Gerstner is chairman of the Carlyle Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the U.S. with close to $60 billion in assets.
Gerstner might be one of the only people in America for whom taking over as chairman of the Carlyle Group might be considered a step down: His previous position, from 1993 through 2002, was chairman of IBM. A Long Island native—his father drove a milk truck—Gerstner attended Dartmouth and Harvard Business School before cutting his teeth as a consultant at McKinsey. In the late 1970s, he joined American Express, later taking over the company's Travel Related Services group; on his watch Amex introduced the tag line "membership has its privileges" and unleashed "tiered" cards—gold and platinum versions of the Amex card—during the height of the money-conscious '80s. By his early 40s, Gerstner was No. 2 at the company; when he realized that Amex's chief, James D. Robinson, had no intention of abandoning the top spot anytime soon, Gerstner made plans to move on. Following Henry Kravis' legendary 1988 buyout of RJR Nabisco, Kravis handpicked Gerstner to run the company. In 1993, he signed on as IBM's CEO, and managed to turn the company from a hardware-heavy behemoth into a fleet-footed consulting business before retiring in 2002.
Gerstner faced an enormous challenge at IBM in the 1990s as the tech revolution threatened to break the company into pieces: The company had been forced to shed more than 100,000 employees shortly before Gerstner's arrival. Gerstner helped refocus the company on business IT services as opposed to mainframe computing, an unprecedented turnaround that concluded with his retirement in 2002 and an extraordinarily cushy 10-year consulting contract. (Sam Palmisano now serves as CEO.) Six months later, Gerster joined the Carlyle Group, the mega-private equity firm founded by William Conway Jr., David Rubenstein and Daniel D'Aniello in 1987. Much like Jack Welch at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and John Snow at Cerberus, it was Gerstner's Rolodex that was of particular interest to Carlyle. His relationships with global CEOs and government leaders have helped Carlyle earn new business; of course, the credibility he brings doesn't hurt either. But Gerstner's part-time chairman gig leaves him with plenty of time for other activities of interest. He's taken classes in archeology and Chinese history at Cambridge University.
Forbes estimated Gerstner's net worth in 2003 at $600 million. As part of his retirement package at IBM, he earns an annual salary of $2 million (for a month of work a year) and also has full access to IBM's fleet of jets and company cars.
Since leaving IBM in 2002, Gerstner has written two books. Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?, about the transformation of IBM, was a bestseller; he also co-authored Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools.
While at IBM, he sat on the boards of more than a dozen companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, The New York Times Company, American Express, and AT&T. He now serves on Sony's advisory board; apparently Howard Stringer was so impressed by the wisdom Gerstner imparted in his bestselling book, he asked him for help turning around the struggling electronics giant.
Queen Elizabeth II made Gerstner an honorary Knight of the British Empire in 2001.
He's married to Robin Links Gerstner. They have two children: a son, Louis Gerstner the 3rd, and a daughter, Elizabeth, who's a doctor in Boston. The couple lives in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Greenwich.