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 / Winter 2009 / Issue 57(originally published by Booz & Company)


On Peter Drucker’s Centennial

In 1985, while serving as editor of New Management magazine, I asked six prominent authors to consider Drucker’s entire oeuvre (some 20 books at the time) and to write critical evaluations of his contributions to the discipline and practice of management. I then sent the essays to Drucker for comment, and he complied in his usual style: promptly, coldly, analytically, and somewhat condescendingly. (On more than one occasion in the 1970s and ’80s, when an article or book I had written found its way into print, I received phone calls from Drucker, who, in his patented guttural growl, would tell me how “interesting” my latest effort was — and then go on for a good half hour explaining in painful detail how I had gotten my analysis all wrong!)

In the 1985 New Management retrospective, Tom Peters, having just read Drucker’s 1954 The Practice of Management for the first time, noted to his “amazement and...dismay” that he had discovered therein all the key points that he and Bob Waterman had thought original when they presented them more than two decades later in their best-selling In Search of Excellence. Given that Drucker was the first to have said almost everything there was to say about management, Peters wondered why Drucker’s name was never once mentioned by his professors while he was an MBA student at Stanford.

Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter ob­served a strange gap in Drucker’s writings about business management that some could call a serious blind spot: He didn’t believe that evil existed, only ignorance. “There is no power, no politics, no human frailty that interferes with the implementation of ideal practice,” Kanter wrote. But considering the extent, originality, and significance of Drucker’s work — his idealism notwithstanding — Kanter, like Peters, wondered why “there are no Druckerians...teaching in the tradition of the master?”

Doubtless, the reason Drucker’s contributions have never been adequately acknowledged by scholars is a reflection of academic myopia and an aversion to modernity and evolving ideas, rather than of shortcomings in Drucker’s work. In the same issue of New Management, Bennis noted that Drucker himself wondered if he really “belonged” in a university or business school. Bennis concluded that Drucker, much like Alexis de Tocqueville, was not easily pegged and belonged to the grand “world of ideas.…Unless that is understood, we risk placing Drucker in too narrow an intellectual context and will fail to do full justice to his unique contribution.”

As editor of the magazine, I had the last word, arguing that Drucker’s ideas were so pervasive that scholars espoused — and managers practiced — them without recognizing their origin: “Today, indeed, we are all Druckerians,” I wrote.

Happy Birthday, Peter. 

Author Profile:

James O’Toole is the Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business and the coauthor, with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman, of Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor (Jossey-Bass, 2008).


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