Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. took over the helm at computer giant IBM, many business analysts believed the company’s glory days had long since passed. Smaller firms could more rapidly adapt to the fast-changing world of technology, and a company of IBM’s size simply could no longer compete. As an outsider Gerstner was at first skeptical, but later became convinced that IBM could be saved. He took on the CEO job and began the difficult task of turning Big Blue around.

His number one goal was to restore the company to profitability. Beginning by completely revising IBM’s basic business strategy, he personally visited customers in the field to reassure them that IBM was here to stay. Interestingly, Gerstner believed that the key to IBM’s turnaround would not be “vision” but “execution.” This would require a strong and experienced leadership team and the creation of a sense of urgency among employees that would drive the company forward.

Gerstner understood that the corporate culture of a large organization is hard to change. The tremendous growth of IBM was based on its past successes, making it difficult to implement a radical, but necessary, change in direction. To make the “elephant dance,” Gerstner had to quickly re-focus IBM to concentrate on short-term goals and intelligent use of resources.

In the end, he observes, it all comes down to people. Good leadership, sound management, and a winning attitude were the main ingredients of IBM’s dramatic turnaround. After nine years, Gerstner retired in 2002, successfully rescuing Big Blue from the brink of extinction.

Filled with wisdom and insight, this book is highly recommended to all leaders and managers of large organizations.