How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

New IBM CEO means two top tech chiefs are women

October 25, 2011: 5:41 PM ET

Photo by Asa Mathat

Ginni Rometty is the next CEO of IBM, the company announced this afternoon.

With that news comes a stunning stat: America's two largest tech companies will be headed by women.

Meg Whitman, who built eBay (EBAY), became CEO of Hewlett-Packard last month.

H-P (HPQ) is No. 11 on the Fortune 500. IBM (IBM) is No. 18.

Both women spoke at the recent Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Rometty's main message (and one that Whitman also embraces:): "Growth and comfort do not coexist," she said.

Serious career risk has come with every promotion she's taken, said Rometty, 54, who started at IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer, led the growth of IBM's crucial services business and currently heads global sales and marketing. "When did I learn the most in my life, in my career? When I took a risk. It's when I think I learned the most."

Her promotion to CEO, set for January, will be risky since Rometty, who is  No. 7 on the 2011 Most Powerful Women list, has huge shoes to fill following IBM chief Sam Palmisano.

Rometty says that Palmisano advised her:  "Be first and be lonely." Meaning: While most executives gravitate to spaces where somebody already is, you make bigger career leaps (as well as bigger money) by being a pioneer. That, she is.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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