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Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? [Kindle Edition]

Louis V. Gerstner Jr.
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (171 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In 1990, IBM had its most profitable year ever. By 1993, the computer industry had changed so rapidly the company was on its way to losing $16 billion and IBM was on a watch list for extinction -- victimized by its own lumbering size, an insular corporate culture, and the PC era IBM had itself helped invent.

Then Lou Gerstner was brought in to run IBM. Almost everyone watching the rapid demise of this American icon presumed Gerstner had joined IBM to preside over its continued dissolution into a confederation of autonomous business units. This strategy, well underway when he arrived, would have effectively eliminated the corporation that had invented many of the industry's most important technologies.

Instead, Gerstner took hold of the company and demanded the managers work together to re-establish IBM's mission as a customer-focused provider of computing solutions. Moving ahead of his critics, Gerstner made the hold decision to keep the company together, slash prices on his core product to keep the company competitive, and almost defiantly announced, "The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision."

Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? tells the story of IBM's competitive and cultural transformation. In his own words, Gerstner offers a blow-by-blow account of his arrival at the company and his campaign to rebuild the leadership team and give the workforce a renewed sense of purpose. In the process, Gerstner defined a strategy for the computing giant and remade the ossified culture bred by the company's own success.

The first-hand story of an extraordinary turnaround, a unique case study in managing a crisis, and a thoughtful reflection on the computer industry and the principles of leadership, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? sums up Lou Gerstner's historic business achievement. Taking readers deep into the world of IBM's CEO, Gerstner recounts the high-level meetings and explains the pressure-filled, no-turning-back decisions that had to be made. He also offers his hard-won conclusions about the essence of what makes a great company run.

In the history of modern business, many companies have gone from being industry leaders to the verge of extinction. Through the heroic efforts of a new management team, some of those companies have even succeeded in resuscitating themselves and living on in the shadow of their former stature. But only one company has been at the pinnacle of an industry, fallen to near collapse, and then, beyond anyone's expectations, returned to set the agenda. That company is IBM.

Lou Gerstener, Jr., served as chairman and chief executive officer of IBM from April 1993 to March 2002, when he retired as CEO. He remained chairman of the board through the end of 2002. Before joining IBM, Mr. Gerstner served for four years as chairman and CEO of RJR Nabisco, Inc. This was preceded by an eleven-year career at the American Express Company, where he was president of the parent company and chairman and CEO of its largest subsidiary. Prior to that, Mr. Gerstner was a director of the management consulting firm of McKinsey & Co., Inc. He received a bachelor's degree in engineering from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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.


“The best business book I’ve ever read.”

Product Details

  • File Size: 3808 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060523808
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books (October 13, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FCKL6G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,575 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More about history than management October 12, 2003
While this is a good book of an historic turnaround, there is little one can take away and apply. Between Gerstner's excessive modesty and the way he focuses more on his actions than the reasoning behind them, there is not much to learn here. Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable story.
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52 of 66 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over simplified and superficial December 1, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are looking for a condensed version of IBM highlights under Gerstner's lead, this book will meet your needs. If you are interested in gaining an understanding of IBM's issues that led to the "elephant" stumbling, and Gerstner's solutions, you will be disappointed.
"Who says..." is a quick read with a superficial treatment of the various issues facing IBM and a simplified view into Gerstner's techniques to turn the company around. Many different scenarios are rushed through, leaving the reader wanting to know more about how and why. The solutions offered by Gerstner and his team seem pat--surely there was more going on.
Gerstner can not answer all his critics or the legion of angry ex-IBM'ers in a single book, particularly so close to his career transition. Unfortunately, this book misses the opportunity to provide the reader with anything more than a superficial insight into one man's view of IBM.
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67 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saving IBM from Itself November 18, 2002
By A Customer
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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48 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A classic in self-deception November 29, 2002
By A Customer
The title of this book says it all: elephants don't naturally dance, it takes years of cruel training to make them do it, and in the end, there aren't many customers for the show.
IBM's revenue record in Appendix C of this book also says it all: Gerstner has the worse revenue growth record of any IBM CEO, and that is despite the the Internet boom, despite the ERP boom, and despite the acquisition of such big players as Sequent, Lotus and Tivoli. Some turnaround, mate!
More than once in this book Gerstner cites the pleas of others: "You owe it to America to take this job." It's hard to see what he has done for America during his nine-year tenure... Where once there were many readers who wanted to learn about SNA, CICS, RPG/400 and other IBM inventions, today there seem to be no IBM technologies that a sufficient number of people are interested in to propel a manual even in to the bottom of the amazon bestseller list.
For the story of Gerstner's tenure at IBM is really the story of IBM's hollowing out, of an extraordinary sell-off of IBM's assets to the short-term benefit of shareholders, of whom Gerstner was one of the biggest. As one of the IBM UK CEOs during Gerstner's reign, Barrie Morgans, said of Gerstner's skill at cutting costs and inability to boost sales: "Well, anybody can slash and burn." Gerstner says on page 87 that the dismissal of the EMEA head, Hans-Olaf Henkel, was for subverting his memos to employees. It wasn't: Gerstner got rid of Henkel because Henkel dared to tell Gerstner that one of his strategies wouldn't work.. There is no reference here to the classic case, Churchhouse v IBM, which was heard in a US court.
Gerstner also dismisses, in a page or two, the needs of employees in terms of benefits and pensioners.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting read
Interesting read of how to influence change on a huge company. it seems Lou was able to find his trusted circle quick and help with his transformation
Published 1 month ago by Sean Barclay
4.0 out of 5 stars Reading the book for work but I've found it very ...
Reading the book for work but I've found it very interesting and informative as to the though process involved in turning around a company.
Published 1 month ago by Nancy Tucker
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good reading. Although the events occured some time ago
Very good reading.
Although the events occured some time ago, the message still very actual.
Published 2 months ago by Roberto Gouveia
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book for young and aspiring CEOs and General Managers.
Published 3 months ago by Royron Adams
4.0 out of 5 stars Its like hearing leadership lesson from a person who has faced ...
Its like hearing leadership lesson from a person who has faced the challenges rather than people who just preach it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amit Kumar Dash
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
nice read
Published 3 months ago by CairoJoe1
1.0 out of 5 stars He did no good for IBM
The book of a bastard. Don't read it. He did no good for IBM, and he did many WRONG things. According to the FCPA, he should be in jail.
Published 4 months ago by Garcia Moreira Rafael
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Story
A great look into business strategy in simple words. Funny at times and generally a good read. So really good nuggets of insight from Gerstner on leadership and executing change in... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Shanique
5.0 out of 5 stars Dance again.
Elephants are HUGE! IBM is huge, and the author made them dance again. Louis was the narrator in this book and it was felt through and through--his passion, honesty, guts, teamwork... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Jim Serger
5.0 out of 5 stars Superv...¡
This book ilustrates in a direct and clear style, from inside, how the top global executives perform in the real life. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Miguel Jemio
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