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Senior Vice President of IBM Systems and Technology Group and 2011 Black Enterprise Corporate Executive of the Year, Rodney Adkins (Photo by Rayon Richards)

In his years at IBM, Adkins has worked in 19 different positions spanning almost all aspects of the company’s various business areas including hardware, software, UNIX servers, PCs, and mobile computing. He arrived at Big Blue as it expanded beyond massive mainframes to embrace the personal computing revolution of the 1980s. Like a museum curator, he shows off a model of a second-generation PC XT he worked on as an engineer in the 1980s. A bit later, he points to one of the first laptops in the 1990s, the IBM ThinkPad, which he helped design.

Adkins has played a significant role in IBM’s innovation-charged history. He has also traveled a long distance from Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The middle child, he was encouraged to strive for excellence by his hardworking, supportive parents. As a youngster, he became attracted to technology like a magnet to iron filings. Always curious, Adkins began tinkering with his family’s appliances. “If it plugged into the wall, I’m pretty sure I dismantled it,” he quips.

While his parents and teachers nurtured his intellect, he began to develop focus and discipline at age 11 by studying Nisei Goju Ryu, a Japanese martial art that built up confidence and inner strength. A black belt at age 13, he continued to practice this form of karate until about 15 years ago.  (Today, he applies his focus on the golf course to pursue his other passion.)

Adkins was his high school’s valedictorian, and he studied physics at Rollins College near Orlando, one of 25 African Americans among a student body of 1,200. He joined IBM upon graduation, leaving the company only once–to complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech.