Virginia Rometty New IBM Chief

Senior vice president at IBM, Virginia Rometty, will be the company’s next chief executive. Rometty will succeed Samuel J. Palmisano, 60, who will remain as chairman, at the start of next year.

Well known within the technology industry, Virginia is not widely known beyond that. She has led strategically important divisions of the company as it has shifted to services and products with high profit margins, like software that mines vast troves of corporate and online data for sales and cost-saving opportunities.

The 54-year-old managed a crucial merger as well as sales in fast-growing new markets, ends a competition that has been under way for years. The leading candidates were always from within the company’s executive ranks.

Virginia Rometty beat out a leading rival to succeed Samuel Palmisano. According to analysts Steven A. Mills, the senior vice president who led IBM’s highly profitable and growing software division. But his age, analysts note, was probably an obstacle.

The selection of Rometty for the top job at IBM will make her one of the most prominent women executives in corporate America, joining a small group of chiefs that includes Ursula Burns of Xerox, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ellen J. Kullman of DuPont and Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard. Gender, according to Palmisano, did not figure into her selection.

“Ginni got it because she deserved it,” Palmisano said, Ginni is who she’s known to friends and colleagues. “It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies,” Palmisano added.

Virginia Rometty, who graduated from Northwestern University with an undergraduate degree in computer science, joined IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer. She quickly moved up to a series of management jobs, working with clients in industries including banking, insurance, telecommunications, manufacturing and health care.