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113 Lou Gerstner: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Lou Gerstner describes how he turned around IBM’s fortunes by introducing new culture, strategy, and a renewed focus on customers.

Lou Gerstner: Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?


Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, shares his experience leading the company's turnaround during the 1990s. Gerstner had no prior experience in the computer industry, but his background in management and strategy allowed him to view IBM's problems from a fresh perspective. Gerstner implemented a new culture focused on customer service, streamlined the company's offerings, and made strategic investments in emerging technologies. Through his leadership, IBM was able to overcome its financial troubles and become a profitable and innovative company once again.


Title: Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?: Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround

Author: Louis V. Gerstner Jr.

Publishing Year: 2004

Publisher: HarperCollins

Length in hours: 8 hours and 29 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. A new focus on customers was key to IBM's turnaround
  2. Streamlining the company's offerings was necessary to stay competitive
  3. Strategic investments in emerging technologies were crucial for future growth
  4. A new culture was necessary to instill a sense of urgency and accountability
  5. The importance of effective leadership in navigating a company's turnaround
Lou Gerstner: Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?

5 funny quotes

  1. "I found a delivery truck and its driver, and I started loading up with TVs, coffee makers, VCRs, and other stuff we could sell."
  2. "I've long said that if you want to find out who really runs a company, don't bother looking at the organizational chart; read the company's annual report."
  3. "One of my favorite French expressions is "to arrive with his guitar," which means to come prepared for any contingency."
  4. "We are now in the midst of a new economic revolution, one where the ability to create and distribute information is the primary source of competitive advantage."
  5. "I was reminded of a story about a salesman who proudly reports to his manager that he has sold a refrigerator to an Eskimo. The manager is astonished and asks how he did it. The salesman replies, 'Well, I told him it was a heater.'"

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "I didn't know anything about computers. Frankly, I didn't care."
  2. "The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision."
  3. "The next major explosion is going to be when genetics and computers come together. I'm talking about an organic computer - about biological substances that can function like a semiconductor."
  4. "It's about business results, period."
  5. "I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game - it is the game."

5 dilemmas

  1. The dilemma of how to turn around a struggling company like IBM while also maintaining its culture and history.
  2. The dilemma of balancing short-term financial performance with long-term investments and growth opportunities.
  3. The dilemma of deciding when to take risks and make big bets on new technologies and business models.
  4. The dilemma of managing a large and complex organization with a global footprint and diverse portfolio of businesses.
  5. The dilemma of balancing the needs and expectations of customers, shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders.

5 examples

  1. Gerstner's decision to invest in the emerging technology of e-business
  2. IBM's development of Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer, which famously defeated grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997
  3. The creation of IBM's Global Services division, led by Douglas Elix
  4. Gerstner's decision to partner with Apple to develop new software
  5. IBM's acquisition of Lotus Development Corporation, which brought the popular Lotus Notes software into IBM's portfolio

Referenced books

  1. "The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success" by William N. Thorndike
  2. "Leading Change" by John P. Kotter
  3. "In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies" by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.
  4. "The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth" by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor
  5. "Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company" by Andrew S. Grove

Share a quote

"I've always believed that strategy without execution is hallucination."

Lou Gerstner: Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?
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