Steve Mills is the most important software executive you never heard of. He's so important that I've sometimes wondered whether I should write a book about him. Steve Mills retired in December 2015 as the executive vice president of IBM Software & Systems after 43 years with the firm. He invented IBM Software. You can read Fortune's story here.
In 1995, Steve saw something important: Software was becoming more important than hardware. He convinced Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM, to launch a Software business. That might sound obvious now, but at the time it was radical. Hardware companies had tons of software (still do). But they didn't sell software; they gave it away to sell hardware.
Steve's the guy that convinced a business machines company could still dance even as software was eating the world. To do it had to wrestle lots of code and control away from the hardware and independent businesses and get it marching in lockstep. He was the right guy for the job.
Steve was also a unique personality. He was as Big Blue as any IBMer I've ever met, and he fiercely protected IBM's interests. But he did it using software. Here are some Steve-isms that shine light on the things he believed in most about software:
- Software is a high-growth, high-margin business. That's why Steve left his cozy sales job to convince the firm that Software should be its own busniness. When I first met him in 1998, he astounded me by marching a room of hard-boiled industry analysts through a three-hour tour de force of his entire software portfolio. He knew all the facts, numbers, and code releases. I think even his leadership team sat in awe. It was impressive, especially for the only history major in a room full of engineers.