Big Blues: The Unmaking of IBM

470 words

Title:  Big Blues: The Unmaking of IBM;  by Paul Carroll; Crown 
Publishers; hardcover., 384 pages, $31.50

Reviewer:   A. T. Connellan, "A well-told tale of stunning corporate 

Big Blues tells of corporate giant's dramatic pratfall

There was a time in the not too distant past when IBM was the 
preferred stock of the widows and orphans set. The striped 
blue suits of their personnel exemplified the cutting edge of 
American big Big Business, and naturally, Canadian as well. 
Those days are gone. 

How IBM the leader, became an abject follower in the 
industry it virtually created, is a fascinating tale of 
corporate failure. In recent years Big Blue stock has taken a 
battering from a high of US$175 per share to a recent low of 
US$43 3/8. In the process IBM shares lost "$75 billion of 
value--equivalent to the gross domestic product of Sweden." 
Over the past 7 years, 140,000 jobs have disappeared.    

A company, any company is not products or services, it is 
people. Through the eyes and personalities of those who built 
Big Blue, elegist Carroll brings us forward from the company's 
early roots in scales, coffee grinders, and cheese slicers. 

His portrayals range the spectrum through cocky ego-monsters, 
paternalistic tyrants, and fearful nitpickers, to the much 
admired.  Together they built a company that awed the world, and then 
evolved to a stunning study in bureaucratic inertia that would 
put your worst nightmares of government incompetence to shame. 
In the process Microsoft, Compaq, and virtually every other 
major and minor hard and soft ware company prospered from 
IBM's inability to succeed from success.

In the first few years of reviewing books for you, my PC 
"training wheels" were an IBM PCjr, the computer Big Blue 
pretends never existed. In fact, over 700,000 were sold. When 
IBM denied parenthood, PC Enterprises sprang up in Belmar New 
Jersey, dedicated to up-grading and supplying the peripherals 
and additions for the PCjr that IBM had originally promised. 
Today, it is an example of the many successful start-ups that 
owe their life to Big Blue stupidity. 

Couched in elegant irreverence, Carroll uses liberal doses 
of black humor in his over the shoulder examination of "a 
distinctly American tragedy". For instance, the difference in 
approach between companies is defined as, Apple; "Ready, Fire, 
Aim," and IBM; "Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim...." He reads light and 
entertainingly, and has a way of getting into people and 
finding great quotes. On IBM jokes alone, it is worth the 
Big Blues is a most timely book. Recently there have been 
stirrings of revival at IBM. The new chairmans announcements 
of Apple joint ventures and new products, have some mutual 
funds buying. Some analysts however, advise a hold-off until 
the stock hits the $10 to $20 range. 

Is the plummet over, or is Big Blue to rise only to fall 
again? A word of warning, keep your cash register receipt. On 
page 152 my copy came apart. Can that be an omen? 

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