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Primary Sources: Thomas Watson, Sr.: Assets and Liabilities for Success
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Thomas Watson, Jr. had a tough act to follow. His father, Thomas Watson, Sr., had brought automation to American offices at the helm of the company that became International Business Machines (I.B.M.). In his memoir, Watson, Jr. reflected on his decision to seek work at I.B.M. -- and his father's reaction.

During my senior year I also began to have surprisingly prudent thoughts about life after graduation. I still had no idea what I wanted to do, except that I thought I needed the discipline that a job could provide. Only one solution seemed possible. I called up Dad and asked, "How do you go about getting a job at I.B.M.?"

No doubt my father privately rejoiced, although he also may have been wondering what kind of employee he was getting. He quickly arranged for me to start as a sales trainee the following October. The prospect of my working at I.B.M. also inspired Dad to write me even more letters than usual. For my part, I stopped throwing them away and I still have a handful today. One of my favorites is a five-pager from December 1936. He was thinking about moral lessons all the time, and he could not write a letter without giving a lecture. This one was meant to inspire me to pass my remaining courses and graduate:

...always remember life is not as complex as many people would have you think. And the older you grow, the more you will realize that success and happiness depend on a very few things. I list the important assets and liabilities as follows. [Here he drew a line down the middle of the page, and wrote in two columns:]

Liabilities
Reactionary Ideas!
Love of money!
Unwholesome companions!
Lax character!
Lack of love for others!
False friends

Assets
Vision
Unselfishness
Love
Character (Good)
Good manners
Friendship (Real)
Pride in Record

I had always disliked hearing such stuff, but it now seemed pretty well intentioned.


Excerpt from Thomas Watson, Jr. and Peter Petre, Father, Son & Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond. New York: Bantam Books, 1990, pp. 50-51.



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