Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Richard Garwin discusses working at IBM.

Oral history audio excerpt

Richard Garwin discusses working at IBM.

Garwin:

But IBM is my employer, principal employer. And so it requires a lot more tolerance on their part. There's a problem with organizations which are created for a purpose and then are involved in controversial things with a small part of their efforts. Mostly it is prevented, because people on the board of directors or board of trustees say it's our business to see that our principal purpose is carried out; that is, the stockholders benefit and the customers get good computers and so on. So in addition to the three principles that Tom Watson Sr. I guess enunciated for the company — that is, service to our stockholders, service to our employees, benefits to our customers — I encouraged people to add a fourth, and that is, to be a good corporate citizen, that is, to have service to society in general. Of course you can't do that to the extent that the company isn't profitable, but if you find some way in which it is cost effective to help the rest of the country or world, then you ought to do it. The calculus that I use to justify IBM's supporting me in these activities is simply to say that IBM is more than one percent of the Gross National Product, and so if I can save a billion dollars here or there, then one percent — 10 million dollars — of that is money that doesn't have to be collected in taxes from IBM. It's not that IBM benefits by selling computing machines to the people that I consult with. In fact it might be quite the opposite. I may never know. But it is this other. And so whatever rationale IBM uses — and there must be times when people complain to them, but I hardly ever see those complaints — they continue to do this, and I think there ought to be more and not less such activity.