IBM names Virginia Rometty new CEO

IBM (s IBM) today named Virginia Rometty as its CEO in waiting. Rometty, currently the company’s top sales executive, will take the reins January 1, 2012, from Sam Palmisano who will have reached IBM’s mandatory retirement age of 60.

Rometty, 54, who will be the first female CEO in IBM’s 100-year history, has a strong grounding both in sales and in IT services, an area where IBM has focused much of its effort over the past few years. She is also expected to keep driving Palmisano’s cloud computing agenda which also drives a lot of services business for the Armonk, N.Y. computing giant.

A 30-year IBM, veteran, Rometty is currently SVP and group executive of IBM’s Sales, Marketing and Strategy. Previously she was SVP of IBM Global Business Services where she directed IBM’s acquisition and integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting in 2002. It was in that role that Rometty reportedly caught Palmisano’s attention.

According to IBM’s statement:

As global sales leader for IBM, Ms. Rometty, 54, is accountable for revenue, profit, and client satisfaction in the 170 global markets in which IBM does business. She is responsible for IBM’s worldwide results, which exceeded $99 billion in 2010. She also is responsible for leading IBM’s global strategy, marketing and communications functions. Previously, Ms. Rometty was senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services. In that role, she led the successful integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting — the largest acquisition in professional services history, building a global team of more than 100,000 business consultants and services experts.

Some had expected that Steve Mills, SVP of IBM’s $40 billion Software Group, might get the nod, but age may be a factor there. Other contenders were reportedly Michael Daniels, head of global services and Rodney Adkins, SVP for hardware.

Palmisano, who became CEO in 2002 after Louis Gerstner left, will stay on as chairman, according to an IBM statement. There had been considerable speculation that Palmisano would stay on past the retirement age.

Palmisano is credited for continuing IBM’s sometimes controversial exit from thin-margin businesses including PCs, printers and disk drives and refocusing the company on more profitable software and services.