John Opel, who served as IBM CEO from 1981 to 1985, passed away at the age of 86 last week, IBM confirmed Monday.
Opel, who died on Nov. 3, oversaw IBM as the company ushered in the PC era, as well as successfully resolved antitrust litigation with the U.S. government.
Opel, IBM’s fifth CEO, started working for the company in 1949 selling and installing electronic accounting machines and time clocks in the Missouri Ozarks. He quickly ascended the corporate ranks though. In 1959, he was noticed by then-CEO Thomas J. Watson, who promoted Opel to be his assistant. Opel oversaw the launch of IBM’s System 360 mainframe family in 1964. He served as president from 1974 through 1985, and as CEO from 1981 to 1985.
Just before he assumed the role of president, he helped set up the original IBM skunk works unit that would later develop the first IBM PC, the IBM 5150, which the company introduced in 1981.
According to the New York Times, it was Opel who met with Bill Gates, CEO of the then-small software firm Microsoft, to discuss the possibility of using Microsoft PC-DOS OS for IBM’s about-to-be-released PC. Opel set up the meeting at the request of Gates’ mother, Mary Maxwell Gates. The two had both served on the National United Way’s executive committee.
As CEO, Opel was also able to resolve an ongoing antitrust lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department, which allowed the company to grow more rapidly.
He stepped down as CEO in 1985, and assumed the role of chairman until 1986. He remained on the board until 1993.