Martin Schroeter’s job title explains the big role he is playing in IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) transition.

He’s chief financial officer and executive vice president of finance and enterprise transformation. And he acknowledged that IBM is transforming at an investors conference on Tuesday.

Taking a myriad of questions about the multiple challenges facing Big Blue, he responded to many but he also declined to set a target for earnings – a target IBM Chairman and CEO Ginny Rometty dropped last month in IBM’s latest earnings report.

However, he did defend IBM’s sale of its X86 server business to Lenovo, which closed recently, and also Big Blue’s exit from the semiconductor manufacturing business. The CFO also did not talk about potential job cuts as part of a transition. 

“We’re Not Doing Cheese Slices Anymore”

Schroeter did discuss what he says are the biggest questions coming from investors in responding to a question from Amit Daryanai of RBC Capital Markets. His response, as provided by financial news website Seeking Alpha (Note: His comments were edited slightly for length):

“It’s a good question.

“I guess the way to answer it is, what are the two most frequently asked questions we get right, what are the clarifying questions that our investors have and I think one is, is this transformation, is this transition that IBM is in, is it harder than others …We’re not doing cheese slices anymore.

“So is this [transition is] harder … in some ways because we’re dealing now with three industry transformative events, data is a new natural resource, the shift to cloud and new systems of engagement.

“In many ways we’re kind of looking at three different transformations if you will and so the world does feel like it’s moving pretty fast here and I think the reason we go through a long list of how IBM is different is because we’re moving as fast as we have to, to remain relevant in all those places in enterprise IT. …

“So short answer to that question, again, comes frequently from our investors, yes, this is moving pretty fast and we’ll have to keep moving fast to keep up.

“The second question we get quite often is around the balance, how do we think about the balance or what should investors think about the balance between reinvesting in the business and returning cash. In many ways, I think this is, it’s sort of portrayed as a choice and for me it’s a false choice. It’s a false choice for IBM. We invest over the last 10 years we’ve invested $133 billion through research and development and through capital expenditures through acquisition and that’s a robust amount of investment.

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do and we’ll continue to invest very heavily because we have some, there are some big pools of capital that are out in the world that are also chasing these opportunities. … But at the same time, we also recognize that our investors are looking for a return of capital. …

“We’ll continue to focus on returning capital through dividends and we’ve been able to reduce our share account pretty dramatically since we started returning capital for the share repurchase back in 1995. So we think we have a pretty solid level of profitability. We think we have an ability to both aggressively invest as well as return capital to shareholders. …”

The full transcript can be read online.