Dave Liddell Bloggerview – The History and Inside of IBM SWG Analyst Relations

I’ve known this one was coming for a while and I didn’t really know how to properly state the opening, there was too much to say.

Dave started Analyst Relations in Software Group, then honed it to one if not the best group there is. I haven’t done a bloggerview about someone I’ve worked for so this is a first also.

I’ll say that I learned more about how to deal with situations, executives and yes…analysts by taking hard situations to Dave and getting help solving the problems. Dave gave me a great opportunity to come to Software Group from the old PC division to enjoy some of the best years of my working career.

Dave discusses some of that and much more below. Here is an insight to the Analyst Relations discipline and a history lesson of IBM SWG that you couldn’t get anywhere else. Enjoy.

The SWG AR group was at the height of its performance when Dave retired.  It was never better either before or after his departure. We executed well and our performance stood on its own. We didn’t have to create and dress up reports to try to make them prettier than the other groups as it wasn’t his style (he knew what was meaningful to the execs who already had enough reports on their business to read).  It was no-nonsense action oriented process that got results and generated loyalty.  I was never more proud of the analyst group than when he ran things.  There were never fire drills even when there was intense pressure from Mills or Gerstner/Palmisano and he was always under control and unflappable like no other leader.  While others deflected the pressure to the rest of the group, Dave acted coolly and handled both the executives and the emergencies appropriately.  Mike Bizovi has come the closest to Dave with respect to handling pressure while keeping his cool, and he seems destined to be the next leader of the IBM AR group.

One thing we chose to leave out when this was originally written was that it was our goal and intention to influence analysts, and we were able to do so without them knowing it.  We actively tried and were able to change opinions and reports by our actions and Dave knew how to get that done.  This was our intent going into meetings regardless of whether it was the CEO of Gartner, Forrester, IDC or from a lower tier analyst who had only one executive which supported him and was background noise.

Dave made sure all of our interactions were professional and regardless of whether we cared or not, we treated them with respect.  Overall, our group collectively knew who was influential and we made sure those analysts issues were attended to.

What was your career history with IBM. You didn’t just work for 38 years in Analyst Relations?
I have been extremely fortunate to have had five different careers at IBM – manufacturing, sales, product marketing, solution marketing and analyst relations.

Manufacturing began in Rochester, MN where also worked in tool design and product test before becoming a self-taught programmer, designing and coding (Fortran and Assembler) an online report generator that on one of the very first time-sharing systems using video displays. The only problem: I simply HATED engineering.

In Chicago I was a client rep for Motorola, and sales manager for the Chicago-based steel companies.

My timing to join the division staff in San Jose for IBM storage systems couldn’t have been worse — just at the time IBM collapsed in that market. I moved east to White Plains to lead US storage marketing just as IBM regained storage leadership.

As part of the original core team under Mark Morin (who retired the same day I did) we created in less than five years an industry-leading “start up” with over 1,000 employees, IBM Image Systems. When the market for image document systems eventually cooled (there are thousands of ImagePlusR still installed), Steve Mills had just been named general manager of Software Solutions Division and asked if I could start an AR team for him. The rest, for the next 13 years, is history.

Talk briefly about your decision to retire. I always wanted to go out on top, but Michael Jordan couldn’t let go on the other hand. To me, it was the perfect way to do it?
Flattery will get you anywhere. Seriously, I spent a lot of time worrying that the world-class AR team built in IBM software would not remain a leader, frankly because of me. Hubris is a tough enemy. It’s one that thrives on a history of prior success.

But my decision to retire really had to do with me. My wife had retired 6 years earlier. I looked at the life she was leading and said to myself, “Self, that looks pretty good. How about we go get some of that for us?” Seriously, it was time and I was fortunate to be able to do so.

You retired from IBM in March, what have you been doing since then?
Ironically, I’ve been doing AR. A couple of clients have asked that I help them with various aspects of their programs. That said, I’m not interested in taking on operational responsibility. That’s why I retired. But I also don’t want anyone to think that I’m hanging out a shingle to compete with KCG, Forrester or Lighthouse. They are much more into AR operations, training, evaluation and surveys than I intend to be. If I had to classify my niche, it’s giving advice to senior executives on how AR teams can best deliver the value those executives want from them.

But it would be misleading to say that it’s been all work. There’s also been a lot of travel. That got easier when the kids were grown, but it’s a lot easier now without a 9 to 5 job. A week here, mid-week there, both in Europe and the US. Like all of us, sometimes that’s pure “get away”, but often it’s with my Blackberry.

Now that you’ve had time to think about it, what are your thoughts about analyst relations at IBM?
It was a terrific opportunity to build a function and a team. We started at zero, or as the analysts at now-defunct Meta Group said when asked, less than zero, closer to minus infinity as it were. The IBM software executive team gave AR an extraordinary level of support – people, money, and most importantly, their time. I’d like to think that over the course of those 13 years that the executive support was not blind, that they had plenty of opportunity to inspect whether the AR team had consistently demonstrated good stewardship of the resources entrusted to it and delivered value for the investment.

I also think IBM software AR has provided a valuable work environment for many people – both those who came and stayed as well as those who joined the team for a while and moved on. Everyone had opportunities to learn. For sure, whatever it is that the AR team became, it was the contributions of those many people who made it so.

Can you share some thoughts on the history of IBM analyst relations and how it has progressed? What was the hand of Dave Liddell on the direction over the years?
The start-up days were tough, not just for AR but for what was to become IBM Software Group two years later. There were no good models for AR, so we had to invent one built on basics: earn the trust of both analysts and executives; be fact-based in a world of hype; and be relentless in everything we did.

Perhaps, especially in the beginning when almost all relationships between analysts and IT suppliers were adversarial, that struck me as nonsense, if not irresponsible for both parties. In the end, we both existed because the customers wanted us to do so. No matter what traffic in money and knowledge passed between us, it was dwarfed by what customers – our mutual customers – expected of us.

Analysts needed product and technology skills that came to suppliers as a matter of course and suppliers needed the perspective that analysts generated also as a matter of course. None of that is to suggest that there aren’t opposing interests between suppliers and analysts, but those opposing interests are only an element of a very complex set of relationships.

What did we learn from our experiences?
This may be putting it too boldly, but we learned that it is possible to influence thinking. It’s a lot of hard work, often over months if not years. It is done with facts in an environment of candid communication and trust. A funny thing happened along the way. The more the IBM team became successful at influencing opinions, the more the team learned to learn from those same analysts. That’s the thing about the influence of facts, trust and communications on relationships. They are bi-directional.

Other than the obvious of contract negotiation and other administrivia, what did (do) you see your relationship with the analysts and the analyst firms?
The facts say my role directly with analysts and analyst firms was rather minor compared to what the AR team did. My job was more about creating the environment in which AR could work, and do so productively. That said, in hindsight I’d say my most typical personal role was to be a bridge (either way) when there was a misunderstanding between the software team and an analyst or firm. Relationship management, even in strong relationships, takes lots of work by everyone involved. Maybe it’s fair to say I also did a lot of prodding.

An analyst once said to me that the key to his success was immersion in the flow of information. Everything that is going on in a segment leads to better understanding of some other part of the segment. In that sense, with the large number of markets IBM software participates in, the very large community of analysts following IBM software and the thousands upon thousands of engagements created an environment in which I too was in a huge information flow. Simply said, I could act as a bridge (over troubled waters? between analysts and IBM because of that perspective.

What are you doing now? Could you give information about your company?
I’ve wondered for a long time what it would be like to say “this is MY company”. It feels pretty good.
Silvermine Brook LLC (silvermine@att.net, 203-966-4433) is now in its second quarter of operation — lawyers, accountants, tax codes, annual meetings, quarterly reports, the whole 9 yards. It’s not that I haven’t dealt with all of that over the years, I have, but I’d expect that anyone who owns a company appreciates that there is just a different feeling when all of that is very personally about “your” money. Anyway, it’s a kick, it’s different, and there are no pretensions that this is anything but a way keep a hand in the game. Well, maybe there is one more thing. Now that I’m at home much more it gives me something to work at, along the lines of that sage marital advice “For better or for worse, but not for lunch”.

Catch all question. What did I miss that you want to say?
The decision to retire was not one made quickly, but it was one I discussed with the executive team for nearly five years. Part of it was me making up my mind about what I wanted next, but a good part was to ensure there was a team and a management system that could run IBM software AR better than I ever did. I left with the full confidence that the best years for the AR team were yet to come.

6 thoughts on “Dave Liddell Bloggerview – The History and Inside of IBM SWG Analyst Relations

  1. Great to catch up with Dave and find out what he’s doing!! He was a fantastic role model. It’s great to have been part of his team! The bar was high and the team was and is great! He left quite a legacy!


  2. Pingback: One of the Problems With Big Companies is Their Middle Management « Delusions of Adequacy

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