John W. Sinwell, the former IBM Baltimore branch manager and senior location executive who spearheaded the move of the company’s St. Paul Street offices to the Inner Harbor in the 1970s, died Sept. 25 at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, after being injured in an automobile accident. The former Roland Park and Ruxton resident was 85.
“I’ve always described John as a Renaissance man but not quite Thomas Aquinas,” said Samuel J. “Sam” Palmisano, former chair and CEO of IBM, with a laugh. “He was very smart, a mentor and a great tennis player who was totally well-rounded and devoted to his family.”
Mr. Palmisano said he was hired at IBM by Mr. Sinwell and Hoyle Miller Jr. after he graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 1973.
“You needed a lot of coaching and they were great teachers, when you’re a young person in such a large company,” Mr. Palmisano said. “They gave you feedback, would reach out, and help coach you.”
Patricia J. Mitchell, who retired from IBM where she was vice president of global sales operations, remained a close friend.
“John W. Sinwell was an icon in IBM. He chose to stay in Baltimore for his family even though he could have risen through the IBM corporate ranks nationally,” Ms. Mitchell wrote in an email. “He was instrumental in the IBM building at 100 East Pratt Street as the anchor for the renaissance of the Inner Harbor.”
John William Sinwell, son of Paul Sinwell, a Baugh Chemical Co. manager, and Sarah Sinwell, a homemaker, was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and later moved to Baltimore with his family.
After graduating in 1953 from McDonogh School, he entered Washington and Lee University, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and in 1957 earned his bachelor’s degree. In 1960, he obtained his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, where he was inducted into the Raven Society and Omicron Delta Kappa.
Mr. Sinwell went to work in 1960 in IBM’s Baltimore office in sales and later moved to the company’s offices in Richmond, Virginia, and Cleveland before returning to the city. From 1968 until his retirement in 1989, he was branch manager and senior location executive.
“John was a district manager in Cleveland when his then-wife wanted to move back to Baltimore,” recalled Mr. Palmisano, who stepped down as CEO in 2001, and retired in 2012. “And it proved to be the perfect choice for his family and the right thing for him to do. It was a trade-off.”
It was during his tenure as branch manager that Mr. Sinwell began lobbying IBM to move its Baltimore office from St. Paul Street to the Inner Harbor.
IBM purchased the two-acre site from the city that is bounded by Pratt, Calvert, Light and Lombard streets for $1.42 million, where it planned to erect a 10-story building with the first floor devoted to retail space while the upper floors were offices.
Construction on 100 East Pratt St., designed by famed architect Dr. Pietro Belluschi and Emory Roth & Sons, rose on the site in 1973. IBM and T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. were the earliest tenants when the building was completed in 1975, which was then owned by the IBM Real Estate Division.
“He helped to lead the further investment in the site and commercial success of downtown, with IBM’s construction of the 28-floor tower behind the original building,” wrote Marion Sinwell “Missy” Smith, of Wiltondale, in a biographical profile of her father. “When 100 East was sold to Boston Properties in 1997 for $137 million, it set a record for the sale of a single Baltimore office building.”
During his years with the company, Mr. Sinwell came to be viewed as an astute leader and a mentor to many of its employees. After taking an early retirement from the company in 1989 ― he had moved to Rosemont, Pennsylvania in 1986 — he taught for two years at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania while consulting with corporate and nonprofit clients.
In 1986, Mr. Sinwell married the former Suzanne Gerard and after her death in 2010, he moved to Waverly Heights, a Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, retirement community.
A lifelong tennis enthusiast, Mr. Sinwell had been a member of the Junior Davis Cup team when he was in college, and “acting ball-boy for storied players including Wimbledon champions,” his daughter wrote.
He was a former member of the Baltimore Country Club, where he played tennis, and also at the Merion Cricket Club in Philadelphia and at the Hillsboro Club in Hillsboro Beach, Florida. In order to keep his connection to the University of Virginia green, he was a member of the Farmington Club in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Mr. Sinwell helped seed the Frederick S. Morton Fund that recognized “both young leaders in their second year of the MBA program at the University of Virginia and allow them to select the faculty member who most inspired them,” his daughter wrote.
He also enjoyed spending time with his family and grandchildren which gave him an “opportunity to dispense his wit and wisdom to the next generation,” Ms. Smith wrote.
A private celebration-of-life gathering will be held in Philadelphia, and a memorial service will held at noon Oct. 29 in the old chapel of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where he had been a communicant.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Sinwell is survived by his son, Andrew B. Sinwell of Dallas; two stepsons, Caldwell Hart of Sharon, Connecticut, and Chris Hart of Wayne, Pennsylvania; a sister, Ann Gabor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and 13 grandchildren. Earlier marriages to the former Marion Parsons, Nancy Woodard and Evelyn “Evie” Luebbers ended in divorce.