in a sort of random, chaotic retreat. Products are removed from portfolios, removing us from segments of the market, but no one is told until its way too late, and we are never given a complete story. Instead we are given tidbits of information ad largely left hanging. And we are expected to somehow conduct business like this. I wonder if the decision-makers understand what GREAT business practice (sarcasm alert) it is to sell someone a million dollars worth of product only to kill that product a few weeks or months later? They kill a product with no roadmap on how to deal with it’s absence, likely because they hadn’t even given that a second thought.

    These types of decisions are being made all the time. SO much that its almost as if they are being made deliberately. They understand the “unintended consequences” of the decisions, they understand the frustration of never giving anyone the full story, and pulling the rug out from under their own people and are doing it ON PURPOSE, because surely they can’t be consistently making such bad, and horrificly (sp?) executed decisions on such a consistent basis otherwise right? I mean that would indicate a certain amount of incompetence, and this is IBM!

    I could literally go on for hours and give specific example after specific example, each one more horrificly (sp?) stupid than the last, but the entire point here is that at least I feel that at his point there is SO MUCH else wrong, that the cultural aspect has become such a small part of whats wrong right now. When looking at the LARGER picture, a quick assimilation may have been less painful in the long run, but we’d still be in close to the same place today as we are right now. A “culture” of chaos, cluelessness (in many aspects), and fear. We’d still be struggling each and every day to do our jobs in spite of upper mgmt’s efforts to cripple us (intended or not). We’d still be suffering from some of the best people and best minds at the company leaving in droves, and the folks at the top are too clueless to realize that that is whats going on because all they see is one less serial number on the paycheck list.

    Stop blaming the victim here (yourself). You and folks like you were the last bastion of saneness, creativity, and positive outlook (even when you knew better), and actual happiness at the company. Now, whats wrong with that? :-)

  • JimFrank

    The reason the acquisition did not have much to do with clashing cultures. Had certain strategic issues been addressed early, you might still see fuzzy pink slippers and bathrobes floating up and down the halls, draped over bleary-eyed engineers who just completed some mega-event of coding prowess.

    Since those issues were not addressed early in the acquisition, we saw panic management at it’s best (or worst). Forget about the business, let’s get in line with the IBM political alignment of the day.

    Those issues were:

    1) Selling
    2) Getting the correct groups in place to address infrastructure
    3) Aligning the necessary ISS processes with IBM processes

    On selling, no one solved the issue of getting ISS products and services into the right places in the IBM Sales force. Those skids should have been greased and ready before the acquisition.

    The ISS infrastructure was ignored during the acquisition. Then the wrong teams were brought in because leadership did not understand it. This became a barrier to getting a lot of things done in the second and third year.

    Alignment. ISS had a number of good business processes in place the day of the acquisition. Instead of maintaining those processes, many were abandoned, “because we were too small a part of IBM for any of it to count”. Then we found out different and the last year and a half was spent on rebuilding those processes to the detriment of focusing on business.

    The bottom line is profit. We needed leadership that understood how business works. How to take the valuable gem called ISS, and navigate through the multitude of IBM organizations selling it inside and out. When an organization can not make a profit on the best security technology in the world, there are underlying issues that can not be put on the employees of ISS.

    • JimFrank

      “The reason the acquisition didn’t go well”, sorry, left out an important piece there.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      That’s the thing that surprised me the most early on. We sure made it difficult for the sales organization to sell what we made. I do believe that is getting better and will be even better now that products are a part of the software division.

  • HappyPuppy

    I disagree with your analysis that culture clash was the major factor in IBM ISS’s failure. I think you are giving yourself too much credit as an icon for screwing things up. For example, your iconic status is not the reason that orders are constantly being placed incorrectly and it takes like 10 days to process an order in an age where everyone else processes orders of this nature in hours, if not minutes or seconds. Nor is it your iconic status that has lead our management to decide to repeatedly limit investment and/or exit the most critical and lucrative security market segments.

    I would say that the failure was the consequence of two basic things:
    1) Systematic tolerance of things that don’t work. Everywhere I look, I see processes that are broken and people who act like it would be next to impossible to fix them. This starts from the tippy top of management, and was common with Tom Noonan. Here’s an example: You can’t erase our whiteboards. A company that will tolerate the fact that you cannot erase a whiteboard when most other humans would return the whiteboards or have them fixed, will tolerate a lot more idiocy. That systemic tolerance of things that don’t work result in poor overall execution and an incredible drag on efficiency. Greatness is a practice, and the only “culture” thing that IBM has a problem with is tolerating mediocre performance from SOME employees, but that has nothing to do with you, and that problem is not really that bad at IBM overall.
    2) The second major reason for our decline is management’s inability to make rational decisions based on facts and carefully collected data. I recently had a high level executive try to justify a particular course of action by saying: “think from the client perspective” and then he immediately started talking about “IBM this” and “IBM that”. How can you be thinking from the customer’s perspective when all your sentances start with IBM’s viewpoint? The reality is that the management at IBM ISS does not pay close attention to the needs and wants of the customers. Instead, they focus more on what they believe IBM’s limitations are, and also how best to game IBM politics to make sure their jobs are secure. If most of their thoughts are centered on “how IBM does business” and not “what does the client fundamentally want”, then they will make product and service decisions that are not aligned with the general customer interest and (surprise, suprise) sales degrade over time.

    If IBM ISS managers were paying attention, they would realize that the perfect security solution is one that costs nothing to manage and is 100% accurate at blocking threats and allowing business operations at full speed. Once it becomes clear that that is what customers ultimately want, it also becomes clear that the best investments are ones that will achieve the greatest progress toward that ideal at the minimum investment. If this basic principle were used as the litmus test to direct the gathering of facts and careful analysis and decision making, IBM ISS would be successful. The reason I’m confident of success is that I’ve seen what these engineers can do when they are motivated by an ideal of greatness and they see a path to achieving that. But, management has decided to leave that ideal to other, better companies.

    So, I’m sorry to deflate your illusions of your iconic status, but you are not the reason our execution was soo poor. I think that you should read the book “Good to Great” again, and ask yourself: how many of those principles did we *really* try?

    At least, that’s my analysis of the situation anyway, but then again, everyone in management thinks I’m a wingnut, so perhaps I am mistaken in my analysis.

    Mucho love to all current and former ISSers (including management)! Always your friend,
    HappyPuppy

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      My intent was not to be as bold or arrogant to think that the sole reason things were not as successful as they could have been was due to me. Far from it.

      I just think that when things aren’t working, the best thing you can do is to look inward and see what personal contribution you have made to the failure. Pointing out all of the failures of others is too easy and ultimately not productive.

      My contribution was symbolic and only one part of the larger problem of culture adaptation, which I do believe was a significant issue. But culture adaptation was not the only issue as many have rightfully pointed out.

      I challenge everyone to look inside and see what their contribution was. If you can’t find any, hmmmm.

      As someone once told me “Look at all of the problems that exist in your life and see what is in common.”

    • http://www.andrewfuqua.com Andrew Fuqua

      You have to use EXPO2’s on those whiteboards. Regular EXPOs are the ones that don’t erase. I kept telling people that but no one would listen to me! “There goes that crazy XP guy spouting off about markers and stuff.” :-)

      • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

        That was you? I had heard that about the markers but when asked why they know this they would just say “Ancient Chinese secret.”

      • Charlie Hubbard

        Wait. Are you saying XP != EXPO markers? So that whole time you weren’t talking about markers! All that time and I thought we were going to design our software with XP markers. Look it really made sense at the time. :-)

  • b33tl3

    I say it’s more like moving to the island in Lost.
    I think the experiment could have worked if there would have been a better communication from the beginning. The smaller company has a lot to gain from the larger more established company but if they don’t know what they can gain and see the gain in a timely manner the employees lose faith. When the larger company comes in and the only real changes you see is that you now have more “paper work” and procedures that appear to impede the productivity of the smaller company without any perceived gains you wind up fighting an uphill battle. I feel this is what happened. People were very excited when IBM bought ISS the though we will have access to lots more sales opportunities, more money to do projects right, we can use IBM hardware to build our appliances, IBM will have very mature processes that will help us make better products, we are big enough now to say “No” to every one off sales deal that sidetracks our teams from the next release, and employees will have tons of opportunity for growth. Guess what none of those happened! People got disgruntled and some still use “us” and “them” because they never thought they were integrated into the family. Communication stopped and people were told you need to follow this process because it’s the IBM way there is no discussion. All of the decision making went up several levels of management and the first line managers became puppets . We all felt like we were living on the island form Lost. They didn’t know what was going to happen and when it did they didn’t understand it most of the time.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      So true. We talk about senior management having a glass pipeline of the sales process so that they know what to expect and that there are no surprises. All companies need a glass pipeline into the cause and effect of decision making for everyone to see. That way good decisions are rewarded and can be replicated and bad decisions are displayed for everyone to learn from.

  • No1

    “look inside and see what their contribution was”

    What does it say when you look inside and see your contribution as simply “business as usual” – i.e. continuing to code the same bug fixes as usual, etc. – not because you don’t TRY to contribute otherwise, but because when you saw an opportunity to improve things, or move things forward, or suggest things that might lead to better efficiencies, you are always met with a brick wall. Or feigned interest if you are lucky? In some companies suggesting better ways of doing things, suggesting innovative processes or products, or even product features amounts to extremely valuable contributions, even if your ideas are ultimately not acted upon for whatever reason. However, in other companies (hint hint) these actions can often be met with resistance, to outright dismissal of the ideas. Not because they are invalid, but because the may deviate even slightly from “the way things are”. Even bad ideas can lead to discussions that can birth good or even great ideas, but not if that environment is not only not fostered, but almost shunned. That can also lead to extreme frustration and perhaps even attrition among the workforce (hint hint).

    ISS used to look for needs in the market place, and not only figure out how to solve them, but figure out how to solve them better than anyone else. Meet the needs, and do it extremely well, and the profits (gross anyway) will follow. The way things are currently, we often ignore the needs of the marketplace and even current customers to a large degree, and instead look at sales and the bottom line. If those are bad, instead of analyzing the issues (Oh gee, we aren’t meeting the marketplace’s needs, or sales are not given the tools they need to properly sell, or some other process is broken), we just dump the product or service virtually outright (oh and then we don’t tell anyone that its been dropped till after the fact. Thats always fun!).

    There are many sayings along the lines of:
    “It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success.” or
    “A failure is a man who has blundered but is not capable of cashing in on the experience.”

    To put it simply, if we see a product failing, we tend (nowadays) to just stop trying.

    As employees you would think that we would have greater insight to the goings on in the company, roadmaps, direction, products, etc. than our business partners. These days not only do the partners often not find out about change till the day of, or after the fact, they are seemingly never given the full picture. To make things worse, us employees are in the dark JUST AS MUCH as the external business partners! Whats wrong with that picture?

    Call me crazy, but I don’t think thats the BEST way to run a business, or at least a division of a larger business. But then again, what do I know?

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      The leaves of the tree know much more about which direction the wind is blowing than does the trunk. Being one of those leaves, No1, you know a lot. Great companies appreciate the power of the knowledge contained at the direct contributor level and seek to learn what they know.

  • Dave Nagel

    Being selfish, I am glad IBM bought ISS. Mainly because, being IBM, it allowed for me to meet good folks like yourself, KLAMB, York, Pirc, Holden, Valasek, Nelms, Cross, Andy Alexander, Banton/Arnett, Markott, Abercrombie, Montiqua, Audra, Phil, Greg Adams, Rob Lamb, Tidwell, Griswold, Amato, Washburn, Jennifer Williams, etc etc…I realize that folks are not happy with where the acquisition stands with the bottom line, but I believe we will make it work.

  • Dave Nagel

    and Also get reconnected with a classmate from college. And the guys in the EAM team like Tony, Brendon, Ravi, Sue Ann, Todd, Navarro…I could go on and on

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      I agree Dave – the hardest part is getting the right people and ISS has a bunch of great people, including yourself.

      I hope that you can take the great attitude you have and spread it around, my friend.

  • Dave

    OK, OK it looks like we’ll use this forum to bare the soul….

    1. The ISS “culture”. An interesting concept. Maybe really, really good at getting guys to do great coding around the clock, but when it comes to the realities of business I gotta tell ya that 48% GP is unheard of in a mature, publicly traded SW company. 80+% is the norm. This is only one of many business health (or unhealthy as the case may be) indicators……

    2. Prior to IBM buying, ISS was at the tail end of a steep and fatal nose dive, that (as pointed out by the puppy), was due to poor management. Also – see item #1 above. A sale to IBM or anyone else willing to shell out the $$ was needed. If it wasn’t IBM it would have someone else and most likely been even uglier in the end. Imagine the ISS logo slapped onto a Cisco or McAfee box….. :)

    3. The “experiment” was a brain child of Noonan and a few Sr. IBMers no longer in the picture with the intent of doing something special with the integration – this was to leave the ISS unit a whole intact instead of parting it our as IBM does in a typical acquisition. Unfortunately, since this had never been done before in IBM AND it was GTS instead of SWG or STG running the integration, no one really new what needed to be done to let ISS stand as a separate business unit. A great concept since IBM really wasn’t known for it’s expertise in the InfoSec space and ISS was a pretty good brand name – this is one of those classic examples of “well gee, it looked great on paper”

    4. Things might have gone better had ISS actually been running like a real, publicly traded company rather than the abortion it was. Over the past 3.5 years, much time and energy was spent in simply making day to day transactions legal (I do mean legal and not just in accordance with IBM policy) in many of the countries that we did business in – seems that being legal really wasn’t high on the list of priorities in the ISS culture…..

    5. Things might have gone better part duex – had anyone (Noonan or the IBMers) really understood what it took to actually run the business as a stand-alone business within IBM and more importantly, sell through the IBM channels. The strategy was “lets throw millions at the the product dev effort and sales will come to us like mana from heaven”. A classic pipe dream – we only needed Kevin Cosner to show up with his cleats………

    So what did we end up with – the $1.3 billion acquisition that was going give IBM a billion+ dollar annual ROI starting in year 3 – time to go back in and do it like IBM has always done it before, time after time – rip the appendages off and put the IP into SWG.

    Joe, I think you’re a great guy and an expert at what you do – but trust me, there was nothing you personally could have done either way to change the outcome of all this.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      I agree Dave about changing the outcome.

      I ask that everyone take a look at the About tab and the story that prompted me to name this column The Stranded Starfish.

      My reflection inward and leaving IBM is only throwing one starfish back out to sea. But it does matter.

    • eeewhatup

      “4. Things might have gone better had ISS actually been running like a real, publicly traded company rather than the abortion it was. Over the past 3.5 years, much time and energy was spent in simply making day to day transactions legal (I do mean legal and not just in accordance with IBM policy) in many of the countries that we did business in – seems that being legal really wasn’t high on the list of priorities in the ISS culture…..”

      LLLOOOOOOLLLL!!!!

      whew – wait a sec

      LLLLLOOOOOOLLLLLL!!!!

      man – thanks for that!

  • http://higginbottom.com Paul

    i’ve not read all of the above comments, but in answer to your original question “If you were IBM, how would you have handled the acquisition of a company steeped in its own culture?” my answer would be – IBM should have IMPOSED its culture and said “get over it, or leave”.

    some at ISS nostalgic for ‘ISS culture’ may not realize it was ‘over’ even before *i* left in 2001!! ISS had become ‘corporate’ and publicly traded, with lots of layers of management, lots of bureaucracy, and some ‘interesting’ politics. not taking anything away from the huge pool of amazing talent there in all areas of the company.

    ISS’ ‘success’ came from right timing, right product, right management early on, but it’s really really hard to keep that going, especially when you’re on a soaring growth curve and then the ECONOMY changes (as it did in the ‘dot com’ burst) – from then on ISS was in major regroup/reshape mode and did well to continue some level of growth but at that point it had to become a much more carefully managed path, until eventually a buyout was possible. this is EXTREMELY common in technology companies though.

    but back to the start again, IBM made a huge gaffe if they decided to not make ISS work the same way as other parts of their company, because inevitably some of it would HAVE to interface, like, duh, sales, and it’s like trying to put a ford transmission with a chevy engine – you might be able to make it work, but it will suck, lol.

    of course i don’t know the inside like others here, but i suspect at some point they will recast the whole thing with specific integration/alignment of ‘cultures’.

    in big companies though, ‘culture’ = ‘process’. it’s “how we roll”. :)

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Right on the money, Paul. I’ve been hearing “this isn’t the old ISS” for 10 years now.

      Not everything was great in the old days either. We tend to forget that. “The older you get, the better you used to be” really applies to organizational memory as well.

      If you look at the engineering organization, though, it’s amazing how many people adapted to that. Even though it wasn’t what it used to be, we hired great people that were great at adapting and knew how to still make it work.

      When I left I was 10th on the ISS years of service list. Eight of the nine others were in engineering. Five of the six original members of the RS NT team are still at the company.

      Paul, I get the feeling that most at ISS would now agree that they wish that we would have ripped off the band-aid back in October of 2006. We were naive to think that it wasn’t going to happen eventually.

      • http://reora.com Paul

        thanks Joe! i’m sure remember the old ISS slogan “to survive you must adapt”!

        ibm, for all its challenges (like most any large company) has a vast wealth of talent, technology, and knowledge of ‘lessons learned’. two of my friends are senior on the consulting side and they get some really big projects done. not always pretty, but they get it done. if i’m running a far flung business like a bank and need help to get something complex done, ibm is a pretty good choice!

        as for anyone at ibm/iss still saying “this isn’t the old iss”, then if that’s what they’re missing and they can’t adapt, then they need to leave or get worked out. think how many talented people right now who can’t find a job would kill to have an opportunity at iss/ibm?

        one problem with an acquisition like iss into a vast company like ibm, is ibm may not be viewed as having the credibility to brand/sell specialized security technology. i don’t know how things are organized but maybe it would make sense if iss were integrated into the systems management side of things.

        anyway, change is the constant! and there are tons of opportunities and possibilities. no need to feel like a stranded starfish! :)

        • No1

          “as for anyone at ibm/iss still saying “this isn’t the old iss”, then if that’s what they’re missing and they can’t adapt, then they need to leave or get worked out. think how many talented people right now who can’t find a job would kill to have an opportunity at iss/ibm?”

          Oh, come on. One one hand you talk about how there are lots of talented people who can’t find jobs, and then on the other you say those who miss the old ISS should leave, as if its so easy.

          Guess what? I’m NOT giving up my job and getting in the unemployment line and looking at the possibility of losing my house if I can’t find a job for long enough, etc. just cause I miss the old days and you say I should leave.

          Am I undeserving of a job here because I miss the old days?

          How about this. I miss the old days. But I’d rather have this job now, than no job at all. Is that OK? Or is this the place only for those ignorant or uncaring about the “old days?”

          I don’t understand this mutually exclusive approach.

          And by the way, if the rule is adapt to our new way or leave, that leaves no room for dissent, no room for opinion, no room for TRYING to make improvements, no room for ambition, no room for creativity, no room for anything. What corporate culture in a company such as this was based on “Shut up and do what you’re told or you’re fired” and succeeded wildly? You know, other than Stalin and Soviet Russia (oh wait, the USSR collapsed too)? Even IBM has more flexibility than that.

          Whoever believes that that is the formula for success should probably pick up a copy of The Soul of a New Machine.

          And BTW, one thing I disliked about the “To survive you must adapt” ethos is that it is not one of a market leader, but of a follower. A Market leader can, in a sense, form the market and shape it (like we did with IDS/IPS). A follower must adapt to the groundwork laid by the leader. A market leader thrives, a market follower “survives.” Instead of “To survive you must adapt” it should have been “To lead we must innovate”

  • Phil

    I worked at Mindspring when the merger with Earthlink happened. I know the failure was in upper management but they merger left the upper slots filled more with one side than the other and people left. They kept mis-balancing and more and more people left. It was a painful experience to see happen to what Mindspring culture was.

    When I walked in the morning and was welcomed by another co-worker with “Welcome to IBM” they questioned why I rolled my eyes and didn’t seem excited. I simply said “We’ll see. The last ‘integration’ I went through was bad…”

    To answer the question: ISS sales team should have been integrated with the IBM side so that the knowledge of both sides could get spread and help leverage the products better. Axing the ISS team was just not a good move.

    The culture change would have caused loss of people regardless of how fast or slow it was. Imposing it immediately though may have resulted in a more immediate BIG loss than occurred over time but this is speculation at best.

    However, I do recall one meeting with Val and others and everyone talked around the elephant in the room. I asked about the elephant ….

    IBM was obviously interested in moving things off shore and they were having issues.

    There are things that you simply could not do with out-sourcing. You can’t put ‘pride’, ‘out of the box thinking’, ‘loyalty’ on a checklist.

    The response left me less than impressed.

    Joe, until that meeting, I think I thought of “you guys” as the hope of getting those higher up to see the insanity of what all was going on and hoping that someone could/would stop it/get through to them.

    I saw so many actions made by IBM that just left me asking “How did they get that big with the decisions they are making?”

    ISS had some great people there. After seeing the dismal decisions Blue made, I can’t say that going in and firing all of the chiefs would have been the best move due to their lack of understanding of InfoSec products. Replacing all the business ended people would have been a good start.

  • A.Johnson

    Rock on Joe! Thanks for the kind words of inspiration in the gym and just for life in general. You presence, spirit and energy will be missed as I wish you all the success that life can and will offer you.

    Salaam,

    Tone.

  • aj

    When they said not to worry, the culture will not change, I believed them. Because I believed them, I did not bother to spend the time and effort to learn what might be available as a part of IBM. This encouragement of a general lack of interest in becoming part of IBM caused many of us, without even realizing, to contribute to the lack of success. When some did start exploring and discovered areas where we needed to go, there was little interest because “we” were not going to have to do it the IBM way, no not us – no need to worry about those details. Unfortunately, all of those “details” are what would have made it possible to take advantage of the opportunity that was presented to ISS to save itself.

    So, Joe, you are not alone, we all have had our parts to play on this particular stage.

  • Chuck Tangy

    I always had that feeling ISS was bailed together with Popsicle sticks, duct tape, and bailing wire. It was really no surprise to me when it all fell apart in IBMs hands. It was like some glorious publicly traded Macgyver invention. It worked but only in the hands of it’s creator. Try and take one of macgyver’s inventions into your own hands and you’ll probably blow yourself up (McGruuber!)

    Ultimately, I think your point of being brash to a fault was all too true. We were getting killed by smarter competitors, but that brash attitude allowed us to act like we were above it in some way. It was like our protective shield against the harsh reality we were loosing, and we hid behind it. What I saw was just a total inability to innovate, and a paralysis on choosing what ISS needed to focus on to grow. Good ideas just couldn’t make it out of the incubator before getting squashed by poor choices. There was a segment of our culture that nurtured these bad habits. If you ask me the culture was the best thing and worst thing about ISS.

    I think ISS was a zombie even before IBM purchased them. It was a surprise to find out how little thought IBM put into this purchase. Stagnant growth, horrible numbers, nothing really new, inability to produce new products, or reach new markets. And, like someone said earlier just complete inability to change processes internally when they weren’t working. Those were all things that were apart of that culture.

    You know John Imlay and Sig Mosley are closing up shop. John said he did do great things for Atlanta’s hi-tech sector, but he regrets that he never created a brand like Coke for hi-tech. I know what he means. Coke is a huge economic engine for Atlanta, and has been for well over a century. The inability to make the jump to a seriously competitive hi-tech city could have lasting effects on Atlanta’s prosperity down the road (Atlanta has too many eggs in the real-estate, and construction basket). I think ISS could have been that brand, but they fumbled the ball just before the goal line. I can now say I was there when the mighty Casey struck out.

  • http://www.chriscarpinello.com Chris Carpinello

    I personally think it’s naive that ISS’ culture would remain intact once it was acquired by IBM. The spirit of ISS and the “Go ISS!” attitude was a product of right time and right place. I remember my first week at ISS when I attended a RealSecure team meeting where Tim Farley was paying up lunch for a challenge where he bet no one could break into his desktop. During the time of first layoffs in 2001, that sense of camaraderie and pioneering spirit just wasn’t there anymore. It’s one of the casualties of growing from 112 people when I joined in ’97 to 1500 when I left.

    From an outsider’s perspective, ISS is just a commodity for IBM. The acquisition equated to yet another checkbox in IBM’s offering to remain at the forefront of business. I’m really surprised IBM didn’t “rip the bandaid off” when the acquisition was complete.

    For what it’s worth Joe, I think you made a great difference at ISS when I was there. Those days were full of fantastic opportunities and hard lessons for me. I still have the RealSecure gargoyle sitting on my desk at home as a reminder of that experience.

    I know you’ll do great things at NCR. I wish you all the best.

  • joe

    Thank you Chris. You were one of the reasons that the early ISS was what it was.