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Worst of times is the best of times for IBM?

CEO Sam Palmisano says that the company is ready to "go on offense" even as the sagging global economy continues to crimp IT spending.

In recent conversations with IBMers, one theme nearly always came up: this is a big company with deeper pockets than any other company in the tech business. The blunt message: recession or no recession, it's only a matter of time before less well endowed rivals buckle.

Marketing spin, to be sure--but also a reflection of the constellation of forces in an increasingly weakened tech industry. And now, CEO Sam Palmisano has made it official.

In a letter to shareholders released in conjunction with IBM's annual report, Palmisano says that the company is "positioned to lead in the era that lies on the other side of the present crisis."

"We will not simply ride out the storm," he said. "Rather we will take a long-term view, and go on offense."

What this means in practice is that the company will attempt to leverage its diversification into areas such as cloud computing and services as a competitive weapon against rivals with weaker benches. IBM also is betting that its big presence overseas will help it better ride out a recession that has led to a slump in IT demand in the United States. About 65 percent of its revenues came from outside the U.S. last year.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Palmisano's letter is his declaration that IBM isn't planning to retrench until the global economy recovers:

Many companies are reacting to the current global downturn by drastically curtailing spending and investment, even in areas that are important to their future. We are taking a different approach. Of course, we must continue to improve our competitiveness. But while we maintain discipline and prudence in the near term, we also maintain the discipline to plan for the future. We're not looking back, we're looking ahead. We're continuing to invest in R&D, in strategic acquisitions, in growth initiatives--and most importantly, during these difficult times, in our people.
In other words, we will not simply ride out the storm. Rather, we will take a long-term view, and go on offense.

Separately, IBM disclosed in a filing that it awarded Palmisano $21 million in salary, bonus, perks, and stock-based awards last year.