“The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.”
That now-famous quote was uttered at a press conference when new CEO Lou Gerstner was being pressed for an outline of his plans for the beleaguered company in 1993.
IBM, the venerable giant of the computer industry, was being assailed on every front by upstart competitors like Microsoft and Apple and had become a ponderous, slow-moving bureaucracy. Plans were underway to break up the company when Gerstner, an industry outsider, was hired to turn things around.
What did Gerstner do? Within 16 weeks of his arrival, he reversed the decision to break up the company. He cut IBM’s dividend in half and began to slash costs, laying off thousands of workers at a company where lifetime employment was the norm. He disbanded the five-man executive committee responsible for every major policy decision made at the company. He revamped the senior management compensation plan to reward executives for overall company performance rather than for the success of their respective divisions. He jettisoned OS/2, an operating platform in which IBM had invested hundreds of millions and which was the centerpiece of IBM’s efforts to compete with Windows. The battle for the desktop was over, and the financial and resource drain was distracting IBM from efforts where the outcome was still in doubt.
The results were dramatic and immediate. Under Gerstner’s leadership, IBM achieved one of the most remarkable business transformations in history, regaining its position among the world’s most successful and admired companies.
Why did Gerstner succeed at IBM while so many others have failed at other companies? What message was he trying to send with his now-famous comment?
Let’s be clear: It’s not that Gerstner did not have a vision or a plan for how to achieve it. Rather, he understood that IBM’s success hinged on the organization’s ability to execute its plan swiftly and effectively. He knew paying attention to the following principles can help leaders do just that:
Not every leader will be confronted with as precipitous a moment as Lou Gerstner faced at IBM. However, being tapped to lead a transformation effort is not uncommon and can be a career-defining experience. Today, the margin for error is smaller than ever, events move swiftly and unexpectedly, the rate and pace of change are accelerating, and the consequences of failure have never been as stark.
The ability to execute effectively and efficiently is as important as your vision of where you want to go.
Keith Glover is a senior consultant at the Robert E. Nolan Company, a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.
The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access