Adkins, Rod 1958–
Rod Adkins 1958–
“Moving forward, moving fast,” Rod Adkins told Government Computer News when asked for his personal motto. It is a fitting description not only for his career climb through the ranks of IBM, but also for his work at the company. In his 20-year move from engineer to division leader, Adkins has helped introduce laptop computing and shape the field of super computing. In his most recent role as head of IBM’s Pervasive Computing division, he led one of the most exciting movements since the dawn of the information age—wireless computing. Fortune magazine named him one of the 50 most powerful black executives in the country, but his high-profile role has made Adkins one of the most powerful IT executives in the country period. The only time Adkins has slowed down is to mentor other minorities in the field—helping them to also move forward, fast.
Rodney C. Adkins was born on August 23, 1958, and raised in Miami, Florida, along with two siblings. His mother, Wauneta, was a nurse and his father, Archie, was a custodian at a local middle school. Though neither had attended college, they encouraged their three children to excel in school. “We were the first generation in our family to get a higher education,” Adkins told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). Hints of his future in technology were already beginning to appear when Adkins was just a child. “I had a basic interest in how things worked. I experimented a lot at home taking things apart, not just my toys but televisions and appliances,” he recalled to CBB. “It drove my parents crazy but as long as I put it back so it worked, there was no problem. They didn’t discourage me, instead they positively harnessed my interests by allowing me to experiment.” In high school Adkins excelled in math, science, and the nascent field of computing technology then known as data processing. During his senior year an IBM representative visited Adkins’s class. “He talked about careers at IBM and the IT market and he really helped confirm my interest in a technical career,” Adkins recalled to CBB. Graduating as valedictorian and student council president, Adkins had no problem securing a college scholarship. In 1976 he began a joint program between Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and Georgia Tech University, earning dual degrees in physics and
At a Glance …
Born on August 23, 1956, in Miami, FL; son of Wauneta and Archie Adkins; married Michelle Collier Adkins, December 17, 1983; children: Rodney II, Ryan. Education: Georgia Institute of Technology, BS, electrical engineering, 1981, MA, electrical engineering, 1983; Rollins College, FL, BS, physics, 1982; Harvard Business School, Program for Management Development, 1993.
Career: IBM, Printer Assurance, engineer, 1981–82, Special Component Engineering, engineer, 1983–86, Special Component Engineering, manager, 1986–87, Vice President of Development, technical assistant, 1987–88, Processor Development, manager, 1988–90, Division Director of Planning, technical assistant, 1990–91, Vice President of Systems, executive assistant, 1991–92, PS/2 Desktop Development, product manager, 1992–93, Mobile Computing, operations manager, 1993–94, Commercial Desktop Systems, director, 1994–95, Commercial Desktop Systems, vice president, 1995–96, Desktop Systems, general manager, 1996–98, UNIX Server Division, general manager, 1998–2001, Pervasive Computing Division, general manager, 2001–.
Selected memberships: IBM Worldwide Management Council, 2000–; co-chair, IBM Multi-Cultural People in Technology Task Force, 1999–; co-chair, IBM Black Family Technology Awareness, 1999–; board of governors, Academy of Technology, 1996–; presidential advisory board, Georgia Tech University, 2003–; National Society of Black Engineers 1995–; president and chairman of the board, Greater Central Texas Youth Association, 2000–02.
Selected awards; Ranked 19, “Most Powerful Black Executives,” Fortune, 2002; Technologist of the Year, Texas Technology for e-Business, 2001; Golden Torch Lifetime Achievement in Industry Award, National Society of Black Engineers, 2001; Black Engineer of the Year, Professional Achievement in Industry, National Society of Black Engineers, 1996.
Addresses: Office —3039 W Cornwallis Rd., Building 203, Somers, NY, 10589.
electrical engineering. While at Georgia Tech he met his future wife Michelle Collier.
“I joined IBM as an engineer in 1981 right out of college,” Adkins told CBB. He worked as a test engineer for large scale printers for a year before taking an educational leave to return to Georgia Tech for graduate work in electrical engineering. “It just happened to coincide with Michelle’s senior year,” he told Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. The couple married in 1983, the same year Adkins earned his master’s degree. Following graduation Adkins rejoined IBM, this time in the personal computer (PC) division. It was an exciting period in his career. “I had the pleasure of watching computers turn from desktop to portable devices to large server devices,” he told Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. He particularly relished “the fact that we were creating a market. It was fast-moving, rapid adoption of technology. You had to do things fast.” As PC technology soared so did Adkins’s career. One of his earliest accomplishments was becoming a manager at IBM in 1986. “This was a fairly significant accomplishment because it was very early in my career,” he told CBB. “The promotion was based on my work performance in just four years.”
At IBM teamwork is a corporate philosophy and Adkins, a self-confessed “gadget guy,” had hands-on experience in all aspects of product development from conception and design to development and marketing. He also gained management experience in several roles in the PC division from product manager of the award-winning PS/2 desktop system to operations manager of IBM’s mobile computing company, where he helped launch the first laptop computer. “Being on the team that created the Think Pad was one of my proudest moments,” Adkins recalled to CBB. Meanwhile, Adkins completed a prestigious management program at Harvard Business School in 1993. Despite his continued ascent into management, Adkins was able to stay close to his roots. He explained to Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, “I still get to work fairly closely with developers. [Management] is more setting direction and meeting commitments for the business, but in some sense I’ve always maintained a level of creative content I still have to have skills in understanding programmers and engineers.” His final position in the PC division was general manager of desktop systems overseeing 475 employees worldwide. During his tenure with the division he drew high praise for helping to increase revenue.
Adkins was next tapped to lead the company’s UNIX server division in 1998. UNIX is an operating system that orchestrates the various parts of a computer from the processor to the keyboard. “These are systems we design for computers ranging from work stations to super computers,” Adkins explained to Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Adkins was responsible for global business operations, marketing, sales, and customer technical support for all UNIX-based systems. At the time IBM’s UNIX division was lagging behind that of corporate rival Sun Microsystems.
Adkins wasted no time. His first move was personal—he relocated to Austin, Texas, the site of the majority of the division’s engineers and software developers. Previous division leaders had been based out of IBM’s corporate headquarters in Somers, New York. “Austin is clearly one of the premier sites for IBM hardware and software technology,” Adkins told The Austin American-Statesman. “This is absolutely the place to be. I always wanted to be part of the action.”
With a 5,000-person staff worldwide, Adkins led the development of several applications designed to tackle complex problems. “For instance, we developed a system that simulates atomic bombs,” he told Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. “It allows the government to do software simulation instead of actually building and testing bombs.” Under Adkins, the UNIX division in Austin released the P690 “Regatta” server which directly challenged Sun’s share of the UNIX market. It also released the Power 4, a UNIX server chip and updated AIX, a software operating system. By 2000 IBM’s UNIX server business had increased by 50%. On the website of the Computer Society of South Africa, a top IBM executive called Adkins’s turnaround of the division “phenomenal. Two years ago, IBM’s participation in the UNIX environment was minimal. Today our share is significant. The same is true of supercomputing. Two years ago, we were a second-tier player. Today 201 of the world’s top 500 supercomputers are IBM SP systems. Rod Adkins built the team that drove this success, and he continues to lead the charge.” Adkins also took great pride in this achievement telling CBB it was “probably the biggest moment of my career.” In 2000 IBM recognized Adkins’s leadership abilities by naming him to its Worldwide Management Council made up of 45 top IBM executives. “It is a significant career milestone,” he told CBB.
Adkins became known as a generous leader, eager to help other minorities move up the corporate ranks at IBM. “Diversity is one of the areas I’ve spent a lot of time with,” he told The Journal News. “I actually have 32 mentoring relationships.” He has also lent his leadership skills to addressing the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide is the gulf that separates African Americans and other minorities from the benefits of information technology. Since 1999 he has served as the co-chair of IBM’s National Black Family Technology Awareness. “Basically we try to overcome the Digital Divide by focusing on three areas: IT education for kids in K-12; access to and knowledge of technology; and the job market,” Adkins told CBB. “Black communities are challenged because they often don’t have computer access at home. In conjunction with Black Family Technology Awareness week in February we hold seminars for families teaching everything from basic PC usage to building homepages. We also work with educational institutions to get more kids involved in technology.” He explained to The Journal News, “If kids show an aptitude toward math and science, we nurture that, to make sure that they can compete in the future for some of these high-tech jobs.”
Though the IT field lags behind many others in employment of minorities, Adkins regularly praised IBM for their commitment to diversity and—just as importantly—to talent. “I’ve been successful at IBM not because I’m black, but because I’ve delivered on business commitments and produced positive results,” he told The Journal News. “It can be challenging at times in terms of being a minority, but what really keeps me going and motivated is being respected for leadership, contribution and results.” The National Society of Black Engineers shared IBM’s respect for Adkins and in 2001 awarded him its highest honor, the Golden Torch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Industry. According to the Austin Business Journal Adkins accepted the award saying, “I must also confess that when I looked in the mirror this morning, I decided that I am far too young to be receiving a lifetime achievement award, because I am just getting warmed up.”
After winning industry kudos for his leadership of the UNIX division, Adkins was made general manager of the Pervasive Computing division. Pervasive Computing is the hallmark of the so-called post-PC era, freeing people from dependency on stationary devices and making computing and internet technology completely wireless and mobile. It extends internet capabilities to everything from cell phones and personal digital assistants to household appliances and automobiles. Several programs fall under his leadership in this division including voice recognition technology, embedded computing in everyday objects, and real-time access to information for mobile workers such as salespeople. “You can prevent the salesperson from having to come back to a central location to deal with customer profiles or getting product information or orders or looking at what’s in inventory if you can extend that capability to the mobile/wireless device,” Adkins told Computer-World.
By mid-2003 the applications of Pervasive Computing seemed limitless and Adkins’s enthusiasm for the field was evident. “I think that my current role with IBM is the most interesting in the company. We are shaping the future with pervasive computing,” he told CBB. Pervasive Computing stretches across several areas in IBM including wireless, portals, voice, and embedded software and hardware technologies. As head of this multi-billion dollar division, Adkins is one of the most important executives at IBM. Fortune magazine publicly affirmed that position, ranking him number 19 on their 2002 list of the 50 most powerful black executives in America. “IBM is a great place for talented people to come and put their technical skills to work,” he told Maes National Magazine. “In my career, I found that if you prove you are up to the challenge and keep your skills competitive, the opportunity for advancement and increased responsibilities will be there for you.” He hoped to continue that advancement, telling CBB, “My goal is to run larger pieces of IBM. And then, one day in the future to head up a large publicly traded company as a CEO.”
Austin American-Statesman, (TX), April 12, 1999, p. D1.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, October 24, 2001.
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“Hard Days Ahead?” Austin Business Journal, http://austin.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2001/03/26/tidbits.html (July 2, 2003).
“IBM sets sail with Regatta,” Infoworld, www.idg.net/ic_706562_5034_l-2788.html (July 2, 2003).
“IBM’s Top Techan,’” Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, http://gtalumni.org/Staylnformed/magazine/sumOO/pacesetters.html (July 2, 2003).
“It Takes Guts And Open Standards,” Wireless Week, www.wirelessweek.com/index.asp?layout=article&articleId=CA200376&text=rod+adkins&stt=001 (July 2, 2003).
“Most Powerful Black Executives,” Fortune, www.fortune.com/fortune/blackpower/snapshot/0,15307,13,00.html (June 3, 2003).
“Multiplatform systems will proliferate,” Government Computer News, www.gcn.com/vol19_no20a/interview/2459-l.html (July 2, 2002).
“Three questions for IBM on ‘pervasive computing,’” Compu terworld, www.Computerworld.com/mobiletopics/mobile/story/0,10801,76686,00.html (July 2, 2003).
“What does it mean to lead at IBM?” Maes National Magazine, www.maesnationalmagazine.com/MAES_V10_NO2/coverstory3_10_2.htm (July 2, 2003).
“Women, people of color rising in the ranks at IBM,” The Journal News, www.thejournalnews.com/newsroom/051202/12divwhibm.html (July 2, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on July 8, 2003.
UNIX is a multi-tasking, multi-user operating system (programs responsible for running computers). It plays an important role in e-commerce because millions of Web servers (computers used to host Web sites) run on UNIX, along with many workstation computers. In InformationWeek, IBM indicated that UNIX was a cornerstone of e-businesses because "most major Internet developments have been driven by UNIX architectures." In the same issue, Hewlett-Packard noted that the operating system is ideal for e-commerce because of features like security, scalability, manageability, and the fact that it's widely available. Because of its dependability, UNIX is frequently used for critical procedures like processing transactions on the Web. UNIX isn't as user-friendly as graphical operating systems like Windows. It relies on commands that can be puzzling to inexperienced users. However, during the early 2000s a graphical interface called Motif was available that made the system easier for more people to use on regular desktop computers.
UNIX was created by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, two researchers at AT&T's Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Thompson initially created the system in 1969 on an old PDP-7 minicomputer made by Digital Equipment Corp. He reportedly created UNIX over the course of one month in his spare time, after Bell pulled the plug on a seven-year project called Multics, which was attempting to create the first multi-tasking, multi-user operating system. Ritchie also contributed to the system's development, and by the mid-1970s UNIX was being used on many PDP computers. Thompson and Ritchie also invented the high-level programming language known as C, which they created to make UNIX capable of running on various different computer systems. UNIX was the first major program to be written in the C language.
In the beginning, many universities and governmental bodies used UNIX through a licensing agreement with Bell Labs, taking the source code and customizing the operating system for their own specific needs. Anti-trust regulations prevented Bell from marketing it as a regular product until the early 1980s, when the company was broken into separate units. After that time, AT&T began to push for one standard version of UNIX, releasing several versions during the 1980s. Since then, ownership of the UNIX code has changed hands several times. Novell acquired it in 1993, followed by The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) in 1995. Many attempts have been made to create one standard version, but this has proved challenging because so many variations of UNIX are in use throughout the world. Two main dialects of UNIX existed in the early 2000s; AT&T's System V and Berkeley University's BSD4.x.
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SEE ALSO: C; Programming Language; UNIX
UNIX provides a consistent approach to multitasking, with built-in operations for the creation, synchronization, and termination of processes either from the system environment or from within an existing process. This allows the extension and customization of the UNIX command set. There is also a consistent file-management system that provides a structured means of directory control and of file naming, with the ability to control access to files, including mechanisms for shared access. The output from any process can be directed to a file, or can itself serve as the input to some other process, with the operating system ensuring that the producing and consuming process remain correctly synchronized.
UNIX has been implemented by a wide range of workers and on a wide range of hardware platforms. Versions have been written by individual workers through to large software houses and major hardware manufacturers, for computer systems from desktop computers through to enterprise servers. As an almost inevitable consequence there has been a bewildering number of restrictions and/or extensions to the facilities offered by the system, as well as differing implementations of what are apparently the same features. There have been repeated efforts at standardization, and several versions have been defined, incorporated in the Single Unix Specification of X-OPEN.