The First Management Guru

Dec. 21, 2004
Peter Druckers' writings are managment classics.

I don't see anyone interested in a book on management," General Motors Vice Chairman Donaldson Brown told Peter Drucker in the mid-1940s. Drucker's publisher concurred: "Who the hell wants to know how a big company is organized?" The 1945 publication of Drucker's seminal study of GM, The Concept of the Corporation, disproved those opinions, while the release of The Practice of Management in 1954 marked the introduction of business management as a field of inquiry and discussion.

In The World According to Peter Drucker, a concise yet thorough intellectual portrait of this century's leading management thinker, Jack Beatty explores Drucker's thoughts on business, government, and society. To capture the singularity of Drucker's thought and writing, Beatty begins with a description of his childhood in a cultured and intellectual household where dinner guests discussed mathematics, philosophy, medicine, literature, and music.

"If Drucker had never spent a day in school, he'd still be superbly well educated by ear, from the high multilingual talk flowing over him," Beatty writes. "The Druckers raised an intellectual, not an academic."

Beatty surveys Druckers body of work that spans 29 books and numerous essays, as well as his 50-year career as a management consultant and professor. Many of Drucker's ideas, some decades old, remain fresh and provocative. Beatty points to Drucker's 1969 book, The Age of Discontinuity, as a work that "from title to substance . . . reads as if written yesterday. . . . The discontinuities in technology, economy, government, and knowledge that Drucker identifies virtually define the American now."

How has Drucker influenced managers themselves? Beatty quotes IndustryWeek's interview with Drucker following the 1993 publication of Post-Capitalist Society: "My impression is that managers in the United States have derived two major points from my writing and counsel. First, they at least started to understand that people are a resource and not just a cost. . . . Which raises the second major point that . . . I helped them start to see management. . . . I think that many credit me with discovering the discipline and insisting that businesses take management seriously--as a profession that can make a difference in the life of the business."

Among the many essays Peter Drucker has written are the 13 Harvard Business Review articles compiled in Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management edited by Nan Stone. Culled from some 32 he has written for the journal, these works span the years 1963 to 1994 and are divided into two sections: those focusing on the fundamental work of management and those addressing the challenges of managing in a knowledge economy.

Drucker gives practical direction in articles such as "The Effective Decision" and "Getting Things Done: How to Make People Decisions." His 1988 essay, "The Coming of the New Organization," shows his prescience: "The typical large business 20 years hence . . . is far more likely to resemble organizations that neither the practicing manager nor the management scholar pays much attention to today: the hospital, the university, the symphony orchestra. For like them, the typical business will be knowledge-based . . . ."

Finally, in "The Post-Capitalist Executive" Drucker eschews the word manager because it implies that there are subordinates. "I find myself using executive more because it implies responsibility for an area, not necessarily dominion over people."

Portraits of emerging business thinkers and their major themes are offered in Thought Leaders: Insights on the Future of Business, edited by Joel Kurtzman. The collection features interviews with a dozen executives, authors, and academicians--"a mixture of sung and unsung heroes," according to Kurtzman. They include Minoru Makihara, president, Mitsubishi Corp.; John T. Chambers, president, Cisco Systems Inc.; C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel, authors of Competing for the Future; and Jean-Ren Fourtou, chairman and CEO of Rhne-Poulenc SA.

All were chosen because they are "addressing the big questions with which todays most senior executives are wrestling," in areas such as business strategy, growth, and human resources, says Kurtzman. Specific areas of expertise and opinion include the overdefinition of values and vision, managing people and risk, adapting to changing markets and new technologies, and assessing performance and portfolio mix--in the face of external pressures and changing management approaches. The interviews present brief, cogent introductions to the questions, as well as some suggested paths to resolution.

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