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Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?: Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround | [Louis V. Gerstner]

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

In 1990, IBM had its most profitable year ever. By 1993, the company 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.
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Publisher's Summary

In 1990, IBM had its most profitable year ever. By 1993, the company 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.

Enter Lou Gerstner. The presumption was that Gerstner had joined IBM to preside over its continued dissolution into a confederation of autonomous business units, effectively eliminating the corporation that had invented many of the industry's most important technologies. Instead, Gerstner took hold of the company, making the bold decision to keep it together, defiantly announcing, "The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision."

Told in Lou Gerstner's own words, this is a story of an extraordinary turnaround, a case study in managing a crisis, and a thoughtful reflection on the computer industry and the principles of leadership. Summing up his historic business achievement, Gerstner recounts high-level meetings, explains the no-turning-back decisions that had to be made, and offers his hard-won conclusions about the essence of what makes a great company run.

©2002 Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.; (P)2002 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"A well-rendered self-portrait of a CEO who made spectacular change on the strength of personal leadership." (Publishers Weekly)
"Edward Herrmann's pacing and understated connection with the material in this memoir makes the audio seem compact and relaxed. The writing is also outstanding, lacking excessive pride or self-congratulation....An essential volume for anyone interested in technology, large organizations, or IBM's miraculous rebirth under Gerstner's leadership." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (357 )
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  •  
    Arthur Held Missoula MT 02-08-05
    Arthur Held Missoula MT 02-08-05 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    127
    ratings
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    21
    8
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    "Moderate Start, Picks up FAST!"

    Upon starting this book, I felt like I was listening to a rather large ego telling me how great he was. But it rapidly became a great listen. I found his discussion of the evolution of the computer industry, and how IBM had to re-invent itself to fit the new paradigm, clear and true to what I've watched happening in the IT world.

    Disk 5 was outstanding in his discussion of how he expected managers to be part of the solution, not spectators and supervisors of it. And his views on where the internet is going are extremely insightful.

    A Must-Listen that finishes strong. A sure winner for anyone with an interest in IT, IT Companies, or our Business world and its IT components.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven Stevenson Ranch, CA, USA 12-27-05
    Steven Stevenson Ranch, CA, USA 12-27-05 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    3
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    "Deflated"

    I was unexpectedly disappointed by this book. After reading the glowing reviews from others, I expected an inspiring, insightful review of the amazing things done at IBM in one of the most remarkable turn-arounds ever -- my hopes were deflated. What I got out of this was a combination of kind words for those long time IBMers who helped, and advertising for IBM's positioning for future stock growth. Mr. York's role in achieving the turn around was grossly under-promoted, as few of the structural cost improvements would have been achieved without him, and there was little insight shared on how Mr. Gerstner came to determine the specific changes that were made. Further, the last third of the book is spent delivering Mr. Gerstner's political perspective on everything from schools to charitable contributions. Not a recommended read.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mr. M Metwally 01-22-05 Listener Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Quite stimulating"

    An intellectually stimulating book. Well written and well narrated. An excellent one to listen to for leaders and employees of large institutions.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Cho Portland, OR 08-30-05
    J. Cho Portland, OR 08-30-05 Listener Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "simply inspiring"

    i don't know if everything mr. gerstner wrote is 100% true. it hardly matters, as many lessons on how to view your company and how to make the best out of it were taken from the book. the book taught me practical ways to look at a dismal situation and turn it around for the better.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chad Small GILBERT, AZ, US 05-26-05
    Chad Small GILBERT, AZ, US 05-26-05 Listener Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Book, But I'm Biased"

    I loved this book. I have been a huge fan of IBM since my younger years and was aware of the possible breakup of "Big Blue" in the early 90's. I didn't even have a clue as to how bad it was though. Amazing to see how some of the old guard behemoths get bogged down with the "that's the way we've always done it" attitude and slowly sink into the dinosaur tar pits. Gerstner did a miracle if you ask me after having listened to his accounts of internal processes and procedures gone mad. I recommend the unabridged for those that like to hear it all, and I am not a business book person. I especially liked the narrator selection.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joseph PA, PA, USA 04-10-05
    Joseph PA, PA, USA 04-10-05 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
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    55
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    "Engrossing"

    As someone who was working at IBM up to just prior to the time covered in this book, I found it engrossing as well as very indicative of the situation at the time. This book is an excellent discourse on corporate culture and how change has to occur from the top to be effective. Having lived through some failed attempts at other companies, this is a good blueprint with anecdotal history of how a company goes about properly re-inventing itself.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael United States 10-02-12
    Michael United States 10-02-12 Member Since 2011
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    1
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    "Great!"
    If you could sum up Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? in three words, what would they be?

    Inspiring Historical Intriguing


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Gerstner accomplished quite an amazing task in his time at IBM. It's great to hear his background, approach, and how it shaped how IBM exists, today!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David United States 08-06-12
    David United States 08-06-12 Member Since 2012
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    12
    3
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Insightful"
    What did you like best about this story?

    I liked the candor of Louis.


    Any additional comments?

    Louis gives specific details about some events, but for a lot of the time part glosses over the details and gives grand general statements. More specific retelling of events would be much more useful to the reader. He has a great story to tell, but unfortunately he is a weak storyteller.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saeed Jeddah 21543, Saudi Arabia 06-12-12
    Saeed Jeddah 21543, Saudi Arabia 06-12-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    "worth it"

    a good book for Louis... i am glad i run into it. once i start i couldn't stop.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Niklas Stockholm, Sweden 12-27-11
    Niklas Stockholm, Sweden 12-27-11
    ratings
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    "Great retrospective"
    What made the experience of listening to Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? the most enjoyable?

    A legendary leader gives a unpretentious inside story of one of the largest IT companies of all times near death experience. Recommended reading to any aspiring manager. Gives great insights into change management and people management. Great retrospective into an IT-area.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    the protagonist.


    Have you listened to any of Edward Herrmann’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    no.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    the turnaround.


    Any additional comments?

    Great buss-ride -to-work reading, inspires!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 17 results PREVIOUS12NEXT
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  • Jacob
    Southampton, United Kingdom
    3/22/13
    Overall
    "Really enjoyed it."

    Nice easy listen and a fascinating story. I usually opt for books narrated by the author as they have more emotion. However Edward Herrmann really brings the story to life, and boy what a story!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • David
    Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
    2/6/11
    Overall
    "Very Good"

    Excellent listen - how someone with little IT skills transformed IBM - one of, if not , the most important companies in the world. Rare business book thats worth more than one listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Joshua
    Billingshurst, United Kingdom
    2/19/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "20 YRS LATER & THE PRINCIPLES COULD STILL APPLY"

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
    Having an interest in software companies and seeing how they evolve is fascinating to me, and seeing how a "non - Software" executive dealt with the sinking ship with a business strategy was very interesting to me since we are always told how great Gates and Jobs are...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Craig Forster
    Tunbridge Wells, Kent United Kingdom
    4/14/13
    Overall
    "Great insight to major corporate change"

    My company is going through a major transformation and I found this a really interesting insight to similar major changes at IBM and how one leader dealt with this. It covers the highs and lows/challenges and successes. IBM is clearly a massive complex entity and I was fascinated how such complexity still in the end has to be able to be summarised and netted out to understandable language and concepts. One gets the impression from the book that Gerstner brought this executive ability to take a helicopter view of things. He also was prepared to take tough decisions.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Joe
    Kilkenny, Ireland
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Great read"

    I have worked hands-on daily with IBM hardware, software and services for well over a decade, some of which overlapping with Lou Gerstner's period as CEO of the company, so I picked this up expecting not to learn much I hadn't already known about IBM. I was entirely wrong. This is a really engaging and honest account of the turnaround of a company that was literally falling apart as it failed to adapt to the changing world in which it was operating. The clarity of purpose which Gerstner, as a 'non IT person', brought to the company and it's strategic direction shines throughout. The book could be accused of being one-sided, but the performance of IBM during Gerstner's time at the helm is so remarkable that some element of victors writing the history is understandable. The insight into 'bet the company' decisions and simple management strategies applied to the giant organisation that is IBM is really fascinating. Great read, highly recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Bill
    London, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "A nice little job"

    Gerstner repaired IBM because he didn't belong there. Funny that, but it worked! Fascinating. Keep in mind that he had been in the same ring with this elephant before with other companies. See ourselves as others see us.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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