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Applications of Machiavelli on IBM Operations Essay

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Updated: Jun 8th, 2020


The gap between ‘doing’ and ‘achieving’ is a major predicament for many players in the corporate world. Most successful leaders believe practical success is closely related to proper administration of modern business entities (Parrino and Kidwell 51).

However, excellent execution of tasks in the workplace does not automatically translate to career recognition or special remuneration. In his writings, Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the most fascinating political theorists of the 16th century, mainly focused on the issue of realizing political success by all means possible. By this, the theorist encouraged sacrificing conventional social morality if that is what is needed to achieve success. As a result, various scholars associate Machiavelli’s name with deceit, ruthlessness, and manipulation. In spite of these subjective associations, one of his books, ‘The Prince’, is still regarded highly by many leaders today. The reason behind this is because some of his philosophies on success and leadership are refreshing and engaging.

In this paper, the author will analyze Machiavellian ideas from the perspective of a modern business organization. To this end, the author will review how International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation utilizes the concepts promoted in the book. The company has embraced a staggered application of the Machiavellian principles. The selective adoption has contributed significantly to the firm’s success. The discussion in this paper will include the advantages and limitations associated with the application of the philosophies.

Ways through which IBM Subscribes to Machiavellian Philosophy

One of the areas where the Machiavellian ideas are applied in IBM entails the recruitment of new employees. In his book ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli stresses on the importance of a prince observing the men around him. A wise leader is the one who surround themselves with people who portray qualities of faithfulness. A similar case is witnessed in IBM. The selection of employees in this company is always a critical subject to the management (Harreld, O’Reilly and Tushman 32). The reason for this is because the incoming employees, together with the existing lot, are the key drivers of success in the organization. As such, they must remain faithful to the goals and aspirations of the entity.

An analysis of Machiavelli’s ideas reveals his feelings towards the subject of hiring. According to him, a prince should appoint people who believe in the dignity of the duty and prominence of a leader (Machiavelli and Marriott 20). To this end, a leader should disregard individuals who are driven by money and status. The reason is that such people will quit the organization once they get better offers somewhere else. During recruitment of employees, the management at IBM considers applicants who are primarily devoted to helping the company move forward and thrive in the future. As such, no worker is required to take the corporation’s integrity and business ethics for granted (Gray and Kinnear 62).

IBM adheres to Machiavelli ideas with respect to leadership. According to the political theorist, a successful leader is one who strives to gain fame by exhibiting traits of greatness and excellence. To accomplish this, the individual must portray competent managerial qualities (Machiavelli and Marriot 30).

Proper and effective administration is achieved in two ways. The first is through the success of the corporation and individual employees. The second is through the formulation of policies that go beyond the term or tenure of the current Chief Executive Officer. The aim is to ensure that the company thrives for generations to come. In line with this, IBM has experienced proper management and leadership since its foundation in 1911. It is noted that Thomas J. Watson, the CEO at the time of inception, played a significant role in crafting the future of the entity. For example, he took the firm to great heights by leading effectively and developing ways of boosting the morale of employees (Long 80). Some of his major strategies included furnishing the company’s brand and rewarding employees for exemplary performance.

Ways through which IBM Eschews the Ideas of Machiavelli

In spite of the significant influence of Machiavelli philosophies on modern leadership, not all managers or organizations subscribe to all the ideas. The major reason for this is because some of the philosophies are considered unethical in the modern world. For example, Machiavelli talks of virtue as an aspect needed by a prince to enhance their reputation. In addition, he mentions three qualities that must be exhibited by a leader. To begin with, the manager must be stingy. Generosity should be avoided. In addition, it is better to be feared than to be loved (Machiavelli and Marriott 25). Lastly, one must not be unnecessarily bothered by the morality and ethics behind the means used to acquire power.

Since the founding of the organization, leaders at IBM have attained power largely through the use of the right channels. In addition, they treat their employees with generosity. To this end, they avoid instilling fear among their juniors. They are aware of the fact that fear may breed hatred. For example, the company was one of the first entities to motivate its employees with a wide range of benefits. Such policies included paid vacations and life cover. Rewards programs for employees apply even today. The managers have realized that the acts of stingy and ruthless leaders can make employees leave the organization after a short period (Parrino and Kidwell 75). As a result, the firm will lose as a result of the investment it has made to train and accommodate those employees.

The Importance of Measured Observance and Avoidance of Machiavellian Ideas to IBM

As already indicated above, IBM has adhered to some of the Machiavellian principles that are regarded as progressive and avoided those that are believed to be destructive. As a result of this staggered focus on Machiavelli, the company has achieved significant success and attracted accolades from regulators in the industry. As a result, the corporation continues to abide by those teachings that are beneficial, disregarding those that are full of limitations. The most influential ideas are related to proper administration to ensure great achievement in the business world.

In 2005, IBM was among the top 20 best corporations to work for as a commuter (Harreld et al. 33). The research was conducted by Environmental Protection Agency (EAP). In 2009, the company registered the highest number of patents in the country. The figure stood at approximately 5000. As a result, the corporation managed to set the highest record in history. Consequently, it was able to maintain its edge over major rivals. The closest competitor was Samsung, which had 3,611 grants. At third place was Microsoft with 2,906 (Long 66). The lead was IBM’s 17th in a row. The results were announced by IFI Patent Intelligence.

In 2012, the company received another accolade. It was regarded as the second largest company in the country. The clustering was based on the number of employees. On the basis of market capitalization, it was position 4. On the basis of profitability, the company was ranked 9th. It was placed 19th with regards to revenues. It was ranked number 31 globally (Gray and Kinnear 81).

Other success factors resulting from proper use of Machiavellian ideas include being considered the best firm for leaders. It is also regarded as the number one Green Company and second best global brand. It is also one of the most respected companies in the world. In addition, the company was ranked as the 5th most admired corporation in the globe. In terms of innovativeness, it was ranked 18th (Long 70). All these accolades were received in 2011 and 2012.

In 2013, IBM still managed to gather the highest number of patents. The result ensured that it maintained the record for 22 successive years. The company’s employees have also received numerous awards. They include a total of five Nobel Prizes and National Medals of Science. Others are ten State Honors of Technology and six Turning Awards. Through effective management, IBM’s working periphery saw a positive growth from 16.8% to 24.3%. The increase was between 2004 and 2013. Net profits increased from 9.0% to 16.5% within the same period (Long 89).

How IBM Manifests Machiavellian Philosophies

IBM exhibits Machiavellian principles in diverse ways. The great theorist stressed the need for proper administration. According to him, an individual who does not manage their business appropriately will soon lose all they have acquired (Machiavelli and Marriott 9). In addition, the leader will experience numerous challenges while running the trade. IBM has manifested proper utilization of this philosophy. All the leaders in the organization strive to maintain the company’s top position in the market. They know that poor management can result in the company’s downfall (Parrino and Kidwell 74). Given the stiff competition in the corporate world, the company cannot afford even a slight drop in this front.

Another manifestation of Machiavellian philosophy is the failure of the company to assist competitors. Machiavelli insists that it is not appropriate to help and collaborate with a foreigner. The reason is because the external agent can sponsor the formulation of plans to overthrow the prince. In IBM, an employee is not allowed to provide assistance to a firm that rivals the entity in terms of market products (Harreld et al. 40). The management argues that such an act may result in conflict of interests. As a result, employees are prohibited from working for a competitor as either a consultant or a member of a board of directors without the CEO’s consent.

A wise man is required to follow the path created by great men. In addition, he should emulate those who have achieved supremacy. The aim is to keep up with the excellent work that has already been started. Machiavelli further stresses on the need to act like a clever archer who plans to hit a mark that seems to be out of reach. Knowing the limits of the bow, the archer should take an aim that is much higher than the target (Machiavelli and Marriott 23). The philosophy is manifested in IBM through the inheritance of power. After nearly 40 years as the company’s head, Thomas Watson Sr. resigned from office. The position was filled by his son, Thomas Watson Jr. He imitated his father’s great work, managing to alleviate the company to greater heights.

On the inheritance part, IBM’s leadership counters Machiavelli’s argument. According to the theorist, the hard road to the top is usually the most appropriate. Leaders who inherit their success have higher chances of failure compared to those who are self-made and who reach the spot by learning vital life lessons (Machiavelli and Marriot 30). However, as much as Thomas Watson Jr. inherited the position from his father, he never showed signs of weaknesses in his leadership.

Another way through which IBM manifests Machiavellian principles is through innovations. A prince should undertake great projects to boost his reputation. All of IBM CEO’s have driven the company to bigger heights by ensuring the corporation keeps up with its great inventions. The organization spends 6% of its annual revenue on research and development (Long 80). Currently, the firm’s president is Ginni Rometty. She has managed to emulate leaders before her to ensure the company improves its ranking as the most innovative entity in the world. Some of the company’s inventions include the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), the hard disk drive, and Watson artificial Intelligence.


In ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli explains how to acquire and maintain political power. In spite of the fact that his works date back to half a millennium ago, the philosophies continue to be used in all levels of the modern society. The ideas have been used by numerous leaders in different business organizations. For decades, IBM has thrived by using Machiavellian ideas on success and leadership. Leaders abide by the most important goal put across in ‘The Prince’. The ‘entrepreneurs’ understand that there is minimal variations between impediments and opportunities. As a result, they turn both elements to their advantage. Managers come up with innovative solutions to problems in the corporate world. However, not all principles have been put into practice.

Works Cited

Gray, Colin, and Paul Kinnear. IBM: SPSS Statistics 19 Made Simple, New York: Psychology, 2012. Print.

Harreld, Bruce, Charles O’Reilly and Michael Tushman. “Dynamic Capabilities at IBM: Driving Strategy into Action.” California Management Review 49.4 (2007): 21-43. Print.

Long, Steven. International Directory of Company Histories, Detroit, Mich.: St. James, 2014. Print.

Machiavelli, Niccolo, and Kennedy Marriott. The Prince, Waiheke Island: Floating, 2008. Print.

Parrino, Robert, and David Kidwell. Fundamentals of Corporate Finance, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.

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