An Interview with Watts Humphrey, Part 13: The IBM PC and International Business
This interview was provided courtesy of the Computer History Museum.
The IBM PC Story
Humphrey: It was in the '70s. I remember there was great push, and it must have been in '77, '78, '76, right along in there anyway, that the personal computer was beginning to rear its head, a lot of this little homemade stuff, and things popping up. There was a great pressure that IBM had to have a personal computer. And Frank Cary was, at that point, CEO. This was before Opel came in. Frank Cary was still CEO, so it must have been earlier than '78, but it was in there somewhere. In any event, Frank Cary said, "We're going to develop a PC.” So he pushed the divisions and he got no response. And everybody was sort of looking at it, but they didn't do anything. So he set up a brand new group whose job was just to develop the personal computer.
And he broke them out and he said, "They are reporting to me." And basically they reported directly up through to Frank Cary, a direct pipe. They were in one of the labs, but they had a direct pipe to Frank. And he said, "You can do anything you want. I want a PC on the market in a year." And so that's what they did. And they got the hardware going, they were moving at a great speed, they did a great job, but they didn't have any programming. And they needed about 20 people to start putting together a basic operating system and get something going. If you remember, they had broken up programming. If I had had 4,000 people working for me, I could have put 20 people on the PC in a minute.
But the programmers were all distributed to all the different hardware groups. And there wasn't any operating system group or anybody that would pay any attention to these guys, so they couldn't get a nickel. And it was like what I ran into with the TSS thing. I don't know if I mentioned this, but when I was doing the TSS, doing that programming, I couldn't get any programmers out of IBM at all. We got the guys out of the Advance Systems Development Division, and then we hired a whole lot of guys from CDC and CSC to do it. No, it was CSC and another one of the big programming contractors. So we had contractor developers developing the TSS. This was the case here with the PC, and so they literally had to go talk to somebody to acquire the software. There were a lot of us objecting to this, but Frank basically said, "No, we're going to break any rules to do it the way we want." And so they didn't put any constraints on ownership on the chips or on the programming.
Booch: Was there a lot of push-back from that notion?
Humphrey: Oh yeah, a few of us objected, but we knew that Frank was behind it so no one objected very loudly. They were giving away the Crown Jewels, but we couldn't get an ear. Frank was not in the least bit interested in listening to whatever we were saying, so that's just the way it worked. So it went out and basically the business went with it.
Humphrey: Let me tell you the last story on the corporate staff job, and then we'll come back in 1979.
Booch: You have the
Humphrey: Let me hit that right now.
Humphrey: As part of my job as
Director of Policy Development, I was also on a council they had on dealing
with overseas sales. I mean, marketing to all kinds of countries. And we had
lots of problems. I mean, how do you deal with people in the
Booch: The Shah was still in power then, is that correct?
Humphrey: He was in power and
you had to deal with his cohorts. The business was just terrible. It was
extremely hard. We weren’t making any money. The guys were going through it in
a meeting with Frank Cary. This was in the boardroom, and I was there. The
European marketing people were presenting the story about the problems we were
We literally got out
Booch: Who was the premier of
Humphrey: I don’t remember.
Booch: I’ll have to dig that one up.
Humphrey: It was probably Mao.
Mao was still in, I think. I think it was before the thousand flowers bloom and
all of that stuff. In any event, the Chinese appeared and I couldn’t believe
it. We got the call from the AFSEA (Africa,
It was just
unbelievable what they did. We couldn’t do anything about it, because it was
all standard stuff. They could order it and they could do what they wanted. But
I was just amazed by what they had done. They had sort of figured out how to
get around essentially all of this stuff that IBM had, our strange pricing to
make a bundle of money. They figured it out and they had just taken it. They
cleaned our clock. It was just amazing. Also about the same time, we were
dumped out of
Booch: So this was pressure from the Indian government itself?
Humphrey: Oh yes. They had their own rules. They would not allow you to be wholly owned. We were running into that in all kinds of places. So I got involved in all of those things. We had a lot of stuff going on.