Phelps' bails on IBM, but Big Blue delivers 'Magic'

Amidst a cloud of, let's say, controversy, Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps chose not to attend IBM's Pulse 2009 conference in Las Vegas this week, but attendees report Big Blue provided a replacement speaker that exceeded everyone's expectations.

Last year's show had Lance Armstrong's inspirational keynote interrupted with an audience medical emergency and the current scandal surrounding Phelps seemed it would put a second damper on IBM's annual event. While most would agree that Phelps has achieved in his young life unimaginable athletic accomplishments, some that made the trip to IBM's service managment show thought even he couldn't match the charisma and energy of his replacement: Magic Johnson.

"From a human interest standpoint, the highlight of the show was Magic Johnson's speech," says Glenn O'Donnell, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Phelps is impressive, but there is no way he could have been nearly as dynamic and inspirational as Magic."

Others agree, saying the current economic climate has most fearing the worst, but Johnson was able to offer a bit of hope to the 3,000 attendees.

"Magic Johnson talked about how he is making money during the current economic climate by focusing on what the customer wants," says Judith Hurwitz, CEO of Hurwitz & Associates. She likened his experience to that of many in IT right now, which includes efforts to manage many disparate components across an environment as one cohesive service.

"Magic really brought to life that fact that service management begins with people and if you can please customers you can make money," she says. "By being so optimistic and charismatic, I feel he really brought a lot of hope to people that these times will pass and they can succeed regardless."

They don't call him Magic for nothing.

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