I was very fortunate to be at IBM for thirty-five years. Every one of those years was exciting and rewarding but the last eight were by far the best. Those were the years when Lou Gerstner was Chairman and CEO. A number of books refer to him on the cover or the highlights and countless others cite him as an example of a great CEO. In my own book I quoted from a few of Lou’s speeches about the crucial importance of privacy in the world of e-business. He has been a visionary thinker and leader on this key issue. I have not seen his new book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, but I look forward to it as I am sure many are.
The turnaround of IBM has been talked about and written about extensively — now we will hear about it first hand from the man who made it happen. I am sure he will also reflect on his views of the information technology industry and what it takes to make a great company run effectively. I was fortunate to have had many interactions with Lou over the past eight years but the day I will remember most is when we showed Lou the first prototype of ibm.com in 1994. The page had a picture of Lou, a limited number of links, and an audio clip in which Lou welcomed visitors to the site and urged them to come back often. Lou liked the page but asked a question that stopped us all in our tracks. “Where is the buy button?”, he asked. The buy button? This was 1994. There was no e-commerce yet let alone e-business. Talk about market savvy and intuition. We didn’t have an answer to Lou’s question but the site went live on May 24, 1994. As far as I know it was the first time a Fortune 500 CEO was so visible and proactive on the web. He followed this with many other web firsts but most significant may be when he used another audio clip on the web — this time to talk directly to the employees of Lotus Development Corporation. Normally in a hostile takeover like this the employees would have to read the interpretation of the press to learn what the acquisition was all about. Lou went to them direct. That was in July 1995. Lou is a leader who will go down in history as one of the all time greats. I hope his new book does too.