Big Blues: The Unmaking of IBM
NON FICTION BOOK REVIEW
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?
Back to Non Fiction Book Reviews index
Back to Home page