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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  6,695 ratings  ·  287 reviews
In 1990, IBM had its most profitable year ever. By 1993, the computer industry had changed so rapidly the company was on its way to losing $16 billion and IBM 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.

Then Lou Gerstner was brought in to run IBM. Almost everyone watch
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 12th 2002 by Harper Business (first published 2002)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround, Louis V. Gerstner Jr.
This is CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr's memoir about the turnaround of IBM and his transformation of the company into the industry leader of the computer age. When Gerstner became CEO of IBM in 1993, shares were in free fall and the company was on the verge of collapse. Hired for his successful management of RJR Nabisco and American Express, Gerstner had no background in technology, but during his seven-year chair
Omar Halabieh
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Below are key excerpts that I found particularly insightful in this book, detailing the turnaround that Louis Gerstner engineered at IBM in the 1990s:

1- "Thus began a lifelong process of trying to build organizations that allows for hierarchy but at he same time bring people together for problem solving, regardless of where they are positioned within the organization."

2- "I went on to summarize my management philosophy and practice: I manage by principle, not procedure. The marketplace dictates
Prajakta Shikarkhane
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't usually read business books. If I do, I never read them on a Sunday!

"Who says Elephants Can't dance?" is unpretentious, witty and honest all at once. The fact that Lou does not consider himself a technologist helps. He explains the underpinnings of the IT industry and IBM lucidly.

This razor sharp focus on competition, execution & change management are compelling. However, the most important leadership trait that exudes is his ability to understand "what drives people". He says, "People
Jonathan Eng
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
It is nice to think a person can come into a failing giant such as IBM and turn it around with common sense and a gamble or two. However, I found Gerstner overly self-indulgent. He takes credit for everything! Even though he notes Dennie's importance in the recovery, he phrases it as "I got lucky in meeting Dennie" rather than "Dennie saved the company." Also, I thought it petty of him to publish some of the emails his employees had written him--to point out their lack of tact. Let's remember th ...more
Anusha Sridharan
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't fancy business books as much. This book wasn't even my pick, it was a friend's. I don't know what force made me pick it. I couldn't keep the book down after I read the first page. It was a book that I needed, wanted to read, experience through someone as senior to tell me what it takes to make a historic turnaround.
The turmoils and tornadoes that seek you on your journey to make things happen are nothing but bricks of the pillars of a brilliant change. This book inspired me, kept me grou
Michael Bykov
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant story and insight from a non-tech executive turning around the world's biggest tech company - despite all odds. ...more
Utkarsh Sankhla
Jun 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
IBM. The only time I thought about this company growing up was when the TV would air their Smarter Planet advertisements. I found them very cool, but never really understood what IBM did anyways.

Lou and his story of turning around IBM is a lucid exposition of how culture and people are critical to an organization's survival and renewal. Books like these restore my faith in my job, and the impact it can create.

The stories are simple yet powerful and I personally found Lou Gerstner's style very
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Truth be told, I don't have much use for C-level executives. Most of what I see about them involves obscene levels of compensation, on an annual basis, personal secretaries and use of expensive corporate assets, like company planes. The company can be laying off middle-class people like me, but the executives pocket obscene amounts of money, vacation at their beach houses and generally live a very disconnected life from the rest of us. They're the counter-example to the notion that the USA has a ...more
May 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, top-pick
Great insights and lessons from a top business leader who orchestrated one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in recent memory. This a must-read for anyone with or planning a career in business, government, or social enterprise. It is written in a clear, concise, and easy-going style that reflects Lou's genuine and honest perspectives on the nine years he spent leading IBM from the brink of collapse to the successful global organization it became under his stewardship.

Given the inherent scop
Akshith Rao
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lou does a great job of explaining how age old incumbents can take some tips from the IBM turnaround. An interesting and gripping read that shall be highly relatable to anyone working in slow moving elephants
Viktorija Ratomske
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
While there are great ideas as well as an amazing example how to turn business around and adapt to the new market rules with such a huge operation, today I find some of the ideas outdated and not too relevant in the fast changing online world.
Will McLean
May 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-present
The most practical business book I’ve read. Very readable and easy to digest. Interesting man & interesting organisation. I’ll aim to re-read in 18months.
Tiklu Ganguly
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just read this book. You must read this to understand what a truly visionary person Lou is. Also, this is a great read for any managers.
Matias Alanko
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
A very un-business book-like business book. Gerstner just simply gives the facts and the honest story of IBM's transformation. There is no jargon, no grandeur, and no big words. I highly recommend reading this book. In addition, it was funny to think while reading the book that today, IBM is again in need of a radical transformation. ...more
Vidisha Negi
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joel Gascoigne
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great insights into a huge turnaround of one of the largest companies in the world. A fascinating read if you're in the mood for it. Personally, there are some market changes that have been going on in the past few years within Buffer's market, and so I found it very interesting to read about some much larger scale market changes and necessary action to turn a company around from a clear decline.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the strategy decisions, the approach convert that into execution
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Always thought this would be a bore, but it's so enriching.
Intg experiences of a guy who was heading Amex's business and then RJR Nabisco - who then comes to a bumbling behemoth called IBM.

And it's interesting to note that IBM had lost so much of its soul and purpose, and this guy put the ship together. No doubt that the IT boom would have aided it, but it was strongly losing out to new players when it shouldnt have been

Great stuff about organisation structure, proxy taking over agility, a cultu
Joe Maguire
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
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 'n ...more
Kevin Egan
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
When a leader has a vision, knows how to communicate it and surround themselves with a great time to bring into life then great things happen like this case. Great practical advice for every CEO.
Greg Githens
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Probably the greatest corporate turnaround of all time. Has an appropriate blend of depth and breadth. I sourced much excellent material from this book in my writing of How to Think Strategically.
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julian Dunn
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard not to look at the IBM of 2018 and the disastrous tenures of Gerstner's successors as CEO -- Sam Palmisano and Ginni Rometty -- to wish for the halcyon days of the 1990's when Lou turned around the great ship known as IBM. Naturally, Gerstner's self-examination of his tenure as CEO is bound to gloss over any missteps he made, but the results do speak for themselves, as evidenced by the company's financial performance after he took over. And, the fact that IBM continued delivering solid ...more
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked this book on an impulse from the Library, and just out of curiosity on what exactly went on during IBM's turnaround in the 90s. Lou provides an honest and oft candid insight into the process with nuggets of insights from his 35 years of experience. What was most curious to me was -- here was this guy with no tech experience put at helm of the biggest technology company for most of the century to turn it around. And he does it! That's a really hard feat, and we can all learn something fr ...more
Rhonda Sue
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading about Mr. Gerstner's time as CEO at IBM. The book was written in 2002/3, and is a bit outdated in terms of IT, however, the leadership principles still hold. Gerstner was brought in to turn the company around and be a change agent. It appears he got the job done. Now 16 years later, I'm not sure where IBM is at, and frankly, you don't hear much about them. Many of the companies he mentioned are long gone too.

If you're part of large organization that's successful, you will be fa
Vivek Gupta
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Yesterday, I felt like I needed a pick me up read for the weekend. I am pretty sure, you have that feeling some days :) I landed on a re-read of the classic by Louis Gerstner on IBM’s transformation.

And YES, it’s possible to effect change in large organizations. It can be painful, hard and may require lot of perseverance. But have a good intent, keep your head down, ignore the politics and keep working.

An apt case study & since IBM is huge so this is an exaggerated example of that. Here are my
Mehernosh Tata
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Lou Gertner has written a beautiful book about the turnaround of IBM in a simple and lucid manner. From his initial reluctance to head a $80bn technology company without a deep tech background to the way he used his management Principles to turn around the company is quite amazing to read. He has deftly explained the issues surrounding the downfall of IBM and how he slowly but steadily changed the strategy and culture to make it a more profitable entity.
Leading by principle not process and allow
Jan 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Good read, interesting insights on how Louis introduced strategic moves to turn around IBM out of its downward spiral.
I like his tough minded business decisions and how he sticks to the principles that he thinks are good for the company.
He mentions how he was apprehensive about joining a technology company, goes to show that it is always important to have the big picture in mind. No necessary that you have to be an expert in any particular domain.
Also, a recent podcast I heard where Satya Nadel
Amyth Banerjee
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the finest books on leadership. It was interesting to read how Gerstner boldly summarizes each activity & its emphasis on shaping the IBM culture. Being a turnaround leader is never an easy job, there are some tough decisions to be made. Most important is to make everyone in the organization feel the sense of purpose & understand what truly motivates them. Gerstner was able to make this happen without having much knowledge about the technology of IBM but he trusted & believed the IBMers h ...more
Varun Sharma
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book as I was very interested in understanding what caused IBM to miss the desktop revolution, and become kind of irrelevant (much like what has happened to Microsoft by missing the smartphone revolution). Not disappointed, got my answer. Simply put: they did not see desktop becoming a consumer device(exactly what happened with Microsoft too).

All the usual culprits that affect large successful organizations were there too: complacency, arrogance, lack of market awareness, intern
Tyler Fisher
May 19, 2017 rated it liked it
A story about Lou Gerstner's turnaround of IBM, told from the man himself. Lou didn't want the job, but his willingness to take on a steep challenge is the first lesson for readers to take away. Like many business books, there are broad lessons that lack detail, and Lou admits this. What is unique is the stories he tells about the turnaround, which makes it an interesting read, especially for employees. Should be required reading for IBMers, especially as Ginni Rommetty attempts to reinvent the ...more
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Louis V. Gerstner Jr. was chairman of the board and chief executive officer of IBM from April 1993 until 2002 when he retired as CEO in March and chairman in December. He is largely credited with turning around IBM's fortunes.

He was formerly CEO of RJR Nabisco, and also held senior positions at American Express and McKinsey & Company. He is a graduate of Chaminade High School, Dartmouth College an

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