Virginia M. Rometty, a senior vice president at IBM, will be the company’s next chief executive, the directors announced on Tuesday. She will succeed Samuel J. Palmisano, 60, who will remain as chairman, at the start of next year.
Ms. Rometty, 54, is well known within the technology industry, but not widely beyond. She has led strategically important divisions of the company as it has shifted to services and products with high profit margins, like software that mines vast troves of corporate and online data for sales and cost-saving opportunities.
The directors’ choice of Ms. Rometty, who managed a crucial merger as well as sales in fast-growing new markets, ends a competition that has been under way for years. The leading candidates were always from within the company’s executive ranks.
A leading rival to succeed Mr. Palmisano, analysts say, was Steven A. Mills, the senior vice president who led I.B.M.’s highly profitable and growing software division. But his age, analysts note, was probably an obstacle. Mr. Mills has just turned 60, the traditional retirement age for I.B.M. chief executives.
Mr. Palmisano, in an interview Tuesday, singled out Mr. Mills for praise, saying “he’s done a phenomenal job.”
The selection of Ms. Rometty for the top job at I.B.M. will make her one of the most prominent women executives in corporate America, joining a small group of chiefs that includes Ursula Burns of Xerox, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ellen J. Kullman of DuPont and Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard. Gender, according to Mr. Palmisano, did not figure into Ms. Rometty’s selection.
“Ginni got it because she deserved it,” Mr. Palmisano said, using the informal first name by which she is known to friends and colleagues. “It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies,” Mr. Palmisano added.
Ms. Rometty has led the growth and development of I.B.M.’s huge services business for more than a decade. The services strategy, analysts say, is partly a marketing tactic. But, they add, it also represents a different approach to the technology business, with less emphasis on selling hardware and software products. Instead, I.B.M. puts together bundles of technology to help business streamline operations, find customers and develop new products.
“I.B.M. is selling business solutions, not just products,” said Frank Gens, chief analyst for the technology market research firm IDC. “Rometty has been at the forefront of that effort.”
Ms. Rometty, who graduated from Northwestern University with an undergraduate degree in computer science, joined I.B.M. in 1981 as a systems engineer. She quickly moved up to a series of management jobs, working with clients in industries including banking, insurance, telecommunications, manufacturing and health care.
In 2002, Ms. Rometty championed the purchase of the big business consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, for $3.5 billion.
The deal was made shortly after Mr. Palmisano became chief executive and it was seen as a big risk. The PricewaterhouseCoopers consultants were used to operating fairly independently, in a very different culture from the more regimented I.B.M. style of the time. The danger, analysts say, was that the business consultants would flee in droves, leaving the business a shell.
Ms. Rometty was put in charge of coordinating the work of the acquired firm’s consultants with I.B.M.’s technologists, to tailor services and software offering for specific industries. Ms. Rometty, analysts say, worked tirelessly and effectively to win over the consultants. “She did the deal, and she made it work,” Mr. Palmisano said.
“Ginni Rometty combines performance and charisma,” said George F. Colony, chairman of Forrester Research. “She orchestrated a massive charm campaign to bring the PricewaterhouseCoopers people into the fold. That was the trial by fire for her.”
In 2009, Ms. Rometty became senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing and strategy. Part of the job is leading the I.B.M. drive to sharply increase its business in overseas growth markets, like China, India, Brazil and dozens of emerging markets, including several African nations. Such markets now account for 23 percent of I.B.M.’s revenue, up from 20 percent when she took over. It should reach 30 percent by 2015, the company projects.