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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  5,504 ratings  ·  237 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 HarperBusiness (first published 2002)
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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,504 ratings  ·  237 reviews

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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, "Pe
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
Morteza Samadian
Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
آقای گرستنر در سال 1993 شرکت آی بی ام را که به دلیل تغییرات بنیادین صنعت کامپیوتر رو به افول بود را تحویل گرفت و در سال 2002 این شرکت را در اوج تحویل داد
منتقدی نوشته بود که آی بی ام فیل است و عدم انعطاف طبیعی آن شرکت را به سمت مرگش خواهد برد. گرستنر در کمتر از 10 سال فیل را متحول کرد و در جواب این انتقاد کتابی با این نام نوشت
یکی از بهترین کتاب های مدیریتی که موردکاوی قدرتمندی را به خواننده عرضه می کند
Saman Kashi
کتاب ( چه کسی میگوید فیلها نمیتوانند برقصند؟) که با عنوان (رقص فیلها) به فارسی برگردانده شده است جزو کتابهاییست که بیش از 13 سال از چاپ اول آن میگذرد و هر چند مباحثی که در آن مطرح میشود مباحث و تحلیلهای روز نیستند، ولی در بازار نشر کتاب ایران که کتاب خوب "مورد کاوی" بسیار کم چاپ میشود و بسیار بازار نشر پر هرج و مرجی است، جزو کتابهاییست که هنوز خواندنش به مدیران میانی به بالا توصیه میشود

داستان از افول شرکت (آی بی ام) شروع میشود که در برههای از زمان(اوایل دهه 90)، تمام توجه و تمرکز خود را بر روی (
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
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
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.
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
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
The book begins by the story of how Gerstner convinced himself to join IBM even when he had no technical expertise. Then the book talks about the measures he took to rescue IBM from the clutches of bankruptcy and the innovations and decisions taken that eventually resulted into IBM becoming the market leader again. He ends the book with the lessons he learned along the way.

You must be wondering about all the “Gyan” that Gerstner must have given in this book and the book is tailor-made for an IT
Ghasem Safaeinejad
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
شرکت های بسیاری بوده اند که در طول تاریخ تا مرحله سقوط و فروپاشی پیش رفته اند. برخی از آنها با کوشش تیم های مدیریتی نوین به طرز معجزه آسایی از نابودی نجات یافته اند . آی بی ام یکی از همین شرکت هاست .

در سال ١٩٩٠ شرکت آی بی ا م با ٣ میلیارد دلار سود خالص بالاترین سود خود را به دست آورد ولی همین شرکت در سال ١٩٩٣ با از دست دادن ١٦ میلیارد دلار در معرض نابودی قرار گرفت . مدیری لایق به نام لوئیس گرستنر در رأس این شرکت قرار گرفت و آن را از سقوط نجات داد و متحول کر د . در این کتاب او داستان این تحول را
Jan 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
I have read many business books,and I would have to put this book into the must read category for anyone interested iin improving their business acumen and capabilties. Gerstner walks the reader through the myriad of challenges and processes he undertook to right the IBM ship. He does so in a clear, pragmatic manner at just the right amount of detail and pace. He demonstrates how he applied many aspects of business models and theories to the real world situation he faced at IBM.
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.
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.
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
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
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 ...more
Miguel Serrano
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
Louis Gerstner's Who Says Elephants Can't Dance made me realise how hard it is to be a father of a multinational company trying to learn how to stand up and walk again after stumbling down from it's own weight - that a CEO's job is more than what his CV can compile. It reminds the reader that, coming from a company that moves the world through technological advances, moving a company - big or small - takes you back to the fundamentals. No shortcuts. And no technology can automate culture, human ...more
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
Edu Muniz Costa
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This a must read book to every business man in the world!

The experience of Louis G at IBM shows the importance of a culture to take a company to the next level.

It’s amazing how he identified the way that the company should go and changed the “status quo” of that huge elephant in the right direction.

It’s also a lesson of leadership and power.

As a leader you have to have people that you trust above you. If you have a new team, try to identify the good one and bring to your side. If they are not i
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
interesting story to know how a big behemoth changed itself to emerge in the market and become competitive again. If you are joining IBM, then its a must read to know the history of the company and how the turnaround was executed by Lou. Or if joining a big firm at an executive level.
1. People do what you inspect, not what you expect.
2. Change PnL compensation structure if restructuring or integrating.
3. focus on real longterm earning rather than quarterly revenues.

though, a lot of it does no
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a young IBMer (intern in France), I felt so lucky to found and read this book, capturing many details of the IBM's transformation during Louis' tenure from 1993 to 2002, including the strategy setting, the execution, the relationships with board members, shareholders/investors, managers, employees and with clients. The real inside story reminds me of Ginni's many initiatives, such as Think Academy and Ask Ginni, etc.(Not mentioning the strategic imperatives: Cloud Platform, a cognitive soluti ...more
Vernon Smith
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Like others have pointed out, it starts out slow but gains speed quickly. I think the ramp is needed to give context and understanding to the description of the changes made and the advice he is delivering. While I have only had the privilege of working at few large companies, his advice certainly fits all of them. And I can imagine that if you took out the name "IBM", you could insert just about any other large organization name in its place, and his observations and advice would be just as rel ...more
Shankar B
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Waiting to read this in full..
I have admired Louis Gerstner's leadership at IBM and IBM's working culture in embracing Straight Talk culture during my times when I worked there. My favourite email signature at IBM was this. Wish more organization and leaders learn from the past and make new mistakes rather than repeat the same mistakes over again.
Straight Talk - Let's Do It!
[Create a Straight Talk Culture] [Be Straightforward & Honest] [Be Clear] [Have a Point of View] [Admit Your Mistake]
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Very enlightening book on how to dare changes when things are not working, to be accountable for your own decisions that affect others, and how important being hands on is, besides the basic - yet sometimes forgotten! - notions of listening to your customers and being constantly in touch with the markets.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lou describes the historic turn around of IBM with the decisions that accompanied throughout the journey. He shares insights of how different service and product industries work and the cultural change that inhibits or enhances any organization from within. A simple straightforward telling from his point of view grants us a bird's eye view of a industry giant.
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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 Colleg
“It’s been said that every institution is nothing but the extended shadow of one person.” 1 likes
“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.” 1 likes
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