Mar
30
2012
Code Error: New IBM CEO Wears a Skirt, Revives Controversy for Green Coats
By Stephanie Wei under The Masters

Uh-oh: That whole male-only members policy is causing another headache for ANGC

As you’ve probably heard, Augusta National Golf Club, the exclusive all-male establishment that hosts the Masters, is making headlines again for its membership policy. This time, it’s not Martha Burk raising a ruckus and picketing the entrance to the club. Rather, it has to do with tradition, and regardless of the outcome, ANGC will have to break tradition.

Virginia “Ginni” Rometty was named as CEO of IBM this year. Historically, ANGC has granted the company’s chief executive officer a membership as one of the three sponsors of the tournament. IBM’s male CEOs have donned the classic green jacket while hosting clients in its hospitality cabin near the 10th hole. Now, has Ginny be fitted for one? Will we see her wearing the traditional green membership jacket as she schmoozes with the the old boys club next week? Good question.

Via Bloomberg:

“They have a dilemma on many levels,” said Marcia Chambers, senior research scholar in law and journalist in residence at Yale University Law School. “If there’s been a tradition of certain CEOs, then they should look at this new CEO in the same way. The only thing that makes her any different is her gender.”

Augusta, which owns and hosts the Masters, sets its own rules as a private club and has resisted calls for change in the past. Augusta didn’t have a black member until 1990, when it extended an invitation to Gannett Co. (GCI) television President Ron Townsend, who still belongs.

Rometty, who does play golf, though not frequently, inherited the sponsorship from predecessor Sam Palmisano. IBM is featured in the tournament’s TV commercials and runs its website, mobile-phone applications and media-center technology. Palmisano serves on Augusta’s technology tournament committee. He remains IBM’s chairman — a role Rometty is likely also to assume upon his retirement.

Steve Ethun, a Masters Tournament spokesman, declined to comment, citing a policy that forbids membership-related discussions. Edward Barbini, a spokesman for Armonk, New York- based IBM, also declined to comment. Augusta members are never officially identified outside the exclusive greens; known members contacted for this story declined to comment.

Augusta’s top-secret membership policy will prevent us from knowing whether or not Ginny has received an invitation to become the first female member of the club. USA Today’s Christine Brennan writes perhaps she already has:

It’s possible that the question actually might be moot. It is within the realm of possibility, remote as it might seem, that she’s already a member and we simply don’t know it yet.

We do know this. Augusta National certainly won’t tell us. It’s the club’s policy to not discuss its membership, a policy busted to bits during the great Hootie Johnson-Martha Burk dust-up of 2002-03, but the club is adhering to it this week, spokesman Steve Ethun said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Naturally, Martha Burk came out of the woodwork for comment, according to GolfDigest.com:

They should say they no longer participate [in sponsoring the Masters],” Burk told Golfdigest.comlate Wednesday, speaking from a hotel room in Washington D.C. Augusta National’s male-only membership “is an archaic policy that does not agree with their company’s values. The board of directors has a responsibility here too. The board needs to distance the company from this club. But they’ve had that responsibility for the past nine years, and they haven’t done anything about it.

“So if they don’t do anything, that is a sign of disrespect for their new CEO.”

The best column I’ve read on the controversial topic comes from the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, who argues the situation isn’t solely a gender issue, rather it’s because Rometty has earned it because “in business, she plays from the tips”:

If there is a valid philosophical argument that will persuade Augusta to make Rometty a member it’s this: CEOs don’t really qualify as men or women. They’re a cold-water species of achievers, entrepreneurs and restless ladder climbers. Rometty earned her way into a winner’s circle that is genderless. Her defining characteristic is not that she’s a woman, but that she has a talent for corporate victory.

Why does the CEO of IBM always get a green jacket? It’s an interesting question. Apparently because IBM chiefs fit the profile of dignified yet aggressive accomplishment that Augusta likes to cultivate for the main body of its reported 300-odd member list, which is said to include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Louis V. Gerstner Jr., Pete Petersen, Kenneth Chenault, Sanford Weill, George Schultz, as well as execs from Coca-Cola, General Electric, Rockwell, Bechtel and so on.

Inherited money doesn’t get you into Augusta, nor does status or reputation alone. The best way to become a member is to shark your way to the top of a large American company.

Rometty has done that. She presided over a strategy that has lifted IBM shares to the highest levels in company history. She was apparently instrumental in pushing the company into cloud technology. When she was promoted in January, her predecessor Sam Palmisano said, “Ginni got it because she deserved it . . . It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies.”

If Rometty is invited to become an Augusta member, it won’t be because “it’s time” for a woman. It’s more likely to be because the members want to know what she thinks. And according to a profile by Bloomberg Business Week, she is a “serious, no-nonsense thinker.”

I don’t have much to add, but I think it’s fairly obvious where I stand on the issue. Actually, just read Jenkin’s column.

(Photo via Bloomberg)