Northwestern University trustee and alumna Virginia M. (Ginni) Rometty ’79, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, received a 2019 Edison Achievement Award and delivered the award’s keynote address April 4 in New York City.
The Edison Awards include 16 annual awards that honor excellence in new product design and technological innovation. The Edison Achievement Award recognizes one leader each year for making a significant and lasting contribution to the world of innovation. Past recipients include Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
Rometty graduated from Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering and began her career with IBM as a systems engineer in 1981. She was later selected as CEO in 2012, becoming one of a few female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Under her leadership, IBM has become a leader in artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity and quantum technologies.
Rometty was interviewed as part of the Edison Awards by Stephen Carr, professor at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.
“Ginni’s presence was so great: approachable, confident, master of her domains,” Carr said. “The power of innovating start-ups has become so apparent in the recent three decades, but she has kept IBM on a unique path that will allow it to remain the world’s leader in these emerging fields.”
“IBM is very appreciative of being recognized with this award, and if I think of one word, it means validation,” Rometty said in the interview. “It’s validation of our purpose, and the purpose is to help change the way the world works, work on really important, mission-critical work. It’s a validation of our transformation.”
Northwestern conferred an honorary doctorate to Rometty in 2015, when she delivered the main address at the University’s 157th commencement ceremony. During her address, she stressed to her new fellow alumni that they were graduating at the dawn of a new era of computing made possible by big data.
“What steam was to the 18th century, electricity to the 19th and hydrocarbons to the 20th, data will be to the 21st century,” Rometty said. “That’s why I call data a new natural resource.”
Four game-changing IBM products also were recognized with 2019 Edison Best New Product Awards, with two receiving gold awards and two receiving silver. The products were in the applied technology category and the living, working and learning environments category.
“After 32 years, it never ceases to amaze us how innovations that we could only dream about become our reality,” said Frank Bonafilia, executive director of the Edison Awards. “Once again, the winners created innovations that are revolutionizing industries and becoming indispensable.”