When Ms. Kohnstamm joined IBM in June 1993, she was persuaded to join the then-struggling brand by former chairman Louis Gerstner Jr., whom she had worked with at American Express. One of her first tasks was to whittle down some 80 different agency relationships to one, consolidating with Ogilvy, which was considered a radical move back then. She then set about creating a cohesive voice that positioned IBM as more than a tech hardware vendor beginning with “Solutions for a Small Planet” in 1995.
Spent $309 million last year
She also oversaw the successful IBM-coined word and business strategy of “e-business,” as well as more recent evolutions of that solutions strategy now known as IBM’s “on demand” business service offering. Current CEO Sam Palmisano praised Ms. Kohnstamm’s contributions to IBM in the internal memo and said he is “delighted that we will benefit from Abby’s continuing relationship with IBM.”
IBM spent $309 million on measured U.S. advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. While it no longer sells consumer products with the sale of its PC division to Lenovo earlier this year, IBM buys broadly with a brand message that seeks to reassure, usually with a humorous bent, that it is in the business of making technology work for regular people. Interbrand ranked IBM No. 3 in 2005 on its annual list of best global brands.
'Her heart is there'
IBM said Ms. Kohnstamm would not be available for comment. But Shelley Lazarus, Ogilvy chairman-CEO, dismissed the possibility of Ms. Kohnstamm taking another high-level marketing or advertising job, saying, “I think she really wants a different view. A more varied [situation], with more pieces, with more [personal] time, and the ability to pursue several things. And she really does want to continue to consult with IBM. After all, her heart is there.”
Ms. Lazarus predicted little difficulty in the client relationship going forward as the Ogilvy/IBM relationship is deep with many points of contact.
Ms. Kohnstamm holds an MBA from New York University and sits on the boards of Tiffany & Co., the Board of Trustees and the Board of Overseers for Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, and the Board of Overseers at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Ms. Lazarus said Ms. Kohnstamm indicated she will look at the boards she’s on, likely pursue some nonprofit work, and even “made some noise about teaching.” Her last day at IBM will be Jan. 3.