Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peter Drucker's Humble Assertion

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Peter Drucker's birth, about which a big deal is being made in the business media and throughout the business world. Activities include an international conference in Vienna, the city where he was born.

Drucker made several appearances in the pages of Directors & Boards. The first such appearance is the most memorable — an eight-page Q&A interview conducted by another expert on leadership, Warren Bennis. We published it in early 1982, just a few months after I joined the journal. (What an early coup for the new editor.) And what a textbook case of two brilliant guys sitting around talking about "The Invention of Management," as we titled the article.

Drucker made a rather charming admission in our article. "I am ashamed to admit how little I knew about management," he recounted to Prof. Bennis about his early forays into studying industrial organizations. "It was amazing, not because I was so ignorant but because nobody knew anything."

As he explained: "You could find all the books you wanted about salesmanship — and they have not improved since, by the way. You could find all you wanted about accounting; of course, that has improved. You could find an enormous amount about insurance and insurance law and banking. But management? Nothing.

"So maybe I can claim to have been the first, in my one-eyed way, and with very poor vision in that eye. I saw management as a generic function in the future of industrial man. That, I think, is the one and only contribution I've really made to management."

I'm sure all those convening today and throughout the month to honor this management thinker on the centennial of his birth would vigorously dispute his humble assertion.

Portrait of Peter Drucker that accompanied his 1982 Directors & Boards article.