After reading, Who Say’s Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround (Collins, 2002), by Lou Gerstner (former CEO of IBM), I was amazed by the clearly pointed and relational elements that go into turning around a struggling, near obsolete company.

Mr. Gerstner did the impossible: he took an aging, but proud lion (IBM) and brought it into the future, much of it by using past fundamentals, which is a terrible irony for a technology company.

What was really interesting was how with IBM’s bloated infrastructure, monolithic bureaucracy and myopic culture, Gerstner assumed the task of shaking IBM from its historical moorings, to make it a strictly information technology and consulting enterprise, as opposed to servers and personal computers, which had served the company well for generations. Gerstner had to blowup the company to save it.

Gerstner had to undo much of IBM’s past glory, reinvent a future that IBM could capture and become the leader of, and do this while shedding most of IBM’s old practices, processes and culture. Gerstner was being somewhat forced to create a new IBM with the same employees most suited for old IBM. Hell.

In the book, I was surprised at the rudimentary nature of some business objectives depicted as effective (principles, vision and customer satisfaction), which most businesses lose as they grow and go forward, characteristics some businesses avoid, due to the discipline and consistency required, while other businesses don’t know these things exists to strengthen and monitor their performance, so from the start they’re in real trouble, but they don’t know they’re in trouble until it’s too late.

As CEO, of Upstart, Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals (, I learned that whether you are considering a turnaround, in the midst of one – or just operating a sound business platform and want to go the next level – these insights will help your next three minutes, your next three days – your next three years.

Lead by principles.
Basic beliefs; excellence in everything we do, superior customer service and respect for the individual.
To change the culture you can create the conditions of the transformation. You can provide incentives, define the marketplace realities and goals, but then you have to trust. Management doesn’t change the culture; management invites the workforce to change the culture.
The way an organization speaks to its various audiences says a lot about the way it sees itself. It’s important to maintain the organizational voice, how it converses with its constituencies, both inside and outside the company.
The marketplace is the driving force behind everything we do.
What is the core mission and overriding commitment to quality?
The primary measures of success are customer satisfaction and shareholder value.
Operate with minimal bureaucracy and a never-ending focus of productivity.
Never lose the strategic vision.
Think and act with a sense of urgency.
Outstanding people make it all happen, especially when they work as a team.
Sensitivity to all employees and the communities in which we operate.
Create a culture that is performance based.
In the shoes of the customer, do it the customers way (provide real services).
Decisions based on facts, data and measurement.
Diversity of ideas and opinions.

Good Luck.



Calvin WilsonUpstart, CEOcalvin.wilson1@verizon.netUpstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals© 2011
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