Michael Phelps blows off IBM

Even in light of recent events, the Olympian remained a scheduled keynote speaker at IBM Pulse 2009. But he ended up canceling his appearance at the last minute.

Jon Oltsik
Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. He is not an employee of CNET.
Jon Oltsik

LAS VEGAS--I'm here at IBM Pulse 2009, the IBM Tivoli customer conference (more on Pulse09 in my next blog). Many months ago, IBM hired Olympian Michael Phelps as a keynote speaker and the company was quite excited about having him present. When pictures of Phelps "pulling on a bong" emerged, I really felt bad for IBM, imagining an emergency meeting between the Pulse09 event team, corporate marketing, HR, and legal to decide what to do. IBM ended up sticking with Phelps as planned.

Phelps at OpenWorld
Michael Phelps made it to Oracle's OpenWorld, shown here with Oracle President Charles Phillips. But the Olympian cancelled on IBM. Dawn Kawamoto

Given these events, I was very interested to see how IBM and Phelps handled this dicey situation. It turns out that I'll never know. Tivoli General Manager Al Zollar Tuesday morning announced that Phelps called IBM last night and canceled his appearance. Zollar mentioned that Phelps was going through a tough time and IBM wished him well--very classy indeed.

Behind the scenes, I can only imagine how angry IBM must be. IBM, a company that prides itself on business ethics and respect for individuals, stuck by Phelps in spite of his juvenile and embarrassing behavior. How does Phelps respond? By kicking IBM in the teeth at the eleventh hour.

IBM handled a bad situation with extreme grace and not one customer I spoke to blamed the company for this situation. As for Phelps, he is quickly moving toward a celebrity neighborhood populated by the likes of John Daly and Tonya Harding.