Rometty Managed Masters Snub With Class, Unlike Augusta National

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IBM CEO Virginia E. Rometty
Virginia Rometty became IBM's chief executive on Jan. 1, 2012.

Two women college presidents and a former one Wednesday denounced Augusta National Golf Club for snubbing Virginia Rometty, CEO of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), at the Masters Golf tournament.

Unlike her male IBM predecessors, Rometty, 54, wasn't elected to membership, despite IBM's corporate co-sponsorship. The men who head the other two co-sponsors, Rex Tillerson, 60, of Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM), and Randall Stephenson, 51, of AT&T (NYSE: T) were elected long ago.

Augusta National, founded in 1933, doesn't admit women as members. It didn't admit blacks until 1990.

Rometty attended the tournament that ended Sunday, though, and was photographed watching the action. Published reports said she entertained IBM clients at a facility at the Augusta, Ga., golf club, without fanfare.

Meanwhile, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne was repeatedly asked about Rometty. In response, he said the new IBM boss was a named candidate and asked everyone to wait while a committee looked into the problem.

Chances are the committee will drop the all-male bar before next year's Masters.

College Presidents Complain

Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania as well as former Princeton Provost and Dean of the Faculty, and Debora Spar, president of Barnard College, knocked Augusta National for its apparent sexism.

They were joined by Nannerl Keohane, former president of Wellesley College and now a visiting professor at Princeton, who noted, There are serious women golfers and accomplished women CEOs and other professionals who deserve admission as much as their male counterparts.

IBM, meanwhile, remained officially silent, as it has been throughout. Commercials for the Armonk, N.Y., company were seen by millions of golf fans, even if CBS Sports reported its audience share fell to 8.1 from 10.4 from last year's finale.

How could anyone have seen Rometty at Augusta and not realize the foolishness of her membership exclusion solely because of her gender?

Is She Qualified?

She's been active in IBM's Women in Technology Council, Women's Leadership Council and is a senior sponsor of its Women's Executive Council. She's also a trustee of Northwestern University, where she received an undergraduate degree in computer science and electrical engineering.

Rometty also is a manager of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which now plans to use IBM's Watson supercomputer that won a championship on Jeopardy against humans, for medical research. She also serves on the Council on Foreign Relations.

How many male members of Augusta have those qualifications?

Rometty also had some business decisions to make: becoming a corporate sponsor of a big athletic event takes big bucks, planning and time. IBM, which had been a Masters sponsor for nine previous years, though, might have been more judicious.

The new IBM boss, in office only since Jan. 1, had to tiptoe through a minefield. Maybe she'll be asked about it at the April 24 annual meeting in Charleston, S.C. IBM shareholders are known to ask about anything.

If not, chances are there'll be a change before next year's Masters: either Rometty will be admitted to membership and the gender bar is removed, or IBM will drop its sponsorship.

Bet on the former.

IBM shares rose a quarter to $202.58, only slightly below their all-time high of $210.69 set on April 3.

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