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Lou Gerstner, the man who flipped IBM's fortunes, has what a former colleague calls "a vertical vision of reality." That is, if things aren't moving upward, he's very unhappy. When he took over at IBM in 1993, they were moving downward at a frightening speed, and what he did to turn the company around will probably be studied in business schools in future generations. Until then, we have IBM Redux, by Doug Carr, a very entertaining and instructive look at Gerstner and the company he revived.
Carr, a former IBM speechwriter, possesses an insider's knowledge about the Gerstner years at IBM: the despair of watching the company sink into the tar pits of ever-deeper red ink; the ruthlessness of the early firings and other cost controls (one woman was downsized--"excessed" is the actual IBM euphemism--when she was eight and a half months pregnant and coming off a stellar performance review; another was given his termination papers while in a coma); the business decisions that led to the turnaround; and finally the elation of seeing the company reinvented as a nimble information-services provider.
This is far from a hagiography of Gerstner, however. Because Carr didn't have access to him, he relies on anecdotes from those who know Gerstner and have worked with him, and the result is a fascinating portrait of the CEO as a young man (one former high school football teammate recalls an errant pass from quarterback Gerstner that led to the teammate's career-ending knee injury); as a man in a hurry (the chapters on Gerstner's years at American Express and RJR Nabisco foreshadow his accomplishments at IBM); and finally as a seasoned businessman who succeeded in overhauling a company that few thought would survive intact. --Lou Schuler [via]