This is ONE OF THE BEST AUTOBIOGRAPHIES I'VE EVER READ. Watson --- the son of "the first chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM), who oversaw that company's growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956" --- speaks candidly, and at times, with deep humility, about his life, career and his relationships with his family, IBM colleagues, and friends (many of whom were numbered among the most notable or distinguished scientists, politicians, and artists of the 20th century).
Watson admits that he was a handful for his parents when he was growing up. I chuckled to myself when I read about a stink bomb he created (with the help of a fellow schoolmate) from the stink glands of a skunk, which he let loose in an assembly. As a result, the principal had to close the school for the rest of the day. (Watson subsequently, when asked, admitted -- in accordance with the school's honor code --- that he had committed the foul deed, and accepted his punishment.) He struggled to do well in school. In fact, his grades were so abysmal that his father had him accompany him to visit a friend of his, the president of Brown University in the early 1930s, to help plead his case for admission to the university. Watson continued to struggle, but managed to do well enough to graduate from Brown. Also, during that time, he discovered, upon taking flying lessons, that he was a gifted pilot. This helped to bolster his self-confidence.
Following graduation in 1937, Watson travelled through Europe and China before returning to the U.S. to begin his apprenticeship with IBM in New York City as a salesman. He struggled to learn as much as he could about IBM, but continued to live life as a playboy.
With the coming of the Second World War, Watson entered the U.S. Army Air Corps (via the National Guard), where he learned to fly many of the latest combat aircraft. The Army, Watson maintained, was the making of him. As an officer, he was free, for the first time in his life, from his father's shadow and had to learn to assume a wide range of challenging responsibilities. Watson was part of a team that helped to organize the Lend-Lease ferrying of U.S. military aircraft to the Soviet Union during 1942.
"Toward the end of his service Watson worked for Major General Follett Bradley, who suggested that he should try to follow his father at IBM." He had thought of going to work for the airlines because flying was one area in which he excelled that made him feel good about himself.
Anyway, upon his discharge from the Army with the rank of colonel, Watson went back to work at IBM, this time with a renewed sense of purpose. He spent almost 25 years there, first working with his father til his death in 1956. Thereupon Watson, as President of IBM, helped to make the organization one of the world's most reputable producers of computers, which helped revolutionize the workplace the world over during the 1960s.
Watson, following a heart attack, retired from IBM in the early 1970s and later served as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Carter Administration.
Before reading this book, Watson Jr. was for me merely a name I glanced at once or twice in a newspaper or magazine. But, after reading this wonderful book, he comes across as a basically decent person, who, despite his faults, always tried to do good. The enlightened, liberal capitalist.