Remembering Peter Drucker

I’ve always thought that Peter Drucker is the only writer one could legitimately call a “management guru” (though Charles Handy runs him close). So it’s nice to come on this essay in the current edition of the Economist. Excerpt:

The world’s great business schools have replaced Oxbridge as the nurseries of the global elite. The management-consulting industry will earn revenues of $300 billion this year. Management books regularly top the bestseller lists. Management gurus can command $60,000 a speech.

Yet the practitioners of this great industry continue to suffer from a severe case of status anxiety. This is partly because the management business has always been prey to fads and fraudsters. But it is also because the respectable end of the business seems to lack what Yorkshire folk call “bottom”. Consultants and business-school professors are forever discovering great ideas, like re-engineering, that turn to dust, and wonderful companies, like Enron, that burst into flames.

Peter Drucker is the perfect antidote to such anxiety. He was a genuine intellectual who, during his early years, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter. He illustrated his arguments with examples from medieval history or 18th-century English literature. He remained at the top of his game for more than 60 years, advising generations of bosses and avoiding being ensnared by fashion. He constantly tried to relate the day-to-day challenges of business to huge social and economic trends such as the rise of “knowledge workers” and the resurgence of Asia.

But Drucker was more than just an antidote to status anxiety. He was also an apostle for management. He argued that management is one of the most important engines of human progress: “the organ that converts a mob into an organisation and human effort into performance”.