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Gary Cohn, Former Trump Adviser, Joins IBM


International Business Machines Corp. appointed Gary D. Cohn, a former

Goldman Sachs


GS 2.77%

executive and economic adviser to President Trump, as its vice chairman and member of its executive leadership team as the tech company tries to revive its fortunes.

Mr. Cohn, who brings a vast Rolodex of corporate and government contacts, will work on business development, public advocacy, client services and client-relationship management, IBM said.

Mr. Cohn is joining an iconic American tech company that is undergoing a once-in-a-generation overhaul after years of struggling for growth.

IBM appointed

Arvind Krishna

its CEO last year, announced layoffs and said it plans to split the company, carving out a large chunk of its IT-services operations that will leave the company far smaller and more focused on high-growth cloud computing business.

Mr. Krishna said that Mr. Cohn’s business-transformation skills would help IBM as it aims to accelerate its shift to cloud and artificial-intelligence businesses.

Founded in 1911, IBM made its name building computers and later providing technology services to other companies. But it was slow to adapt as corporations in recent years shifted from storing data on big servers they owned to using the cloud.

Amazon.com Inc.

and

Microsoft Corp.

embraced the cloud and turned it into a huge business that helped propel their growth to valuations of more than $1 trillion, or 10 times IBM’s market valuation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of cloud computing as companies rushed to adapt to telecommuting arrangements for their workforces, and as more people have embraced online shopping and become massive consumers of digital entertainment.

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But the pandemic has also hit some areas of IT spending where IBM has historically been strong. In the past two quarters, IBMs cloud-computing revenue grew at a rapid year-over-year clip even as the company’s overall sales declined.

The pandemic, Mr. Krishna said in May, “will accelerate what may have been a five-year journey” for the industry’s transformation.

Mr. Cohn served as director of the National Economic Council from

Mr. Trump’s

inauguration until April 2018. He was president and chief operating officer for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. from 2006 until 2016.

He is also co-chairman of

Cohn Robbins Holdings Corp.


CRHC 0.53%

, a blank-check company that launched an initial public offering in September. Blank-check companies, which enjoyed a banner year in 2020, have no business operations but raise funds with the goal of merging with a private company to make the target company publicly traded.

“My commitment to Cohn Robbins Holdings Corp. is unwavering,” Mr. Cohn said in a

Twitter

message Tuesday morning.

In March 2018, Mr. Cohn said he would resign from his White House job shortly after Mr. Trump announced steel and aluminum tariffs that Mr. Cohn had opposed. Mr. Cohn had also criticized the president’s response to violence in Charlottesville, Va., in the summer of 2017. Later that year, he played a key role in overseeing tax policy changes that Mr. Trump championed.

A spokeswoman for IBM said Mr. Cohn wasn’t available for an interview.

Mr. Cohn said on Twitter that it was an exciting time to start working with Mr. Krishna, who succeeded

Ginni Rometty

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after her eight years in the top job. She remains IBM’s chairman.

Analysts have said Ms. Rometty was slow to transform IBM, even if she more recently embraced cloud computing. Under Ms. Rometty, IBM made its biggest acquisition yet, agreeing in 2019 to buy Red Hat, an open-source software company, in a bid to accelerate cloud-computing growth.

Mr. Krishna, in May, laid out a slew of new cloud-computing efforts as his first major initiatives as the company’s CEO.

Write to Matt Grossman at matt.grossman@wsj.com

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