Abstract: The Virtue of Flexibility: IBM World Trade's Multifaceted Identity

Petri Paju


This paper focuses on IBM's international subsidiary for overseas operations, IBM World Trade Corporation, and how it strove to promote international cooperation and simultaneously adapt to national concerns in more than a dozen European countries. Examining the cases of national IBM companies in Sweden and Finland, from the prewar years to the 1970s, I argue that IBM management constructed multilevel organizational models and used these to selectively emphasize whatever aspect of its identity seemed most virtuous to a particular audience at a particular time. Local IBM management took part in debates about the national computer industry, and if possible, together with the IBM community sought to increase IBM's local investments or subcontracting. Still, the stories of national IBM subsidiaries could be very different. I further argue for taking a regional and comparative approach to several national IBM subsidiaries to better understand these possibilities, interactions, and differences in outcomes inside IBM. The paper is based on archival sources from the IBM Corporation in the United States and from IBM Finland, as well as IBM publications and interviews.