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American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA Hardcover – February 5, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Business Plus (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455513016
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455513017
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #809,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


This straight-talking Texan and former CEO of two of America's best known corporations provides a candid, insider's view of how a committed business leader can make a difference. More importantly, his book offers a prescription for the kind of leadership that can turn America around and get the country moving again.

--Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Ed is a strong leader with intelligence, a big heart, common sense and without fear. He is also an exceptional human being-always concerned about people. His mind is clear with a long-term vision and mission.

--Carlos Slim Helú, Industrialist and Philanthropist

Among CEOs, Ed is one-of-a-kind. Not only did he successfully run AT&T and fix GM, but he is also a classic Texan -- complete with a straight-speaking manner and common touch that truly sets him apart. Here is his uniquely American story. Everyone who starts this book will finish it.

-- Roger Altman, Founder and Chairman, Evercore Partners; former Deputy Treasury Secretary

Very inspiring, down to earth leadership lessons and very consistent with our experience with Ed during his time at GM. He always respected our members and never blamed them for what he strongly viewed as poor management.

--Bob King, UAW President

A CEO memoir worth reading.

-- The Economist

About the Author

Ed Whitacre is the former chairman and CEO of two major American corporations: General Motors and AT&T. At GM he set a clear vision and mandate - "Design, Build and Sell the World's Best Vehicles" - that continues to this day. As the chief executive of AT&T, Whitacre applied a set of management principles and disciplined growth strategy that would turn the company, originally known as Southwestern Bell, into the largest telecom in the world.
Born and raised in Ennis, Texas, Whitacre attended Texas Tech, earning a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering. He began his career with the phone company in 1963, as a student engineer in Dallas. In 1990 he was named CEO, and he remained in that leadership position for 17 years. In 2009, the White House appointed him chairman of GM, and he became CEO later that year.
Whitacre is actively involved in a number of organizations, including Boy Scouts of America, the United Way and Texas Tech. He is a current or past member of several boards, including Exxon Mobil, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Anheuser-Busch. He is married to Linda Whitacre and they have two daughters, four grandchildren and a really great dog, Lucille.

Customer Reviews

Yet, you can learn a great deal about successful management tools by reading it.
Julie E Liss Katz
Ed's no-nonsense approach was quite refreshing, and was really the kick GM needed to get going again.
The author is not an eloquent writer but he tells a good story and stays focused.
John Mccarrier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kilgore Trout on February 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am a recent retiree who worked at the company during Ed Whitacre's entire tenure as CEO of Southwestern Bell/SBC/AT&T. As such, I was mostly interested in reading Mr. Whitacre's description of how he "reinvented" AT&T before moving to GM.

I was sorely disappointed that there was very little in this book about the decisions Ed made during his time at AT&T. Other than a couple of anecdotes from his early career at Southwestern Bell and a discussion of the move to San Antonio, Mr. Whitacre didn't write a thing about his strategy while at AT&T. For example, nothing was written about the decisions to buy Pacific Telesis, SNET, Ameritech, and BellSouth. While he did mention that he decided to purchase AT&T despite the opposition of all of his other senior managers, Ed didn't explain why everyone else was opposed to his move. In addition, Mr. Whitacre didn't discuss the major initiatives during his tenure (e.g., U-Verse, Project Pronto) or some of the failed acquisitions (e.g., West Midlands Cable Communications, Hauser Communications). In short, I honestly don't know how Mr. Whitacre reinvented AT&T even after reading this book.

As for Mr. Whitacre's tenure at GM, it appears the process used to reinvent GM consisted of setting up an organization chart, firing the interim CEO, making Ed the new CEO, eating at the cafeteria with other GM employees, making unannounced visits to various GM sites, and promoting a couple of senior managers to executive positions. Nothing was written about other important topics such as changes to union work rules or improvements to car quality/styling. In short, this book was lacking in both details and insight.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By CrunchyCookie on February 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I read this book last weekend and sort of enjoyed it, though it's mostly evaporated from my mind already.

This is basically a condensed diary of a guy who spent four decades as AT&T's CEO, then ten months as GM's (if you're a car person like me and mainly interested in the second part, you can skip chapters 4 through 11). He spends a lot of time talking about himself, his Texas upbringing, his parents and engineering education, etc, then jumps into the chronology of his time at each company. Assuming this is all honest, he seems like a pretty decent, logical guy who writes well -- which makes the reading go down easy. He speaks of some fundamental problems at GM like the "matrix structure" that made every decision take a million times longer than it had to and absolved everyone of responsibility, and of how the temporary CEO he replaced wasn't doing anything to change the culture. I wish he'd expanded on more points like these; most of the pages were dedicated to retelling the basic events of 2009-10 (already familiar to anyone who follows the news) or his opinions about people management, so in the end, you don't learn much.

Also, despite explicit statements crediting the employees under him, the book's very title kind of implies he was the one who saved GM. Uh, not quite: GM's turnaround started in 2007, the year they suddenly started making good cars, and also the year they negotiated a far more advantageous labor/wage deal with the United Auto Workers (starting new hires at $14/hour instead of $28). The decision to hack off their four most useless brands (Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer, Saab), the $50 billion in loans+bailouts, and the bankruptcy thing deserve most of the rest of the credit. Seems to me like the foundations for GM's turnaround were well in place by the time he set foot in the door at the end of 2009.

Oh well, skim through it if you're bored.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brian on March 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ed Whitacre is probably a fascinating man. Clearly very smart, and hard working. His management style is to instill clear focus and accountability. It is what he did at AT&T and again, at GM.
I read a description of the book, and also an excerpt, which had me looking forward to the book, which I ordered from Amazon.
What disappointed me about these amazing stories, was their brevity. Maybe he is just not a natural storyteller. It seems he did not want to make anyone else look bad, -except he couldn't avoid it with the president of GM that he had to replace. I guess I just expected more. I read the entire book in one sitting. The section on GM, I had already read most of in the excerpt. Maybe it is just a reflection of his management style. View the big picture, don't get caught up in the minutae. One other thing I will point out, I hoped to read more about the interaction between GM and the government. As he points out, there wasn't any - and so, no story to tell.
So, it is worth a read, if you are interested in management and business, but look elsewhere for great depth and management ideas.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David M. Garrett on January 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I review from the perspective of a retired SWBT/SBC/AT&T manager whose tenure spanned that of Zane Barnes, Ed Whitacre and Randall Stephenson. Accordingly, I am acquainted with the transitions AT&T underwent from 1979-2013, and Mr. Whitacre's impact and style.

First the "Good": This is well written, easy to read. The style comes across exactly as I know Whitacre: clear, candid, concise, direct, earthy, no-nonsense, self-effacing. Whitacre offers guidance that translates to personal conduct and professional calling. (I plan to send my copy to my son, as I believe it worth sharing.) Among the nuggets: People are the number one asset of any business. Companies aren't democracies; you can't run management by consensus. Somebody has to be in charge. Have a vision. Focus on the fundamentals. Take the long view in planning. Keep it simple. Demand accountability. Take responsibility. Have a sense of urgency. Use common sense. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Never think of yourself as better than another. Be persistent. These are solid life and business principles by which AT&T and, later GM benefited.

The "Bad": The book provides detail in some areas, the Apple/iPhone deal with Steve Jobs being an example. Other areas are dealt with only superficially, a prime example being the SBC acquisition of PacTel, Ameritech, AT&T and Bell South. One of the critical issues around M&A activity is realizing the synergies of the newly combined assets. Whitacre does not address those challenges or how he dealt with them. And while he talks about wanting to root out "matrix management" at GM, he says nothing of how he addressed a similar problem within the "old" AT&T that was acquired in 2005.
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