John R. Opel
John Roberts Opel

(1925-01-05)January 5, 1925
DiedNovember 3, 2011(2011-11-03) (aged 86)
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Known forFormer CEO and chairman of IBM

John Roberts Opel (January 5, 1925, in Kansas City, Missouri – November 3, 2011, in Fort Myers, Florida) was a U.S. computer businessman.[1] He served eleven years as the president of IBM between 1974 and 1985. He was the chief executive officer (CEO) of IBM from 1981 to 1985, and the chairman of the board of directors from 1983 to 1986.[2]

Early life and education

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Opel grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, where his father owned a hardware store.[3] He majored in English at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.[4] He then fought in the Philippines and Okinawa in World War II and earned an MBA degree from the University of Chicago in 1949.[5]


Upon graduation, Opel had two job offers, one to rewrite economics textbooks, and the other to take over his father's hardware business.[6] While taking a fishing trip with his father and a family friend who worked for IBM, he was offered a third job as a salesman in central Missouri, and accepted.

In 1959, Opel became executive assistant to IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr., after which he rose rapidly, taking positions in manufacturing and public relations and other departments, and managed the introduction of the IBM System/360 mainframe computer in 1964. In 1974, he was elected president.[1] In 1981, he became the CEO of IBM, then its chairman.[7]

Under his leadership, IBM developed and launched the first IBM personal computer, forever changing the face of computing and IBM.[8]


A former longtime resident of Chappaqua, New York, Opel died at the age of 86 at his Fort Myers, Florida, home in 2011.[7]


  1. ^ a b "John R. Opel, '49". Chicago Booth School of Business. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2011.
  2. ^ "John R. Opel". IBM. 23 January 2003. Retrieved 23 April 2011.
  3. ^ Golden, Frederic (1983-01-03). "Other Maestros of the Micro". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2022-12-07.
  4. ^ "PASSINGS: John Randolph Hearst Jr., John R. Opel". Los Angeles Times. November 7, 2011. Retrieved 2019-12-21.
  5. ^ "Ex-IBM CEO John Opel dies aged 86". The Register. November 7, 2011. Retrieved 2019-12-21.
  6. ^ "John R. Opel, Who Made I.B.M. a Colossus, Dies at 86". The New York Times. November 5, 2011. Retrieved 2019-12-21.
  7. ^ a b "Former CEO John Opel - An Appreciation - United States". IBM. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
  8. ^ "John R. Opel | Former IBM chief, 86". 6 November 2011. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
Business positions Preceded byFrank T. Cary CEO of IBM 1981–1985 Succeeded byJohn F. Akers