Virginia Rometty, a senior sales and marketing vice president at IBM, has been tapped to become the company's next chief executive officer at the end of this year, the company announced. Sam Palmisano, IBM's current chairman, will carry on as IBM's chairman of the board.

The appointment continues a history of orderly, internal successions at IBM. Mr. Palmisano, 60, has served as CEO since 2002 when he succeeded Lou Gerstner. Ms. Rometty, 54 becomes the first woman to hold the CEO role at IBM. Observers note that 60 is a traditional retirement age for top executives at the company.

Palmisano oversaw IBM's accelerated migration to software and professional services with dozens of acquisitions that included PWC Consulting, Rational Software, Alphablox, Ascential, Filenet, SPSS, Lombardi, CognosInitiate, Sterling, Unica, Clarity and Netezza. Palmisano also orchestrated the Smarter Planet campaign and the end of parts of IBM's personal computer business, notably ThinkPad, which was sold to Lenovo.

Rometty was involved in merger transactions and sales at the company. In an announcement last evening, Palmisano said Rometty has successfully led several of IBM's most important businesses over the past decade, including the formation of IBM Global Business Services and the build-out of our Growth Markets Unit.

Palmisamo hinted it was Rometty's business vision rather than specific product involvement that led to her selection. "...She is more than a superb operational executive. With every leadership role, she has strengthened our ability to integrate IBM's capabilities for our clients ... Ginni's long-term strategic thinking and client focus are seen in our growth initiatives, from cloud computing and analytics to the commercialization of Watson. She brings to the role of CEO a unique combination of vision, client focus, unrelenting drive, and passion for IBMers and the company's future."

Compared to some of its large-tech rivals, transitions at IBM have been transparent and predictable. HP has seen three chief executives in the span of a year, and Oracle has been opportunistic with senior appointments, often moments of turmoil at peer companies.

Charles King of the IT analysis group Pund-IT noted online that the announcement was less telling than the thinking behind it. “Many people outside and inside the company have believed for some time that, based on talent, experience and demeanor, she was the leading candidate to replace Sam Palmisano. The kicker, however, was her promotion to SVP and group executive for IBM’s worldwide sales, marketing and strategy efforts, along with managing responsibilities for global strategy, marketing and communications. In other words, Rometty effectively managed many if not most of the company’s day-to-day processes worldwide. That IBM’s board would trust her with such levels of responsibility meant that her eventual appointment was more or less in the bag…”