Friday, March 14, 2008

Lou Gerstner at SDM

Yesterday, we SDMers were fortunate to have a private talk with Lou Gerstner, the legendary retired IBM CEO & Chairman. Lou talked about issues such as cultural changes, why M&A rarely work, etc.

Culture changes: as Lou said in his book "Who says elephant can't dance?", is a big issue with any big company. Successful company tends to get stagnant. This is a universal problem: Change is painful; People resist change. People refuse to learn new ways to do old things. After you know how to program in C/C++, it will take quite a while for you to learn Java. When a company is successful, it will take quite something for the company to learn new ways of making money. As Lou said, it's always easier to change when in crisis, such as IBM in 1993.

How to get a huge successful company to change is yet another story. How to break people from their old cycle? In 1992/3, IBM faced enormous revenue decline in its major product line, S/390, but IBMers were still dong things the old way, such as charging enormous amount money for mainframes. What I think was missing was the change agent. You need to wake people up. Make them to innovate, accept the competition and ask them to look at the things at different perspective. Lou Gerstner, as he described himself in the book, is the change agent needed for the national icon.

This also applies to Merger & Acquisition. Making two cultures into one is enormous.

The question I raised was about being an outsider and needed to push a big change, such as Lou to IBM in 1993, how to find people you can trust? This might be the toughest thing, as Lou answered, and might be the important thing. One needs to work with people, to find if people have passion about what they do and be truthful.

Ok, this is getting too much. I do have ERBA exam coming up:(. I'll just list other points I got:
  • people do things you inspect, not things you expect;
  • Leadership skills: doing things with people you asked to do. Give them support;
  • You must have passion at what you do. As Lou said, in his and Andy Grove's case, passion to winning.
BTW: He is actually a very easy to talk to person.

No comments: