International Business Machines (IBM) CEO Louis Gerstner announced Tuesday that he would be stepping down on March 1. Gerstner, who will remain with the company as chairman through the end of the year, will be succeeded by Samuel Palmisano, who is currently IBM's president and COO. Though the timing was surprising, Gerstner's exit from the company is not: The 60 year old executive has been telling colleagues about his plans for some time. Palmisano was bumped up to president recently in anticipation of Gerstner's departure.

"Over the last decade, Sam Palmisano has taken on a number of IBM's most significant challenges, from building the services business to transforming our server line," Gerstner said. "In each instance, Sam has done far more than manage operations effectively. He has made it both his personal mission and that of IBM to become the number one competitor in each of these markets. Sam's unique mix of strategic vision, passion and discipline, combined with his intimate understanding of IBM, make him the right person to become IBM's next CEO."

Gerstner is widely credited with turning around IBM, which had fallen on hard times by the early 1990s. Dropping unprofitable products and technologies, Gerstner focused IBM on technology services, and the company has seen its share price increase 800 percent and its market value grow $180 billion since Gerstner took the reins. Gerstner says he isn't sure what he'll do when his tenure at IBM comes to a close, but he isn't retiring. "I certainly will be doing other things," he said. "I'm not going to go off and play golf."