ABB The Dancing Giant

Creating the Globally Connected Corporation

Claudia Heimer, Kevin Barham

Publisher: Pitman Publishing, 1998, 382 pages

ISBN: 0-273-62861-5

Keywords: Biography

Last modified: May 4, 2019, 10:41 p.m.

In June 1987, Beat Hess, head of the legal department of the world-famous Swiss electro-technical firm BBC Brown Boveri, was about to take his family on a well-earned week's holiday to Italy. He was suddenly told by BBC's chairman Fritz Leutwiler and chief executive Thomas Gasser, to prepare a full draft agreement for the 'unthinkable' — negotiations for a merger with long-time rival ASEA, the Swedish power engineering firm that had been gaining ground on Brown Boveri ever since a new CEO, Percy Barnevik, had taken over in 1980. If it came off, this would be the largest cross-border merger in history.

Hess was told to go ahead with his holiday if he wanted to, but that the agreement had to be completed by the first week in July. The handwritten draft with its coffee and suntan lotion stains that Hess brought back from Italy was to be the basis for what has now become a legend of corporate history.

ABB has grown to be a world-beating engineering business, but more than that, it has become one of me most venerated companies in the world of business.

There is almost an ABB doctrine that fascinates business leaders and scholars around the world. Why is ABB so interesting to managers and management gurus alike? And why has It become the world's favourite case study?

ABB's success, in a fiercely competitive industry, is remarkable because the company has pioneered a new form of global organization. Where other multinationals have stumbled, this giant has learned to dance. ABB has learned to manage the tensions between global scope and local focus, between size and speed, and between competition and co-operation. For many it has become the role model for me entrepreneurial, globally connected corporation of the future.

ABB: The Dancing Giant combines an illuminating corporate story with the first insightful analysis of the strategies and structures that have shaped this remarkable organization. Kevin Barham and Claudia Heimer take you inside Europe's most admired company and unravel the decisive factors in its success. Granted unparalleled access to the key players in this story — Percy Barnevik and Göran Lindahl — the authors show how a visionary business can refine the rules for an entire industry, and pioneer the shape of our corporate futures.

  • Part I: The Birth of a Modern Giant
    1. ASEA and BBC — milestones on the way to Europe's most admired company
      • ASEA — the history of a Swedish dynamo
      • BBC — a Swiss powerhouse that nearly ran out of steam
    2. The merger that rewrote the rules
      • The courtship — the Swedes go a-wooing
      • Negotiating the marriage
      • The ABB merger as strategic disruption
      • What lessons came out of the merger?
    3. Barnevik's master plan
      • The two-stage rocket
      • Stage 1: restructuring
      • Stage 2: growth
  • Part II: Giant Steps to the Globally Connected Cortporation
    1. Sowing the seeds of the triad
      • Timetable for an 'acquisition frenzy'
      • Preparing for the Dragon Centory
      • The post-multinational company of the future?
    2. The globally connected corporation
      • Deep-rooted local presence
      • Global vision
      • Globally distributed strategy
      • Cross-border understanding
      • Global values and principles for managing creative tension
      • Global connection at the top
      • Global ethics
    3. Managing global transitions
      • Going international
      • Being multinational
      • Going global
      • Engaging organizations via global transitions
    4. Making sense of things with the management gurus
      • ABB as the 'buckyball organization': Tom Peters on ABB
      • ABB as the 'individualized corporation': Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett on ABB
      • A parent that adds value: Goold, Campbell and Alexander on ABB
      • A man who set world standards: Manfred Kets de Vries on Percy Barnevik
      • What the gurus reveal
  • Part III: Reaping the Harvest
    1. The world's favorite case study
      • ABB — the world's favourite case study
      • A successful cross-border meger?
      • Strategic disruption —the restructuring of the power equipment industry
    2. The payback from multidomesticity
      • ABB leads the way in emerging markets
    3. ABB's global matrix challenges and refinements
      • Creating long-term value for shareholders — the ultimate measure of performance
    4. Developing ABB's people and 'corporate glue'
      • The people of ABB — a new breed of superhumans?
      • The Business Unit Programme — developing managers for international cooperation
      • ABB's cross-company learning partnerships
      • Life in the matrix — what is the experience of the ABB culture really like?
      • Applying the merger formula fro rapid global change
    5. Harnessing the power of connectivity via IT.
      • The route to progress
      • What's in the pipeline?
      • Then, now and tomorrow
  • Afterword: A seamless leadership succession
  • Memorandum from Göran Lindhal
  • Learning from ABB 15 giant steps to a global competitor


ABB The Dancing Giant

Reviewed by Roland Buresund

Good ******* (7 out of 10)

Last modified: May 21, 2007, 2:54 a.m.

Tries to puncture the myth Barnevik, and does a good work.


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