Great Advice From IBM’s Former CEO

I just ran across a post in Fortune’s Postcards blog about a speech that Lou Gerstner gave at the Yale CEO Summit in New York in last month. Here’s a summary of his advice for how to transform a Fortune 500 company:

  1. Distinguish between transformation and turnaround. A turnaround is about management execution, but a transformation is about a fundamental change to the business. Transformation is much harder.
  2. You can’t transform a dodo.  Gerstner quoted Warren Buffet’s rule: “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is usually the reputation of the business that remains intact.”
  3. It’s all about the culture. I love what he says on this topic: “You have to transform the culture, not just the strategy. Culture is what people do when no one is watching.”
  4. Integrate as a team. He notes a major inconsistency within IBM: there were “Team” signs all around, but people were paid based on individual performance.
  5. You have to understand what people do everyday — the processes, the values, the rewards. This requires a great deal of involvement by the CEO

My take: Gerstner is a great leader; his turnaround of IBM will be remembered as one of the greatest management accomplishments of our time. So I was thrilled to see that his advice matches a lot of the advice that I’ve written in my (mini) book “The 6 Laws Of Customer Experience.”

The bottom line: Get the business model right and focus on the people.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.