IBM CEO, Lou Gerstner, has indicated that its president Sam Palmisano is likely to be his successor.

Gerstner, interviewed on CNN, said the transition at Big Blue should be "beginning in a very short period of time". He didn't, however, set a date.

The transition to a new management could come at a comfortable time for IBM, who with Apple and Motorola make up the AIM alliance. During a period where high-tech leaders such as Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems have stumbled, IBM's earnings have remained strong.

Retirement Up to now, Gerstner, who joined IBM in 1993 and brought the struggling company back to profitability, has sidestepped the issue of succession. His contract with the company expires March 1, 2002, when he turns 60 - an age at which IBM CEOs often retire.

Palmisano has been considered the front-runner since the promotion to his present position in July. He has a broad background with the company, serving in its PC, services and hardware divisions.

Gerstner said he and the company's board have been putting together a management team for the past 24 months to run the company after he leaves. "Sam Palmisano is emerging as the leader of a new team," Gerstner said.