Who Says Elephants Cant Dance: Inside IBMs Historic Turnaround by Louis V. Gerstner
, HarperBusiness, 380 Pages, $27.95 Hardcover, November 2002, ISBN 0060523794
Some of the constant readers of my monthly missive have asked why I didnt write a Jack Covert Selects on the Jack Welch book. Well, I always try to follow my mothers advice, If you cant say something nice, when choosing the books I review, soyou get the picture. In a nutshell, Mr. Welchs book was good, but it could have been much better. Despite the mostly lukewarm reviews of the Welch book, and the credibility knocks the cult of the CEO has taken this year by way of Enron, Worldcom and Adventis, two of the best books of this year come from retiring or retired CEOs. In June, Larry Bossidy, formerly of Honeywell and Allied Signal, introduced Execution (see Junes JCS reviews), a terrific book that is taking the business world by storm. And now, Lou Gerstner, the man credited with IBMs turnaround, presents his memoirs from his time at IBM. I enjoyed these two books so much that I would love to package a tour that offers tickets to see Lou Gerstner and Larry Bossidy sitting on stage and just telling war stories. Fascinating stuff.
When Who Says Elephants Cant Dance was first brought to my attention, I asked who the ghostwriter of the book was, since who that person is directly affects the quality of the book no matter how famous the subject. The answer was: no one. Needless to say, I was surprised and skeptical. Gerstner addresses this decision in his introduction, saying, I wrote this book without the aid of a co-author or a ghostwriter (which is why its a good bet this is going to be my last book; I had no idea it would be so hard to do.) I am responsible for any mistakes or confusion the reader may endure. He also admits that he never planned to write a book, nor did he ever do much business book reading of his own. So, ever the pessimist, I drew the conclusion that this was going to be an unreadable book. It is anything but! I was immediately engaged by Gerstners conversational writing style and his ability to tell a good story. Not only does he generously offer up his thoughts and lay bare his emotions during the incredible personal and professional challenge he took on, Gerstner grounds the tale solidly by sharing his meeting notes, recounting conversations verbatim, and giving clear portraits of the heavy-hitters involved in the struggle.
In addition to Gerstners writing style, the mystery inherent in the companys turn-around keeps the pages turning. Really, for Gerstner to succeed in keeping the company together when it was hemorrhaging cash was completely unexpected. Pundits, as well has most of the IBM exectutives, believed Gerstners first step as CEO would be to split up Big Blue into Baby Blues. It didnt happen and we get to witness the decision-making process and the companys subsequent salvation within these pages. Gerstner tells his story linearly, beginning with Grabbing Hold (of the reins, of the problem, of a slipping behemoth), then Strategy (the section titled Reflections on Strategy is one of the best in the book), Culture, Lessons Learned, and Observations (which concludes with a Farewell). The pages fly by and youll not only be surprised by how entertained you are, but also how much you learned -- about change, about strategy, about management, about Lou Gerstner. This book is so good that I want to offer you a money back guarantee. Buy it and if you dont find it valuable, return it and we will credit you for the book, PLUS shipping.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.