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Broken Promises: An Unconventional View of What Went Wrong at IBM Hardcover – June 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this incisive analysis of what happened to IBM, Quinn, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Friesen, a "knowledge manager" at Arthur Andersen, trace the ups and downs of this "long-term player in a short-term industry" and offer a mixed message concerning IBM's future prospects. Theirs is the story of an icon of American business fighting for survival, not because it failed to keep up with technological advances or lacked organizational flexibility, but because it let down both its customers and its employees. Drawing from several months of on-site research at IBM's headquarters, Quinn and Friesen argue convincingly that errors by recent management dislodged the two foundation stones of IBM's past success: its compact with customers to be the single-source supplier and caretaker of their information-processing needs and its compact with employees to guarantee their job security. The lessons they draw recapitulate contemporary management wisdom-e.g., remember that the customer comes first, understand your business, struggle unceasingly against bureaucracy, pay attention to employees. Unfortunately, the authors fail to delve into some fundamental issues: How might companies resist the short-term mentality that guides the operation of our capital markets? How wise is it to place strategic decision-making in the hands of one or a very few people when the lives of hundreds of thousands of people can be affected? This omission unnecessarily limits their contribution.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

A Harvard professor and a management consultant dissect the woes of Big Blue to ascertain what went wrong. Through interviews and secondary research, they identified two issues as the backbone of IBM's strategy and the focus for problems: promises of one-stop service and shopping for customers, and jobs for life for employees. In essence, the abrogation of these promises meant fiscal troubles for IBM; other problems--with stockholders and with Wall Street--quickly followed. The analysis is fairly thorough, including an examination of customer attitudes, marketing miscues, and misalignment of management and reality. Nonetheless, the authors are decidedly upbeat about the corporation's prospects and offer 10 lessons to be learned from IBM's experiences. Barbara Jacobs

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875846548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875846545
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,478,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This book presents one viewpoint on IBM during the 1980s and 1990s. The authors claim that a choice of IBM "could not be faulted" (p.9). [Was that because IBM, unlike some competitors, did not offer kickbacks to customers?] The authors claim IBM broke its promises of high-quality technology and excellent service to customers, and job security to its employees. But no company can guarantee jobs when losing money.

IBM's "incompatible small computers" may have deviated from the S/360 model, but followed industry standards of that era (p.11). One of IBM's mistakes was to listen to its critics (p.15), who could have ulterior motives. The world economy affects IBM (p.24). The discussion about personal computers missed the point (pp.35-40). IBM did not pioneer microcomputers and mass market them. It did give an imprimatur to what some sneeringly called "toy computers". The problem noted by T. V. Learson is common to bureaucracy (but didn't he retire then?). Did IBM really give away control of personal computers to Intel and Microsoft (p.62)? Such an opinion can only show ignorance of the history from 1976 to 1982. Chapter 5 talks about "loyalty". Can any corporation offer "employment security" (p.66) in a cyclical economy where management's first priority is to the share owners? No, but its a good idea. [The only way to guarantee job security is to be the owner-operator of your own business. But even then you can have problems.] The authors state IBM's hiring policy (p.68) but don't say how this was implemented. Did family connections ever trump this ideal? The "Open Door" policy is one way for top management to find out what is really happening, and avoid filtered feedback (p.69). Was there really no management favoritism (p.76)? Does "scientific management" work (p.77).
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