No one doubts the enormous challenge and urgency that IBM faces in correcting its past errors and forging a path to success once again ("Rethinking IBM," Cover Story, Oct. 4). However, it is important to note that Lou Gerstner is not the only player in this transformation: Tens of thousands of IBM employees have to row the Big Blue boat forward, too. Hence, a unifying vision is critical, even if it means restating elements that have spelled success for IBM for decades and adding a few others that stress currently desired values. Here is a sample that just might work:
"IBM will build on its strengths in technology, creativity, global presence, and customer relationship to be the premier advanced-technology company in creating and delivering computing and
information-processing solutions to individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and governments worldwide."
After 26 great years with IBM, I called it quits in July, 1992, and started a property-management company. There is life after IBM, as I and other past IBMers can attest.
During the 1960s and '70s, IBM employees were like a great team of horses pulling in one direction. That was because those who held the reins had a vision. They also had only one primary product to haul: mainframes--specifically the 360/370/380 lines. Times have changed, products have changed, and so must the vision, the direction.
Lou Gerstner should understand that he needs a vision that can be articulated to everyone (both in and outside IBM)--even if it's just: "Our mission is to be the most successful information-technology company in the world."
Boca Raton, Fla.
When a company has a vision, it can justify layoffs of employees who do not fit into that vision. But a company cannot build up to 400,000 employees and then let financial reengineering dictate that it can make do with only 300,000 in the next couple of years. I would imagine that if its management envisioned the need for a skill set, which, when summed up, amounted to, say, 325,000 employees, then the company would be better off in the long term keeping the additional 25,000. It appears to me that Corporate America is generally going crazy over paring costs.
I would like to point out to Lou Gerstner that IBM's problems may be more fundamental than he thinks. As a former IBM marketing representative with 11 years' experience, every year I would ask my manager the following three questions:
Who are my customers?
What do you want me to sell?
How will I be paid?
My first-, second-, and third-line managers didn't have the answers.
Shawn B. Casey
I was eager to read your story. But after looking at the first three pictures, I dropped it in dismay. They show Gerstner wearing the shirt equivalent of checkered pants, descending from the IBM Gulfstream, and stepping out of what looks like a chauffeured limousine.
The pictures convey the strong message that the same mentality that wrecked the company is still in charge.
When the chairmen of Boeing and Ford commented on how dependent their companies are on a single computer vendor, I wondered if they were listening to themselves. I also wonder if the shareholders of Boeing, Ford, and dozens of other companies are listening. Betting the company on the fortunes of one outside supplier is worthy of severe scrutiny. It seems to me that America's ability to compete internationally is best served by healthy competition. Good riddance to the axiom: "No one was ever fired for buying IBM."
Paul J. Rafter
Santa Clara, Calif.
I take one great exception to your article. In today's world, great managers must understand the family needs of their employees. You make the case that Gerstner is a family man and that his colleagues admire his "devotion to his family." Later on, you write that he works "61 2-day weeks, 16-to-18-hour days." He is praised for taking work home every night. How does this man understand family needs if he's never at home? IBM can succeed only if employees are motivated and understood by their management. In my mind, family is a large element in most employees' motivation equation.
Bruce C. Dennis
Regarding IBM's corporate lexicon, it's no wonder they're in such trouble. While it may seem the perversion
of the English language through the use of nonsensical idioms and "verbing" is a minor issue, it strikes me as a troubling symptom in a company whose major business is accurately and clearly transferring and disseminating complex information.
Perhaps IBM's problems stem from the fact that employees can't even communicate with each other, let alone communicate clearly with a customer. Gerstner would do well to have all his "hypos" and "one performers" "reswizzle" their knowledge of English. Any supplier who wants to "talk to the foils" about improving my "keyboarding" skills does not represent an organization I want to do business with.
James A. Kindraka