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Virginia Rometti will be the 1st woman to head IBM. Sam Palmisano will remain chairman (Photo: IBM)

Virginia Rometty will become president and CEO of IBM January 1, the first woman to take the top job at the US IT and computer services group.

The current CEO, Samuel Palmisano, will continue as chairman of the board, IBM said in a press release.

Rometty, 54, currently serves as IBM senior vice president in charge of sales, marketing and strategy. In that role, she is responsible for the group's global sales of around 100 billion dlrs a year.

Earlier, she headed IBM's Global Business Services division, where she led the integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers consulting. She has also served as general manager of IBM Global Services, Americas, and of IBM's Global Insurance and Financial Services Sector.

Rometty joined IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer and holds a bachelor of science degree in computer science and electrical engineering from Northwestern University outside Chicago.

"Ginni Rometty has successfully led several of IBM's most important businesses over the past decade””from the formation of IBM Global Business Services to the build-out of our Growth Markets Unit," Palmisano said.

He noted in particular Rometty's industry knowledge and ability to think strategically and said "she brings to the role of CEO a unique combination of vision, client focus, unrelenting drive."