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on 30 January 2005
Not only an interesting and compelling potted history of one of the global economies leading companies, this audiobook is also a fascinating diary, detailing the personal trials and triumphs of Louis Gerstner. He comes across as a man of action and vision, someone who while unafraid to make unpopular decisions regarding company restructuring, always led from the heart. His descriptions of difficult choices and hard-won results make this a great mini-MBA - some very valuable management advice is there for the taking. And it sure beats listening to the radio on the drive to the office!
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on 23 October 2013
Gerstner is obviously a man who thinks clearly and acts decisively. He writes the same way. The major part of the book tells the story of how he came to be at IBM and what he did. That's interesting in itself but it was a wee while ago. The value for me lay in his lessons learnt and observations at the end of the book, which draws on all of his experience.

On strategy:
1. Focus - you have to know and love your business. Acquisitions that fit with an existing strategy have the most likely probability of success.
2. Good strategies are long on detail and short on vision ("The last thing IBM needs right now is another vision")
3. A good strategy will always identify critical holes, competitive weaknesses, and the potential to fill them with tactical acquisitions.
4. If things get tight, more often than not, profit centre managers will be tempted to starve the future-oriented projects.
5. Execution is the critical part of a successful strategy. Getting it done, getting it done right, andgetting it done better than the next person is far more important than dreaming up new visions of the future.
6. People do what you inspect, not what you expect.
7. Execution is all about translating strategies into action programmes and measuring the results.
a. Managers must be asked to report on their performance and explain their successes and failures. More important, no credit can be given for predicting rain - only for building arks.
b. If you want to out-execute your competitors, you must communicate clear strategies and values, reinforce those values in everything the company does, and allow people the freedom to act, trusting that they will execute consistent with the values.

Leadership is personal:
1. Leadership is about passion.
2. Fairness or even handedness is critical for successful leadership. Those who don't demand uniform and fair adherence to good principles and policies lose their effectiveness.

Centralisation:
1. Every CEO has to decide what is going to be uniquely local (decentralised) and what is going to be common in the enterprise.
a. Back office functions yield to economies of scale and should be centralised.
b. Business processes that are more closely linked to the marketplace and the customer where common systems that offer benefits to the customer outweigh the costs of linking varying parts of the business together.
c. There is great risk in asking a decentralised unit to be good at its traditional mission and at the same time fulfil a shared role in a new mission; this level of integration is dangerous and should not occur unless absolutely necessary.
2. CEOs must take power away from existing barons and bestow it publically on new ones. Asking barons to play nicely never work.
3. Change the measurement and reward systems to reinforce a new direction, if one is chosen.

IT customers
Customers find technology hard to integrate into their enterprises; industry promises are overblown and the returns more difficult than promised. Many of the crucial decisions managers have to make have little to do with technology - or that technology may be an impediment.

Successful companies:
1. Manage margins and expenses brilliantly.
2. The best competitive advantage is a cost structure and a model that allows revenue to be used as a weapon against competitors.
3. Cash flow, not revenue, sustains success.

Shareholder value:
1. A major force in a growing market/market segment.
2. Holding/increasing share in those segments as a result of sustainable advantages
3. Increased share results from growing cash flow after all expenses (not EBITDA)
4. Using cash flow in a wise manner
5. Management tem aligned with the shareholders
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on 22 November 2002
Gerstner was the man who, in the space of eight painful years, transformed an extraordinary company into just any old company. His revenue growth record was the worst of any IBM CEO, and that is despite the massive acquisitions of Lotus, Tivoli and Sequent. In 1993, IBM was an extraordinary force in the computer industry, albeit a loss-making one. Now it owns very few technologies which influence the rest of the IT world -- I would imagine that a scan of the Top 100 IT books sold at amazon would confirm this. IBM is now little different from HP or Dell or any of the other vendors that believes commoditised industry-standard computers are the only way forward. The key players who do believe in proprietary innovation -- Microsoft and Sun -- simply don't need to reckon with IBM's architectures any more.
The story of 1993 to 2001 is really the story of a very small number of executives hollowing out the company in order to make as much for themselves as possible, and be blowed to everyone else, such as the employee. Gerstner and his cronies realised very early on that IBM was a soft target for corporate raiding because of its previous good citizenship policy. So he changed the compensation scheme so it was strongly linked to the stock price, and then proceeded to raid every asset he could. IBM buildings were quickly sold off and leased back. The pension funds in many countries were raided, or at least corporate contributions to pension funds in surplus were halted. IBM's practice of putting a manufacturing plant in nearly every country it sold to, in order to balance imports and exports, was also quickly stopped, so that production could be switched to the lowest-cost countries with the lowest tax rates.
This book covers only Gerstner's self-interested view of this. There is no reference to the case Churchhouse v IBM here. There is no pointer in the index to 'pensions'. Gerstner skates over his greed-driven ploy of pretending not to be interested in the job, in order to bump up his compensation offer. As one would expect, there are no references to England's AMIPP or the American ibmemployees Web sites.
Gerstner is pretty frank in this book about goings-on around him, but he was always obsessed with his own grandeur and status, too much to notice the damage he was doing to others further away. There are still people in IBM who believe Gerstner is a saint, the man who saved the company. But in truth, as the former chief exec of IBM UK, Barrie Morgans, said of Gerstner's reign: "Well, anyone can slash and burn." Building revenues is much harder, despite what Gerstner says in his book. Not a natural salesman, Gerstner's only means of boosting revenues was the acquisition of companies, but there he often failed to boost the top line by as much as expected. Sequent withered almost as soon as IBM bought it,and one can't help but feel that IBM bought it to stop it falling into the hands of Sun, as a part of Cray had previously done.
His other strategy was the organic growth of IBM's services division. One cannot deny this was a success, but it took IBM's focus off the product ball, which let Sun and Microsoft in to dominate their segments in the 1990s. Furthermore, in order to win business, IBM's services reps often recommended competitive products rather than IBM ones. This was done partly to imply independence and partly because there was often more service effort and therefore more billable hours required on rival products.
This is a fascinating book to read, not just for a former insider like myself. On page 12, Gerstner quotes from 1992's 'Computer Wars': "there is a serious possibility that IBM is finished as a force in the industry." IBM has survived as a name because of Gerstner, but is it still a dominant force?
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on 21 August 2003
An excellent review of Gerstner's experiances. Worthwhile for MBA students since it provides a comprehensive cross-modular resource upon which exam papers and assignments may draw. The audio delivery is superbly useful since it facilitates in-car listening.
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This is a fairly good book by an immensely talented CEO. It takes up more or less a few decades after the retirement of one of the greatest businessmen of the 20C (TWatson Jr.), when the business had lost its way and was under attack by extremely nimble rivals.
Gerstner took over the failing, almost bankrupt, company and both re-made its startegy and culture, re-focusing it on customer needs and re-engineering it (i.e. laying off an awful lot of people). In this book, he tells the outlines of how he did it, which is indeed extremely interesting. In particular, he stresses that while a strategy is needed, implementation of it is far more important.

Unfortunately, he does not go into enough detail for the reader to fully understand what he faced and how he did it. Neither the technology nor the brutal methods he had to employ were adequately addressed, at least for me. I read it carefully and did not feel I had had quite the full meal I expected. The reader also gets virtually no insight into what makes Gerstner tick, other than that he "wants to win" with passion. THe book was also entirely written by Gerstner; his style is competent, if somewhat like a business memo: good analyses are "actionable" and effective actions are "impactful."

Nonetheless, this is a very good primer on basic strategy and organizational behavior. He has lots of valuable advice to give and pinpoints many important issues. I will keep it and return to it.

THere were some things that I found questionable and surprising, if also unintentionally revealing. FOr example, he made IBM both an honest broker in offering comprehensive technology-based business solutions - for the first time, its employees could recommend the hardware of competitors if they better suited the customers' needs - while another part of the company continued to strive to produce the best hardware. This flatly contradicts both what Porter advises and Gerstner himself argues elsewhere in the book regarding the self-reinforcing compatibility of the elements of a business strategy and makes me question if Gerstner really thought it all thru. In addition, he astonishingly posits that Japanese business reporters are the best in the world, when in fact - and I worked in Japan for Nikkei, a leading business news wire service - they are merely part of the PR apparatus of firms, reporting verbatim what they were told to report by companies! If that is what Gerstner expected of Western reporters, then he was naive. But then, he was a benevolent dictator and is open about his dislike and lack of trust of the press.

REcommended. But if you really want a rivetting account of IBM, I would recommend Watson's autobio, Father Son & Co. There is also an excellent account of the turnaround of Xerox, using TQM, that is far more compelling a read than this book.
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Legendary CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr. pulled off the turnaround of the century by bringing IBM back from near bankruptcy. He completely remade IBM, a monumental task considering its size, its hallowed traditions and mission, its strong corporate culture, and the remarkable challenges it faced in a rapidly evolving marketplace. He details the steps he took to resurrect IBM and restore its legendary leadership position, and he explains why he chose a bold, risky path to strengthen and unify the iconic company when astute observers believed it had become an irrelevant corporate relic. Gerstner says that even though he wasn't an author, he decided not to use a ghostwriter. Be glad he stuck with his own voice. getAbstract finds that he has written a superior business book: analytical, well organized, focused and methodical - a work of masterful storytelling in straight-shooter prose. Current and aspiring CEOs can learn from Gerstner's war stories and from his visionary leadership. This may be an ironic twist, considering Gerstner's famous quote that IBM didn't need vision - it needed superior strategizing and marketplace performance. As it turns out, he supplied all that and vision, too.
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on 21 November 2014
I never thought I'd be interested in a book about business, but a friend gave me a copy and I felt I had to at least dip in for a page or two. I read a couple of sections with interesting headings - and got hooked.

The writing is very engaging. Mr Gerstner's voice (he did not use a ghost-writer) is amiable and lacking in egotism. Explanations are clear, and it is written in short sections which make it enticing to keep reading.

I won't go looking for another book about business, but am really pleased to have read this one.
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on 1 December 2016
As an IBMer, I can still see most of the underlying issues which the IBM organisation suffered from in the 1990s, still in existence today. Which points to the fact that many of the issues which Lou confronted are re-growing, not defeated and it is an ongoing fight to stop the destructive forces.

The generic principles and insights cited were useful for any Global 500 company however. A good, light read.
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on 8 May 2006
Changing corporate culture is one of the toughest jobs that any CEO can undertake so it great to hear from someone who has done it. Fascinating and inspirational. Great to listen to on the way to the office.
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on 27 September 2008
Louis Gerstner, In my opinion, tells a compelling story of his experience, leading the amazing "turn-around" of this behemoth, ... IBM a commecial-Industrial Dinosaur, rushing to its' extinction!
Gerstner details the defying approach he was able to employ, with the help of others who, also, were able to "see the woods for the trees" and did what was necessary ... not, what was possible!

I found it to be a fine account of corporate bravery, informed determination & exceptional leadership, in the face of great uncertainty. I recommend it as an excellent text of how, in the face of adversity, with the correct insight, ability and determined belief, even an overwhelming commercial culture which has lost its way, and its purpose, can again have its great assets gainfully deployed.
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