IBM Crafts Succession Plan

As International Business Machines Corp. prepares to celebrate its centennial on Thursday, the contest to become the company’s ninth chief executive is heating up.

People familiar with the thinking of Chief Executive Samuel J. Palmisano say he is seeking advice on how to handle the transition and that they expect him to designate a successor by appointing a president or operating chief in 12 to 18 months.

Whoever takes over will face the challenge of extending a rising stock price and a streak of profitable quarters while navigating shifts in mobile computing and emerging markets.

The top candidate is sales chief Virginia M. Rometty. The 53-year-old executive has separated herself from the pack over the last year, according to recruiters and former and current IBM executives. Global Services boss Michael E. Daniels, 56, is seen as the No. 2 choice. Rodney C. Adkins, 52, who is senior vice president for hardware, faces longer odds. None of the candidates was available for comment.

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