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Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround Hardcover – November 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gerstner quarterbacked one of history's most dramatic corporate turnarounds. For those who follow business stories like football games, his tale of the rise, fall and rise of IBM might be the ultimate slow-motion replay. He became IBM's CEO in 1993, when the gargantuan company was near collapse. The book's opening section snappily reports Gerstner's decisions in his first 18 months on the job-the critical "sprint" that moved IBM away from the brink of destruction. The following sections describe the marathon fight to make IBM once again "a company that mattered." Gerstner writes most vividly about the company's culture. On his arrival, "there was a kind of hothouse quality to the place. It was like an isolated tropical ecosystem that had been cut off from the world for too long. As a result, it had spawned some fairly exotic life-forms that were to be found nowhere else." One of Gerstner's first tasks was to redirect the company's attention to the outside world, where a marketplace was quickly changing and customers felt largely ignored. He succeeded mightily. Upon his retirement this year, IBM was undeniably "a company that mattered." Gerstner's writing occasionally is myopic. For example, he makes much of his own openness to input from all levels of the company, only to mock an earnest (and overlong) employee e-mail (reprinted in its entirety) that was critical of his performance. Also, he includes a bafflingly long and dull appendix of his collected communications to IBM employees. Still, the book is a well-rendered self-portrait of a CEO who made spectacular change on the strength of personal leadership.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“[Gerstner] entertains as he educates.” (New York Times Book Review)

“A well-rendered self-portrait of a CEO who made spectacular change on the strength of personal leadership.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Effective, to the point...Louis V. Gerstner Jr deserves his place in the management hall of fame.” (Financial Times)

“The best business book I’ve ever read.” (Imus in the Morning)

“[Lou Gerstner] has the substance of a genuine and ... interesting story.” (Wall Street Journal)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; First Edition edition (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060523794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060523794
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on January 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a fairly good book by an immensely talented CEO. It takes up more or less a few decades after the retirement of one of the greatest businessmen of the 20C (TWatson Jr.), when the business had lost its way and was under attack by extremely nimble rivals.
Gerstner took over the failing, almost bankrupt, company and both re-made its startegy and culture, re-focusing it on customer needs and re-engineering it (i.e. laying off an awful lot of people). In this book, he tells the outlines of how he did it, which is indeed extremely interesting. In particular, he stresses that while a strategy is needed, implementation of it is far more important.
Unfortunately, he does not go into enough detail for the reader to fully understand what he faced and how he did it. Neither the technology nor the brutal methods he had to employ were adequately addressed, at least for me. I read it carefully and did not feel I had had quite the full meal I expected. The reader also gets virtually no insight into what makes Gerstner tick, other than that he "wants to win" with passion. THe book was also entirely written by Gerstner; his style is competent, if somewhat like a business memo: good analyses are "actionable" and effective actions are "impactful."
Nonetheless, this is a very good primer on basic strategy and organizational behavior. He has lots of valuable advice to give and pinpoints many important issues. I will keep it and return to it.
THere were some things that I found questionable and surprising, if also unintentionally revealing.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Walter H. Bock on August 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?

Who says an arrogant guy can't write a helpful book?

There are a lot of people who don't like this book. Some don't like it, because they perceive Lewis V. Gerstner as arrogant. Some don't like it, because his tenure at IBM saw thousands of people lose their jobs. Some don't like it, because they don't think there is anything new here. I like this book.

I like the book, because it is one of the most cogently and personally presented stories I've seen of a major corporate turnaround by the person who was in the CEO's job at the time. Here's a quick outline of the story.

Gerstner became Chairman and CEO of IBM in April, 1993. At that time, IBM, once the icon of American management, was in big trouble. The deathwatch was on. The conventional wisdom among the pundits was that IBM needed to be broken up and sold off piece by piece to create lots of small businesses that would create income for shareholders.

This was the heyday of the dot com boom. Smaller, networked computers were expected to rule the future. Big mainframe computers, the stuff that IBM sold, were supposed to be the troglodytes of American business, and heading for extinction.

Gerstner came to IBM after being a McKinsey consultant and after a successful eleven-year career at American Express, and four years as Chairman and CEO of RJR Nabisco. He describes what he calls "the courtship" that brought him to IBM in the beginning of this book.

The company he took over was once seen as the very model of the best in management. When I was starting out in business some thirty-five years ago, we looked to IBM as an exemplar of all that was good, effective and profitable.
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73 of 92 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
While at IBM Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. developed a reputation of aloof arrogance. One would not suspect this from reading his book, in which he gives generous credit to the tens of thousands of people who created the company and to many others, some by name, who helped to save and resurrect it.
As a former IBM executive who took early retirement twenty years ago, just as the company's bureaucracy was beginning to strangle the organization, I was fascinated to learn how that bureaucracy spread and the extremes to which it went, creating a culture thst led to decisions (if any) by committee, conspiratorial compromise, and self-protective behavior. This is not the IBM I had known. Even more interesting is the rapidity with which Louis Gerstner diagnosed the sickness of the company and the speed and persistence with which he administered tough medicine.
Despite IBM's near-terminal condition Gerstner saw it correctly not only as a business enterprise but as a "national treasure" that was well worth the collossal efforts needed to restore it.
Unlike Jack Welch's adolescent "Jack: Straight from the Gut", this book focuses on the processes of leadership and management, strategic choice, and the decision process. But it speaks also to the essential importance of corporate culture, at IBM a way of life that is based on values rather than just on being first.
As a recovering IBMer I salute Mr. Gerstner for his remarkable achievements and as a reader applaud him for this exceptional contribution to the business book genre.
Don't miss it.
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