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Who Says Elephants Can't Dance Paperback – December 16, 2003
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“[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)
About the Author
Lou Gerstner, Jr., served as chairman and chief executive officer of IBM from April 1993 until 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.
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Here is how Lou Gerstner (LG) Saved IBM:
1. Overarching strategy: At the time LG arrived, IBM was proprietary hardware- (mainframe) and software-led. However, an explosion of niche competitors were undercutting IBM’s pricing in its most profitable segments. The prior leadership and Board of Directors were planning to break the company up to make it more nimble, but LG chose instead to tightly integrate the company by making it the services-led, network-centric, open-source, integrator of choice.
2. Product breadth: When LG arrived, IBM tried to be all things to all people. LG divested underperforming areas (ex: most application software) and focused on leading/emerging areas (ex: middleware).
3. Customer focus: When LG arrived, IBM pushed product to serve IBM’s financial interest. LG shifted to serving customers’ interests and business processes.
4. Culture: IBM was founded on strong values including: hard work, decent working conditions, fairness, honesty, respect, impeccable customer service, jobs for life. However, when LG arrived, many of these had been taken to the extreme with an obsession for perfection. In addition, morale was in the dumps and employees felt defeated. LG revitalized many attributes and removed the promise of jobs-for-life.
5. Organization: At the time LG arrived, IBM was controlled by autonomous geographic (country) leaders who presided from on-high by organizing work and delegating problem solving. LG centralized strategic planning, budgeting, marketing, competitive analysis, and sales operations. LG shifted to global industry team leaders who engaged in problem solving and dug into details by constantly meeting with customers, suppliers, and employees. He retained decentralized decision making for innovation (once funded) and for engagement of customers, suppliers, and business partners.
6. Business performance measurement: When LG arrived, IBM was overly focused on the income statement. LG shifted the focus to shareholder value creation by means of increasing free-cash-flow and improving customer satisfaction.
7. Cost structure: Prior to LG’s arrive, IBM had made a series of modest cuts to protect its people and its income statement. LG decided to right-size quickly and completely to become best-in-class based on competitive benchmarks.
8. Execution: When LG arrived, IBM was have on strategy and contemplation. LG called for bold, precise action plans deeply inspected month by month.
9. Collaboration: When LG arrived, IBM was rampant with in-fighting; businesses would even bid against each other for customer orders. LG fostered collaboration through strategy and organization as well as identifying shared outside enemies.
10. Leadership development: When LG arrived, high-potential leaders learned by watching. LG ensured they learned by doing. He maintained IBM’s strong practice of promoting experienced leaders from within.
11. Compensation: When LG arrived, compensation was based on tenured entitlement with little stock-ownership and little pay variation for top- and bottom-performers. LG switched to a performance-based meritocracy and aligned incentives with the core strategy and desired culture.
12. Mergers, acquisitions, and alliances: When LG arrived, IBM acquired and partnered with a bewildering number of companies for purposes of diversification. LG limited activity to focus on acceleration of the core strategy.
13. Branding & Advertising: When LG arrived, IBM had a fractured and stogy brand image. LG centralized marketing and focused the company’s considerable resources on defining e-business.
14. Technical Excellence: LG retained IBM’s commitment to technical excellence.
It gives you a broad overview of how he managed to change IBM's culture and strategy and the rationale for doing so. Some of the company restructuring he discusses are: changing and implementing strategy, image and brand revival, strengthening customer relationships, the buying and selling of key business segments, how to change a company's culture, operational changes and managing top level executives.
From reading the 1-star reviews on Amazon it is my understanding that he is unpopular with some former IBMers because he laid off a good chunk of its employees which he only gives terse recognition towards the beginning of the book. And when he does mention it he uses the clever euphemism "right-sizing" possibly as a defense mechanism to absolve himself of guilt from initiating mass layoffs. But as painful as they may be, layoffs are needed for struggling companies otherwise the entire company will be wiped-out.
So if you're looking for an introductory overview of a CEO's duties and responsibilities I would recommend this book. But don't expect any detailed explanation beyond that.
The book is candid on the facts. It provides principles how one can improve work life, with practical examples. . My favorite quote in this book "there is an opportunity to learn in everything we do".
Whatever mentioned is true, I see this now in lot of IT companies. Many of them perish after couple of years. This book provides, with example how to over come.
If we read the book, we can same thing HP is trying to do, but too late in the game.
I am waiting for the continuation of the book from Sam Palmisano.