Is Big Blue making plans for Chicago?

April 25, 2005

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

IBM is a bellwether. When Big Blue pre-announced lower than expected earnings on April 14, the stock market reacted with a 191-point shudder. While IBM has moved markets down, more importantly, where Chicago is concerned, IBM can move markets up as well. At $96 billion in revenues IBM can have a big impact.

With the appointment of Dave Carlquist, 44, as vice president/ Americas central region -- the ranking Chicago-based IBM executive -- IBM could become a much more visible player on the local tech scene. The jury is still out. Carlquist has been in the job only since December. Though he's yet to define a focused local mission, the early signals are positive.

IBM's statistics are impressive. The company contributed more than $3.5 million to local schools and charities last year. Recently Carlquist hosted an innovation roundtable bringing Claudia Fan Munce, vice president of IBM's venture capital group to town. IBM appears to be shopping for local tech company investments and additional business partners. Instead of flying over Chicago to California, IBM executives are stopping here.

That's good news for Chicago's tech startups.

"IBM hasn't turned down one meeting on behalf of our startup companies," says Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center President David Weinstein, who helps fledgling companies. "The fact that Dave Carlquist was born and raised here, he's got a natural affinity for Chicago."

Carlquist is turning IBM's attention to Chicago's middle market businesses. "We have a reputation for serving clients like Motorola, Sears and Allstate," Carlquist says. "We generate over 20 percent of our revenue in the Midwest from small and medium-size customers. That may surprise a lot of folks. We're proud of IBM's presence in Chicago."

Carlquist points to a relationship that began in 1914 and today employs more than 3,500 in the metro area with a payroll near $300 million. IBM recently recommitted to downtown Chicago, taking space in the new Hyatt Center on South Wacker Drive. IBM will occupy those offices in September.

Carlquist graduated in 1978 from Downers Grove South High School, where he was quarterback of the football team. A strong competitor, Carlquist recalls, "Our nemesis was East Leyden, which won the state championship."

Carlquist attended Northwestern, studying computer science. He learned to program what are now legacy computer systems. "I can do FORTRAN, COBOL, PL1 and APL," jokes Carlquist, who prefers his role on the business management side to that of a systems developer.

After graduation, Carlquist joined IBM. He earned his MBA at night at the University of Chicago in 1987. Though Carlquist worked in India, Russia and China, he's pumped about Chicago: "I'm thrilled to be in this role."

What would Carlquist do if the mayor, the governor or the Civic Committee call for IBM's volunteer support?

"I'd ask: 'Where do you need help?' I want to be customer driven," Carlquist says. "Nurturing the ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in Chicago, that's what I'm interested in."

Carlquist's phone might be ringing soon.

Flowerpetal.com blooms

Mother's Day is around the corner, but Chicago-based Flowerpetal.com founders Brian Crummy, Todd Crummy and Mark Benjamin are getting bouquets from the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. The on-line flowers purveyor will be named Entrepreneur of the Month for April.

Crummy, Crummy and Benjamin launched their online flower venture in March 2004.

"We started because I was ordering flowers from 1-800-flowers," Brian Crummy says. "I was sending flowers to my girlfriend's mother for Mother's Day. They didn't get there. I was embarrassed. The customer service was atrocious.

"I realized we could do very well by improving customer service. That's what we're focusing on at Flowerpetal.com."

Koskenalusta honored

Executives' Club President Kaarina Koskenalusta was feted at a Chicago Club banquet last week honoring her 20 years at the club's helm. Koskenalusta has transformed the Executives' Club into a local powerhouse. Her focus on bringing technology leaders from the likes of Microsoft, Verizon, Intel and Oracle to Chicago to speak is just one example of her many local contributions. Chicago's tech community is bigger and better to-day thanks to Koskenalusta's efforts.


Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.

 

 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners