I remember that I was attending a technical seminar few years ago where one of the IBM executive mentioned that it is an open secret that now IBM earns most of its profit from services and not from products as has traditionally been the case earlier. That particular statement left me thinking as I had always regarded IBM at the forefront of computer technology and responsible for so many innovations that have taken place in last 50 years. And then I came across this book “Who says elephants can’t dance”, by CEO of IBM Louis V. Gerstner who is credited with this turnaround of the company.
When he came on board from a non-technical domain of American Express, IBM was facing a tough challenge from PC makers, Microsoft, Apple and the technology trend from mainframes to desktop PCs. But it was a monolith, steeped in bureaucracy and very difficult to make any changes. At such time, Gerstner took tough decisions, laid out employees but did not break up the company into “Baby-blues” like AT&T and focussed on IT services and solutions instead of Hardware that it was selling till that time. He managed to turn around the fortunes of the whole company in few years and even though it is not doing the same things that it used to do earlier, IBM has adapted to market transition and has been financially successful.
His writing style is good and easy to read. But the book focusses a lot on the Gerstner himself and what he did to save the company. Since it is his autobiography, he has liberty to look at things from his perspective but sometimes I felt that he was over the top. Several of his emails to all employees of the company find prominent mention in the book that I found a bit too much. There is also a famous incident where he switched off a projector in middle of presentation by top executives so that they could do some real “work”.